It takes a dedicated student to achieve success, but a supportive institution can be instrumental in said student reaching their goals. Over the last six years, Becca Anderson completed both her Bachelor’s and her Master’s degrees in English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where she wrote stories that would both find publication in national literary magazines and convince the faculty at Boise State to accept her into their MFA program. While she’s busy preparing for her move to Idaho, she was gracious enough to answer some questions, via phone and e-mail, about her time at UWEC and what she envisions for her future.
Those without direct knowledge of the MFA landscape might not be aware of the numbers stacked against applicants. Top-tier programs receive somewhere between 600 and 800 applications each year, with many accepting between four and eight students in each genre: fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. This year, Boise State accepted three fiction applicants, one of which was Becca. This is already a monumental success, one which will hopefully be a stepping-stone in Becca’s writing career.
The first question for Becca then is what drew her to Boise State specifically. She explains first that Boise being a three-year program was big for her. MFA programs mostly come in two-year and three-year varieties, but Becca wanted the third year “to really get my teeth into a thesis project.” In addition, the program being small—again, three fiction applicants per year—meant more time to work closely with faculty, which includes Brady Udall, Mitch Wieland, and Emily Ruskovich. Plus, the small size means equal funding, so there’s less reason for jealousy or dislike in the program coming in. Add to that a list of visiting writers that includes Denis Johnson and Anthony Doeer, along with a reasonable teaching load of one class per semester, and it seems to be everything a prospective student could wish for.
With all this information squared away, it’s worth asking Becca how UWEC helped shape and inform her growth as a student and as a writer. Speaking about the MA program in particular, she writes that it has “pretty much been everything.” In addition to using two pieces from her MA thesis as her MFA application, it was discussion with faculty and classmates at UWEC that made her realize that she was developing a style and solidifying a voice as a writer. Professors Molly Patterson and Allyson Loomis were helpful in providing constructive criticism that spurred Becca’s growth on the page, and professor BJ Hollars was always around for more general advice and words of encouragement about the writing life. Without the faculty at UWEC, she says, “I don’t know where I [would be] as a person or a writer.”
As far as advice to current and future students, especially those at UWEC, Becca says to focus and pay attention. Make sure you’re serious about your work, and listen to the faculty, “since they’re smart people and really know what they’re talking about.” In addition, seek out classmates whose writing you admire, whether it be similar to or different from yours, and work with them as much as possible. But also, she says, try to take some classes outside of creative writing. One of her favorite courses during her time at UWEC, in fact, was about how adaptations of Shakespeare have evolved over time. Maybe not something related directly to story writing, but informative nonetheless.
So what’s Becca looking forward to short-term and long-term, in writing and in life? At the moment, she’s hard at work revising the stories she wrote during her time in the MA program. “Workshops are great for generating new work,” she says, “but leave little time for editing and really digging into a draft.” She does have a couple new stories she’s working on though: her current focus is on a short story about a teenager who finds themselves on a sasquatch in the Northern Cascades. “If it’ll end up being anything worthwhile remains to be seen, but it’s fun to work on.” That sounds like the best perspective a writer can have toward their own work.
Her plan for her stay in Boise and beyond includes finishing a novel and working toward a career in academia. What the novel will be about remains to be seen, she says, “and is really a large part of what I’m looking forward to discovering in the program.” She hopes to be finding a publisher for her eventual book at the same time as she exits the program at Boise. As far as her career goes, Becca’s dream-goal is to teach creative writing at the university level. She hopes to use the MFA program to build toward that: write as much as and publish as much as possible, then see if that work can lead her toward a job at a university for the long haul. The UWEC English department sincerely wishes her luck in this endeavor.
An example of Becca’s creative writing can be found online at Lunch Ticket.