Saturday, November 11, 2006

An open letter to the Dean of the English Department, the Dean of Graduate Studies, and the Powers That Be at BYU:

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to beg, plead, prostrate myself at your feet, and employ all the powers of persuasion I can muster in the cause of convincing you to create an MFA in Creative Writing program at BYU. Hopefully, I can show you how creating such a program would be quite easy, involving minimal changes or financial investment on your part, and be of great benefit to LDS writers who desire to create the kind of LDS art that prophets of past and present have been awaiting.

First, you've heard the "We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own" quote as often as I have, I suspect, so I won't rehash all of that—the desire, on the part of our leaders (and, I must say, on the part of those of us who aspire to being artists), for the quality of Mormon-created art to rival and surpass that of the greatest artists in the history of the world. But what's important to point out is that a Milton or a Shakespeare does not just pop up fully developed like the birth of Venus. An artist must study with great teachers, set aside significant time in her life for her practice, and get acquainted with the great masters of her craft that have preceded her.

An MFA program is where a writer begins her journey to becoming great. An MFA program at BYU is where a Mormon artist can best begin her journey to becoming a great Mormon artist.

You may ask how a specifically Mormon environment can benefit the student more than any of the other great MFA programs already in existence in the country. My answer is that it is true that not all Mormon artists require an LDS-based program in order to grow to their potential. But some do. In fact, the ones the prophets have spoken of and longed for, the ones dedicated to telling Mormon stories in Mormon language for Mormons and also for the world—these are the artists that need a program in which they can be free to discuss their ideas in an LDS framework. They need to be able to study past Mormon artists. They need to study with teachers/writers who exemplify an ability to bring an LDS worldview into their own work—the kind of teachers to be found at BYU.

As you know, it is difficult to be an artist in our culture. There are many reasons that this is so. One of the biggest reason is the great amount of time that full activity in the church requires from each individual. When a person wants to fulfill his calling, earn a living, and spend as much time as possible with his family, it is hard to justify taking the time necessary to get truly great at an art—an art which will probably never support him and possibly never be acknowledged as worthwhile by those around him, who are equally busy in their LDS lives. For this reason, an LDS writer feels a lot of pressure to get good QUICKLY—because without quick results, he may find it difficult to justify taking time away from his family or calling to work on his art. You see, then, that a Mormon artist is unique from non-Mormon artists—yet another reason to provide a unique program for him in which to improve his craft.

I have spoken with a few members of the English faculty who likewise wish there were an MFA in Creative Writing program in place (Gideon Burton and Bruce Jorgensen are two). They tell me that the program already exists in everything but name—that the classes and faculty are already in place, and that to change what is now an MA with emphasis in Creative Writing into an MFA program would be quite simple. That should reassure you that it would not require much in terms of additional resources from the university.

You may ask, then, "If the classes and faculty the same for an MFA as are currently offered for the MA, why wouldn't students be just as happy to enter the MA program?" As you know, an MFA is a terminal degree. For many of us, entering the program will involve an immense amount of sacrifice in terms of time and money. It's understandable that, if I plan on putting in that much money and time in for an advanced degree, I would prefer to receive the terminal degree.

Currently, the only other university in Utah offering an MFA in Creative Writing is the University of Utah. And yet, I know that there are many, many writers in the state, many of whom long to return for an MFA. (Specifically, I know that there is a huge population of people interested in writing for children in Utah Valley alone. You would have no difficulty getting instructors or students for such a program.) The state could easily fill two MFA programs. More important to note than that, though, is the fact that the MFA program at the University of Utah is especially known for being, well, less than warm to people who write from within an LDS worldview.

Bad news for an LDS writer who wants to write high-quality LDS things and who cannot uproot her family to travel to another state.

So, you see that there is a gap in MFA offerings for people in Utah who wish to create LDS art. You see that it would not be hard for you to change the program that is already in place into an MFA program. You see that BYU is ideally situated (culturally, educationally and geographically) for providing an aspiring Mormon writer with what she needs to begin to master her craft and produce what prophets have been hoping for. Please, please follow through and create the program many of us need.

I appreciate your attention.


Darlene Young

p.s. Once you establish the program, I will be writing you another pleading letter to tell you why you should sponsor my studies with a nice, juicy fellowship. Uh . . . maybe I'd better not mention that quite yet. Nevermind.


Christopher Bigelow said...

Please include a request that those who already earned the M.A. with creative writing emphasis be allowed to retroactively change it to an MFA!

Anonymous said...

Dear SIRS?

Darlene said...


Hey, it's BYU we're talking about.

(BTW, I see you EVERYWHERE on the net!)