Getting her writing published didn't come easily to Lisa Riddiough. Rejected by agents and editors for a children's picture book, Riddiough found herself needing a formal program to strengthen her work.
During her time with UC Berkeley Extension's Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program in Writing, Riddiough eventually found publication success: two essays and a short story; the latter published in the new Ursa Minor Art and Literary Review journal. Another short story is forthcoming in The Gateway Review. Today, she is overjoyed to continue in her writing-education journey, having been accepted into Hamline University's M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults.
Where did you end up applying, and what factored into that decision process?
One of the schools I applied to was Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA)—both the writing for children and young adults and the fiction tracks. I was admitted to the fiction track but not the track for writing for children and young adults. I also applied to Hamline University and Sierra Nevada College for their programs in writing for children and young adults and was admitted to both. I also applied to Bennington College for their fiction track but was not admitted. It was especially exciting to have been offered merit scholarships from both Hamline and VCFA.
Although all of the M.F.A. applications were very different from each other, my studies in the Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program in Writing fully prepared me for this challenge.
Going into the application process, Vermont College of Fine Arts was my ideal school because had I been admitted to both tracks, I could have pursued a "dual track" and graduated with an M.F.A. in both. So I had a decision to make. Applying to M.F.A. programs is much like submitting manuscripts to editors; Some of them like your work and some of them don't. It was very strange to have such a range of admittances and rejections in similar areas of study.
In the end, I chose Hamline University for several reasons. The literary scene in St. Paul, Minnesota, where Hamline is located, is fantastic. Also, I really want to get back to my initial love of writing for children and young adults. Hamline really loved my work and gave me very specific feedback on the picture book manuscripts that I submitted. Plus, they sent me the required reading list (120 books) for the duration of the program, and I got so excited! Finally, the faculty and curriculum impressed me. The program itself was founded by one of my writing heroes, Kate DiCamillo (author of Because of Winn-Dixie), and each residency focuses on one element of craft. The first residency will focus on character.
In July, I will be starting the low-residency M.F.A. in Writing for Children and Young Adults and I can’t wait. While my current focus is on picture books, I also have works-in-progress on middle-grade and young-adult stories. I plan to continue writing short fiction and essays and am so pleased that I am able to write in all of these genres.
Looking back at the whole process, from Extension to the M.F.A. application, what about your experience would you like to share with others who are at this stage of their careers?
When I first started hearing my Extension classmates talk about M.F.A.s, I really could not imagine it for myself. And it took a certain amount of time for me to know specifically what I wanted in my writing life. Once I made that determination, I became open to thinking about an M.F.A. Although all of the M.F.A. applications were very different from each other, both VCFA and Hamline required a critical essay on a work of fiction. My studies in the Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program in Writing fully prepared me for this challenge. I have a solid understanding of the elements of craft and was able to use this understanding to articulate my analysis of the piece I chose. Additionally, writing the personal essays was easy and natural. It took me three years to complete the certificate program, but taking it slow was perfect for me. As a 50-plus woman who studied finance in college and was a slow reader for most of my life, I could not have applied to an M.F.A. program without my Extension experience. I was a beginner when I started, but now I am a real writer.
Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program in Writing graduate Lisa Riddiough blogs about all her stories and essays in Closed Door Open Window. Check out her blog.