MFAs Do It Best: Your Graduate Degree in the Workforce

Are these workshop participants secretly preparing for the workplace?

Are these workshop participants secretly preparing for the workplace? Photo credit: MadLabUK

When I graduated with my MFA this past May, I got a decent-paying job and the hell away from academia. I’d taught for four semesters and knew I didn’t want to do it anymore. I also knew that I had to get out of New Orleans, where the job market is hollow in the best economies. I had no service industry experience and there really wasn’t much else in the city for me in terms of work.

Fortunately I found a job in Chicago that I thought I wouldn’t hate too much, one that would also give me time to work on writing projects nights and weekends. I’ve been doing it since August with moderate success—and strangely enough, I’ve found that my MFA prepared me well for my new office workplace.

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The Ploughshares Fantasy Blog Champion

We have a winner for the first ever Ploughshares Fantasy Blog competition! After a three-week slog that saw The Holden Caulbabies and What the Chuckin’ Buk?! tied after two weeks, the winner, by the slim margin of two votes, is The Holden Caulbabies and manager Michael Nye!

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holden caulbabies

Editor: Dave Eggers
Fiction Writer: William Faulkner
Cultural Critic: Roxane Gay
Nonfiction Writer: Michel Montaigne
Poet: Elizabeth Bishop
Travel Writer: James Baldwin

Nye was exceptional with his trash talk and participation the whole way through the competition: creative and a little crazy—just what the Internet needs. And there’s no need to praise his draft strategy again after doing so for several weeks now: the Holden Caulbabies took a few immortal legends (Faulker, Montaigne), added 20th Century masters (Bishop, Baldwin) and interspersed these with some young’uns with skills (Eggers, Gay).

Instead, the commissioner would like to come up with an award appropriate for the competition.

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Ploughshares Fantasy Blog Draft Finals: The Holden Caulbabies vs What the Chuckin’ Buk?!

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It’s been a long, tortuous path from the inception of the Fantasy Blog competition to the finals, full of upsets and surprises—but here we are, left with two teams standing after the semifinals three weeks ago which brought surprises of its own.

After a cross-country move, the commissioner was rendered connectionless in his new apartment in the Great American Midwest. As if to mock his Net-less existence, Facebook decided to cripple our voting system with no warning. Without even a hanging chad to count, we were forced to rely on an arcane calculation that involved mixing salt crystals taken from the white T-shirt Kerouac wore when writing The Scroll and mixing them with the dregs of a dusty bottle of ron añejo found in a closet at the Hemingway House, creating an obscene, literary Papa Doble daiquiri. The resulting concoction sent the commissioner into a disturbing sleep during which he learned, in a dream, that the winner was none other than What the Chuckin’ Buk?!Continue Reading

Ploughshares Fantasy Blog Draft Round 2 – Vonnegut to the Chopper! vs What the Chuckin’ Buk?!

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Voting this past week was a return to the pitched ferocity of the first round, as both Benjamin Samuel’s The Mighty Duck Palahniuks (Electric Literature) and Michael Nye’s The Holden Caulbabies (Missouri Review) brought out voters in force. The two teams deadlocked at the end of the week, and again we were forced to undergo a tiebreaker: this time, each manager was tasked with composing a sentence mentioning each of the bloggers on their team.

The winner, a difficult selection made by the commissioner after consultation with the Ploughshares blog editor, is Michael Nye and The Holden Caulbabies! His winning sentence challenges even some of Gogol’s finest work:

Preparing to write “On Tiebreaking,” Michel Montaigne tips way back in his chair and lights a cigarette for James Baldwin, who then spins back to his desk and reviews all his travel vouchers and photographs and notes from his most recent globetrotting; across the room, huddled over a coffee table, Elizabeth Bishop and Dave Eggers discuss the imagery in the third stanza of her latest poetic masterpiece; at her desk, Roxane Gay frowns at her computer monitor, thinking through her recent essays on Trayvon Martin, or “Blurred Lines”, or the new Channing Tatum movie, or how women in sex scandals are rarely forgiven; and William Faulkner slips from desk to desk, pouring everyone a finger of bourbon, smilingly ruefully as he repeats “The past is never dead, it’s not even past” and Montaigne’s eyes light up, turning to his colleagues, and after they all agree with the new thought entering his head, with nods and slight smiles, he turns back to his desk and writes “We’re living the future, so the present is our past, and our presence is a present: kiss my ass!”

So despite the bye and a week of rest, The Holden Caulbabies shake off the rust and advance to the finals to take on the winner of this week’s match-up.Continue Reading

Ploughshares Fantasy Blog Draft Round 2 – The Mighty Duck Palahniuks vs The Holden Caulbabies

After a fevered start to the competition, with spirited fights from each side, the competition slowed this last week as Buckle Your Corn Belts and Vonnegut to the Chopper! tortoised their way through the match-up. The teams ended at a stalemate, and we were forced to implement a tiebreaker: write one tweet from the point of view of one of your team’s writers, explaining why your team deserves to advance.

The winner, determined by the commissioner with help from the Ploughshares front office, was Vonnegut to the Chopper! Manager Brenna Dixon tweeted from Langston Hughes’s point of view, her take on the poem “Children’s Rhymes“: “By what runs/the Cornhuskers/we ain’t run/Genre HOA/is just no fun/What bugs/them cornfolks/don’t bug us/we know rules/aren’t worth the fuss.”

They advance to take on What the Chuckin’ Buk?! two weeks from now.

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But this week, we have the semifinals!

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Editor: George Plimpton
Fiction Writer: Kurt Vonnegut
Events Coverage: Emily Dickinson
Nonfiction Writer: Werner Herzog
Poet: Melissa Broder
Health and Living Columnist: Hunter S. Thompson

holden caulbabies

Editor: Dave Eggers
Fiction Writer: William Faulkner
Cultural Critic: Roxane Gay
Nonfiction Writer: Michel Montaigne
Poet: Elizabeth Bishop
Travel Writer: James Baldwin

The semifinals begin with an epic match-up that really could be the finals of this competition. I don’t want to count out What the Chuckin’ Buk?! or Vonnegut to the Chopper!, but they just don’t command the same star power as these two teams. Both Caulbabies manager Michael Nye (Missouri Review) and Benjamin Samuel (Electric Literature) follow the formula favored by NBA teams, publishing houses, and book clubs across America: three All-Stars supported by key role players.

Nye has been bold with his trash talk at the podium:

Look, if The Holden Caulbabies are going to battle, there isn’t much need to talk about how we’re going to dominate. Still. We enjoy looking around at the bracket and deciding who is going to finish second. I’m sure there are plenty of tired witticisms from the editors and writers on the other teams. Child, please. We have no reply to make to them other than the brilliance of our poetry and prose. You come at the king, you best not miss.

But will his team back up the talk? Joining the commissioner today to analyze the competition is writer and assistant professor from the University of New Orleans M.O. Walsh.

Walsh was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but he studied in Oxford, Mississippi (The Land of Faulkner!), and still runs the Yokshop Writer’s Conference there—so the commissioner is especially curious about his take on the fiction writer match-up this week. How do you see the Faulkner-Vonnegut battle going? Does Vonnegut even get up from his recliner? Do you think The Mighty Duck Palahniuks concede the fiction spot?

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Ploughshares Fantasy Blog Draft Round 1 – Buckle Your Corn Belts vs Vonnegut to the Chopper!

Round 1 of the Ploughshares Fantasy Blog Draft continues! Last week The Mighty Duck Palahniuks sprinted out to a quick 33-5 lead against Leave it to Cheever only to let off the gas midway through the week and only barely eke out a 35-28 victory. Alvarez’s “role players” nearly pulled off a stunning upset, but this matchup proves once again that the bums will always win when it comes to pop vs. high culture.

Benjamin Samuel’s Plimpton-led crew advances to take on the Holden Caulbabies, the powerful group assembled by Michael Nye of the Missouri Review.

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First, though, we have this week’s match-up between Buckle Your Corn Belts, manned by the Kenyon Review duo of Joumana Khatib and Marty Kezon, and Vonnegut to the Chopper, led by Ploughshares blogger Brenna Dixon!Continue Reading

Ploughshares Fantasy Blog Draft Round 1 – Leave it to Cheever vs The Mighty Duck Palahniuks

leave it to cheever

Editor: Robert Silvers
Fiction Writer: Donald Barthelme
Philosopher: Iris Murdoch
Nonfiction Writer: Marguerite Young
Poet: Paul Carroll
Ghostwriter: Emmanuel Bove

mighty duck palahniuks

Editor: George Plimpton
Fiction Writer: Kurt Vonnegut
Events Coverage: Emily Dickinson
Nonfiction Writer: Werner Herzog
Poet: Melissa Broder
Health and Living Columnist: Hunter S. Thompson

It’s Round 1 of the Ploughshares Fantasy Blog Draft! At long last, the teams take the court. In this case, however, the court is probably just whichever empty classroom the English Department has free. The commissioner strolled down the hall earlier in the hour and saw a free room…a lot of the others are taken. Let’s just stand here for a minute and see if any of the conference rooms free up at the top of the hour. They have more comfortable chairs.

…At any rate, imagine yourself inside an English classroom at your average university. It’s either too hot or too cold, a little muggy or has air dry enough to suck the juice from your brain. The teams sit in a line of desks facing each other, and one at a time, genre-by-genre, they stand and battle! With words!

You get to decide how this fight ends! This week Justin Alvarez’s Leave it to Cheever takes on Benjamin Samuel’s The Mighty Duck Palahniuks. And to give you the talking points on the match-up, the commissioner is joined today by the Ploughshares blog editor, Andrew Ladd.

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Fantasy Blog Draft Hype Week!

Fantasy Blog Header - resizedOver the past three and a half months we’ve introduced the first ever Ploughshares Fantasy Blog teams and analyzed their selections in the draft—and now it’s time to test the team-building skills of our Fantasy Blog Managers in brutal competition… But before we do that, the commissioner thought it would be fitting to give this competition its proper respect: after all, in this age of New Media, every competition deserves a week or more of hype to suss out all of the storylines.

Also, there’s still time to fill out a bracket and win yourself a subscription to the magazine as well as a Ploughshares tote bag which you can use to carry your copies around. FILL OUT YOUR BRACKET HERE after you check out the team previews below!

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Fantasy Blog Draft – Round 6 – Final Wildcard Picks!

Fantasy Blog Header - resizedMarch Madness has come and gone, as have the NFL draft, the NBA draft lottery, most of the NBA and NHL playoffs, and the start of the MLB season—but the Fantasy Blog Draft competition is only just getting started. Literature never sleeps!

This week the managers will fill the final spot on their rosters and then start up training camp to prep for the competition. In two weeks, we will preview the matchups and once again ask for you to pick the winners, and two weeks after that the competition will begin in earnest.

But before that, let’s see what decisions the managers made this week. Remember: for the last wildcard picks they must choose the blogger and the blogger’s position, so there’s lots of room for creativity.Continue Reading

Fantasy Blog Draft – Round 5 – Poets

Fantasy Blog Header - resizedWe enter the final genre round of the Ploughshares Fantasy Blog Draft with the oldest of the genres, the most inscrutable, the one with the most wild things and the tallest hats. The genre where the sidewalk ends with water water everywhere but not a drop to drink.

One nugget of interest entering this penultimate round is that Emily Dickinson, the winner of Powell’s Poetry Madness bracket, which wrapped up last month, has already been selected! Manager Benjamin Samuel may have made a prescient pick by adding the poet to his roster as a wildcard Events Coverage blogger. He has, in effect, stolen top talent from this round. Let’s see if that affected any of the bloggers.

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