MFA Nugget: Down the Rabbit Hole

Fans of my MFA Nugget series–posts sharing the wisdom and personal experiences of my on-site Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA residencies–likely assumed there would be no more such posts after I graduated last summer. Well, I’m delighted to revive that series–for one post at least–with a guest blog by J.M. Cooper. J.M. currently is enrolled in the VCFA sister program of my MFA in Writing program, the MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults program. She recently returned from her winter residency in Montpelier and has this dispatch to share with us.


Early morning in frozen New Jersey.  I sit down to my first cup of coffee since returning home from residency—a day late due to a massive snow storm that left me stranded overnight in New York—and am thrown back into the routine I abandoned two weeks ago when I left for Vermont College.

The dog, overjoyed at my return, wiggles at my feet, jostling the laptop.  My husband passes through the room, glancing at me each time, asking a question or two, almost as if he’s curious if I’ve actually returned or if only a façade of me has.  One by one my children wake up, or try to.  The freshman grunts his way through the kitchen, confused as to why he must pick up all of his wet towels in the bathroom.  The eighth grader appears to be glued to her bed, sealed into sleep even though she answers “ok” to the wake-up call.  The ten year old curls up next to me for a snuggle and then he sweetly moves on to make toast for my thank-god-you’re-home-mom breakfast.

The noises of the household enrich the landscape: showers hiss, clinking radiators, coffee drip, paper shuffle, mom, mom, honey, mom, mom.  Residency seems far away.  Life has returned to normal.   I am content with the expectedness of my writing routine and sad for the end of another adventure.  But this is the way of the last year and a half and I wouldn’t change a thing.

The low-residency program at VCFA is perhaps the perfect way to earn an MFA.  It’s a relatively short excursion that provides us with a fount of information to bring home, the catalyst that spurs on six months of intensive individual workloads. Writing is a solitary sport, fueled by passion and self-discipline and yet benefits greatly from mentorship and feedback.

VCFA provides all of this.  For ten days the students of the WCYA program disappear through a portal to the green mountains of Vermont, which were actually quite white this time around, and are immersed in a cacophony of lectures, workshops, readings and even social activities designed especially for young-at-heart writers.  The white rabbit of inspiration is never hard to catch when you are surrounded by immense talent every day.

Between National Book Award finalists, Newbery Honor, Michael L. Printz and Caldecott winners, and, this January, even an appearance by Katherine Patterson, VCFA brings you into the arms of the literary world as a colleague and refuses to let you go home thinking you’re anything less.

There’s something magical in every residency that takes shape seemingly on its own accord.  Themes that couldn’t have been planned begin to unfold throughout the lectures as if the residency had its own through-line in mind before the schedule was printed.  The academic becomes therapeutic.  Not only do our characters’ lives deepen, but our own as well.  A reciprocal feeding of imagination and soul.  And so, even when I return home to the hiss-click-mom routine, the experience remains lodged in my heart and in my writing.

We were warned, upon first arrival, that VCFA had the potential to change our lives.  Unfolding like a great story–inciting incident, mid-way point, crux and crisis–I’ve personally seen it all and know that claim to be true. Between the impact of becoming part of this unbelievably supportive community, winning several of my own awards, finishing one novel in the first year and wrapping up a second now, I can honestly say my life will never be the way it was pre-VCFA.

And now as I head into the resolution, the final stretch toward my July graduation, I am confident that life is heading exactly where it’s supposed to.  Slightly unplanned, still uncertain, yet with great support of those who have gone before me and who are walking with me now, so that each time I return from our wonderland, I know I’m never alone in the journey.


Jessica Cooper VCFAJ.M Cooper is currently finishing up her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She’s been published in Curious Parents Magazine and has won several awards for short fiction. When she’s not writing about young adults, she’s busy raising three of her own. She tweets at @JessicaMCooper1 and you can find her blog here.

13 thoughts on “MFA Nugget: Down the Rabbit Hole

  1. J.M., I enjoyed this post very much! I especially like the descriptiveness of paragraph 2, as you settle back into family life — very evocative.

    And thanks to Patrick for including J.M.s “dispatch” here — love your use of that word!


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