In a workshop-centered MFA program like that at UCF, it’s important to remember that the biggest part of the learning happens with the experience, not with the revised product we walk away with. As professor Philip Gross writes in his essay “Small Worlds: What Works in Workshops If and When They Do,” “[a] workshop is a very human situation” that “is an unusually productive place to meet.” The point that Gross wants to get across to the reader is that the interaction of the workshop is an event that goes beyond those moments when students are face to face, creating a small world “which reflects and refracts worlds outside.” Here at UCF, we are not limited to the human experience of the workshop. There are oodles of opportunities for nontraditional events that expand our worlds outside and contribute to our learning and growth as writers.
While it’s difficult to compare these diverse experiences, there are some that stand out because of the strong impact they’ve had on me. One of them was my experience with the Literary Arts Partnership. This involved teaching creative writing through weekly visits to marginalized students at a local middle school. Planning and presenting a lesson each week brought a deeper understanding of the importance of writing. One child told me he didn’t like writing before I starting coming to his school, but now he does due to the lessons and activities we did in class. I never realized how much poverty could impact a child’s academic life, or how I could do something to benefit a student. This experience not only helped students engage in writing, but it also brought me clarity to why I spend so much time improving my writing.
I was also happy to find similar human experiences outside of UCF, throughout the city of Orlando. We are fortunate to have several independent publishers and booksellers, as well as writers series and events. Functionally Literate, Atlantic Center for the Arts, There Will be Words, the Orange County Public Library, Winter With the Writers, and Bookmark It, among others, all have recurring events. I’ve had the opportunity to meet writers outside of UCF with different academic backgrounds and stay in touch with UCF alumni and faculty.
These experiences have helped me understand that development in the UCF MFA program is not solely based on the artifacts that come from working behind a keyboard, but rather approaching the workshop event and other experiences as an exchange among writers and those interested in writing. The workshop is important to creative writing because it incorporates this human experience without removing creativity and aesthetic values; however, it’s important to remember that some of these elements can be found outside of the classroom workshop.
Heather Vazquez is a fiction candidate who also enjoys literary nonfiction. Her love of reading and editing can be seen through her position as Assistant Creative Nonfiction Editor at The Florida Review, and as Creative Nonfiction Reader at Burrow Press Review. She has an assistantship at Global UCF as an English Support Leader and lives in Orlando with her three sons and two dogs.