I love my MFA program for a lot of reasons. For now, I’ll mention just one: the Writers at Newark series (click and read all about it). Accomplished, published writers visit the campus every month to read from their work and answer questions. The best? As an MFA student, I get to talk to these people before the readings. One-on-one, chatting and sipping coffee. Just like that. I’m shy but no fool, so I got over my reluctance to approach these writers real quick. My goal is to be a working writer and I need to know that means — and how to get there! I’ve asked questions about craft, of course, but also how to handle the consequences of writing honestly (answer: expect to lose some people) and what kinds of “jobs” are there for people like me (answer: sometimes you make up a job the way you make up stories). I’ve gotten reading recommendations, delicious insights, encouragement, and thanks! That floors me: writers I admire are thankful to me for speaking to them. Reminds me that though I’ve not been invited to the series as a reader (yet), I already am a working writer.
Spotlight | Newark : Powerhouse Writers, Reading at Rutgers
By TAMMY LA GORCE , Published: January 7, 2011
“I think a lot of M.F.A. programs have visiting-reader series, but I wanted this to be major, with more than just one or two or three writers coming a semester,” Ms. Phillips said. “And it needed to be diverse, not only in race but in age and life experience, because that reflects the diversity of Newark and the diversity of our campus.” added Ms. Phillips, who lives part time in Glen Ridge (she also resides in Boston and Manhattan).
Since its inception, the series, which is free and open to the public, has attracted literary superstars including Chang-rae Lee, Richard Price and Junot Díaz. Usually, 16 authors — two each evening — fill out the fall and spring schedules. Readings typically draw 100 people to the Paul Robeson Galleries on campus, where the writers read for about 25 minutes and then take questions, Ms. Phillips said.
The spring 2011 installation of the series begins on Jan. 25 with the writers Jill McCorkle and Randall Kenan, to be followed by Matthew Rohrer and the Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout on Feb. 8; the poets Erica Dawson and Mark Strand, another Pulitzer Prize winner, on March 8; and the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning Toni Morrison on April 26.
“I’m so honored that Toni Morrison is coming,” Ms. Phillips said.
“She’s a New Jersey person, and it was a dream of mine that she would come,” she said of Ms. Morrison, who is a professor at Princeton University.
Cory A. Booker, the mayor of Newark, will introduce Ms. Morrison. “The mayor’s office is sort of co-hosting,” said Ms. Phillips, who is scouting for a larger on-campus site for Ms. Morrison’s reading. “I think we’ll need to prepare for a lot of people for that one.”
The next event in the Writers at Newark Reading Series, featuring Jill McCorkle and Randall Kenan, takes place Jan. 25 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Paul Robeson Galleries at Rutgers University, 350 Martin Luther King Boulevard, Newark. Information: mfa.newark.rutgers.edu/writersatnewark.htm or (973) 353-1107.