Interview with Teresa Carmody
MFA in Creative Writing alumna Teresa Carmody is the first graduate of Antioch’s low-residency MFA program to chair another low-residency MFA program.
What impact did the MFA program have on you both professionally and personally?
Deciding to pursue my MFA and the synchronicity of doing so at Antioch profoundly impacted my life. I met several writers—Vanessa Place, Pam Ore, Jennifer Calkins—that I’m still close with and with whom I continue to exchange writing, often as each other’s first readers. With these writers, too, I co-founded Les Figues Press, an award-winning feminist publisher of experimental poetry, prose, and translation. Now directed by Evan Kleekamp and Kim Calder, Les Figues remains based in Los Angeles. We’re proud to announce that Les Figues has recently joined LA Review of Book as an imprint of LARB Books.In terms of my own growth and development as a writer, Antioch’s low-residency model helped me cultivate a writing practice while continuing to work full time. In other words, I wasn’t relying on a classroom schedule and the press of weekly deadlines and face-to-face workshops, like what one finds in a residential program. Rather, the monthly packet deadlines, and the opportunity to receive individual feedback from faculty mentors, precipitated an internal shift, as I prioritized my own writing. My mentors encouraged and provoked me, shared their candid reads and pushed me to go further, and by the end of two years, I knew I would continue writing, as I have. I remain grateful to my mentors for their insight and guidance, and for the habits I developed while in the program. Because ultimately, the writing life is about writing.
How did you become chair of a new low residency program?
While I focused on creative nonfiction and poetry at Antioch, I’ve written mostly fiction (and autofiction) since, and being conversant in multiple genres is definitely one of the assets I bring to the MFA of the Americas, which emphasizes interdisciplinarity and cross-genre learning. I also began adjunct teaching after graduation—at California Institute for the Arts and UC San Diego—but eventually I reached a point where I wanted to push my writing and teaching further, so applied for and was accepted to the PhD program at the University of Denver. I loved every minute of my time at Denver. I was able to develop a better critical and theoretical framework for my work, which helped me on the job market. So did my over 10 years of experience in nonprofit arts administration with Les Figues. And in applying for this position specifically, I was able to draw on my experience within a low res MFA program, as a way to understand some of the program’s unique challenges and benefits. It’s definitely a plus, and a way I can more directly connect with our students.
What do you think you’ll bring from your experience as a student into your work?
One of the best things I did while at Antioch was genre-jump into poetry. I learned so much by exploring this other genre—it opened my writing and reading in ways I couldn’t have imagined, and encouraged me to follow my curiosities (which is how I began exploring fiction after I graduated). In fact, the “genre-jump” model was one of the first changes I brought to the MFA of the Americas. Our poetry side—which is actually Poetry in the Expanded Field—was already crossing genres, mediums, and modalities; that foundation course is team taught by long-time collaborators Terri Witek (poet) and Cyriaco Lopes (visual artist), and they work absolute magic, in the classroom and in their own performances and installations. They were thrilled to add an “exploratory” track to our program, and when I spoke to the Dean about it, I referenced my own experience of genre-jumping at Antioch. So now, students can move between Prose and Poetry in the Expanded Field, before deciding which area they’d like to focus on for their advanced course and final project.
What do you hope to accomplish within your first year?
The MFA of the Americas is a relatively new program, so I’ve been building our internal structures, while getting the word out to potential students. The program initially launched with a Fiction degree, but I’ve since reframed this side (the sentence side, as I call it) as Prose, welcoming students who are writing fiction, creative nonfiction, and hybrid genres. I’ve also introduced a more concerted focus on translation. For example, every January at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, we now have an experimental translation workshop with a writer-translator. The focus on translation will continue this June at the Biblioteca Nacional in Rio de Janeiro, where we’ll be having a conversation about writing and translation with Brazilian writer Ana Paula Maia and Alexandra Joy Forman, who translated three of Maia’s novellas into a collection called Saga of Brutes, published Dalkey Archive. I’m also excited to welcome Lenora de Barros and the URCA Institute as guests during our upcoming international residency, and to launch Poesia Visual V, an anthology of experimental poetry by US writers, edited by Terri Witek, translated by Cyriaco Lopes, and published by Oi Futuro.When my first year officially closes on June 30, 2018, I’ll be proud for having successfully programmed (with help from my colleagues) two fantastic and generative residencies, one in New Smyrna Beach, Florida and another in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. And for creating opportunities and situations in which students can and do make their best work—a major accomplishment we can all celebrate!
Teresa Carmody is a writer, editor, publisher, and director of Stetson University’s MFA of the Americas program in Florida. Her recent publications include Hide and See (No Press, 2018), and DeLand (Container, Look Books, 2018), a view master book about DeLand, Florida, made in collaboration with fiber artist Madison Creech. Carmody is the author of Maison Femme: a fiction (Bon Aire Projects, 2015) and Requiem (Les Figues, 2005). Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Collagist, Two Serious Ladies, St. Petersburg Review, Faultline, Entropy, and more. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University and a PhD in English/Fiction from the University of Denver. Read more about Teresa at teresacarmody.com.