I still remember when Michael White, the director of Fairfield’s MFA in Creative Writing, announced that we had the option to have a residency in Galway, Ireland. In earlier posts, I talked about those in summary but so far I haven’t talked about working with a local Irish author. I didn’t know what to expect when Michael announced that the two guest instructors would be Eva Rourke and Michael McCormack. I wasn’t familiar with them so I immediately googled them and found out as much as I could. Both sounded well established. My only sadness came when I tried to acquire one of Michael McCormack’s books and couldn’t. They were all out of print and the only ones I could find were second hand and were selling at an astronomical price.
As you’ve probably guessed, Michael McCormack was the guest faculty for the second half of my residency. A charming dark-haired Irishman, he enthralled us from day one. We are used to an Iowa based workshop methodology (Go around the room and each person provides feedback to the writer while the writer remains silent, then at the end the writer can ask questions). Instead, Michael used the opportunity to lecture for the first hour and then provided a holistic view of the piece in a more interactive fashion with the writer. He then provided more detailed criticism in writing. The other attendees were welcomed to join in and either concur or decry the instructor’s thoughts. I actually found this style to be much more productive than some of the Iowa-based workshops I’ve attended. Instead of criticism getting stuck on a point, we were more fluid and able to discuss the entire work and concept. I hope I have the chance to workshop with Michael again. Minimally, I will learn from his style and leverage his techniques in my own workshop.
As usual, the days were exciting and exhausting. By the end of the final workshop I turned to my fellow attendees and said, “I’m burnt out.” Others nodded in agreement. This had been an invigorating, educational, and once-in-a-lifetime experience, but my body and my mind had had enough.
And with this, I’ll leave you, kind blog reader, in the hopes that you have the chance to have a similar experience and that you take it.
Ireland is rich in literary history. James Joyce, Yeats, Lady Gregory to name a few. Not to mention that Fairfield University has a strong tie to Galway University which enabled Michael and Elizabeth to recruit a respected Irish author, Michael McCormack, and an acclaimed poet, Eva Rourke, to teach. This specific location was also ripe for many of the students with roots in Ireland so when our day off came, we were eager to roam the hills of Galway and its surrounding counties.
We hopped onto a tour bus and roamed the Cliffs of Mohar, visited Lady Gregory’s estate and Yeats home. We walked among the ruins of castles and villages. We took picture after picture, attempting to absorb the atmosphere provided by this rich environment. Green hills, wandering clouds. A primarily agricultural community rich in culture and history. What really made the tour interesting wasn’t so much the history as told by the plaques but rather by the tour guides who would add a bit of flavor to the tellings. “I know they say that Lady Gregory and Yeats started the Galway Literary movement but that’s rubbish,” began one of our guides. Our ears perked to hear the bits that few knew, other than those native to the area.
By the end of the day, we were all tired but topped off the traveling with a wonderful meal at a small restaurant and marveled at the seafood.
Reinvigorated by our day off, we headed back to our apartments and readied for the next day of classes by reading the pieces that would be workshopped the next day and reviewing the homework assignments for the seminars. Never a dull moment in Galway.
After a few pints of Bulmers, a meal of Irish Stew, and ending the evening with profiteroles (if you don’t know what they are, look them up, they’re little bites of Heaven), we returned to our apartments. At dinner, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Michael McCormack, an Irish author who will teach us during the second half of the residency. I was impressed with his evident literary abilities.
I enjoyed a restful night’s sleep and awoke, ready to prepare for the first class with Michael White. So you know, Michael, the director and creator of the program, rarely, if ever teaches. We were in for a rare treat and were not disappointed. He immediately identified what the primary challenges were with the pieces as well as the strengths. After 2.5 hours of workshopping, we took an hour break and then returned to attend seminars taught by a combination of students and instructors. One of the draws of coming to Galway was the opportunity to teach. At the Enders residency, the students attend workshops in the morning, seminars taught by instructors or graduating students in the afternoon, and then instructor readings in the evening – clearly a fully-packed day. But, in Galway students who are not at the end of their time with Fairfield have the opportunity to teach (I’m teaching on Friday, August 5). This gives us a chance to sharpen our teaching skills and see how our lectures may be received in the future. In Galway, we also perform 20-minute readings in the evening along with our instructors. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never attended a conference or a workshop in which I was allowed to read for that long. Typically, student readings last five minutes.
The seminars by both students and teachers were strong and focused. So far I haven’t been disappointed, although I am a little intimidated at the quality of work and hope that my seminar will be well-received. After the seminars, we broke for dinner or to simply hang out, and then came the readings.
I don’t know if you’ve guessed it or not, but I was among the first students to read at Galway. A high honor that I truly appreciate. For this moment, I decided to do something completely new. You see, my third semester project is to take a non-fiction piece and revise it as fiction. The exercise is to demonstrate the similarities and differences of the two genres. My major is fiction. I decided to read from the non-fiction piece I had just begun writing the day that I left for Ireland. I sat in a classroom chair, in the front of the room and began. “In the summer of 1980, I died at the age of eight.” I had rehearsed the reading with Destinie earlier in the day, so imagine my surprise when I got a little choked up. I looked around the room, as every good reader does, to see some of my friends crying. I wanted to jump out of my chair and tell them not to cry. Look, I’m alive, I thought. A happy ending. By some miracle, I made it through the reading and was quite thrilled when Eva Bourke lightened the mood with her gorgeous poetry. The night ended with a walk through the brisk Irish air to Galway City Centre for food, drinks, and revelry. We had finished our first day of classes at Galway and so far all had been a resounding success.
- That was a long flight
- It was an uncomfortable seat
- Somehow things were different
Others would call this experience the beginnings of jetlag. My flight took off 1.5 hours late which left me with the distinct fear that I had missed the chance to take a shuttle with my fellow Fairfielder MFAers into Galway. I entered Shannon airport already planning how I would get to the location independently, ready to dig through my bags to find the exact address of my destination. When I looked up, I found two smiling faces – Don Noel, a fellow student and amazing gentleman, and Elizabeth Hastings, or Mother Hastings as we affectionately call her. “I was afraid you guys had left,” I said. This seemed like a logical thought considering I was so late.
“We wouldn’t leave without you,” Mother Hastings said. The driver had graciously agreed to wait for me and another traveler, Raun Griffin. “Is Raun with you?” Mother Hastings asked.
Raun had texted me while I was in JFK airport. He was stuck in Newark Airport due to a rather treacherous storm that had caused the first leg of his trip to be four hours late. This delay caused him to miss the second leg of his trip which would take him to Europe. Raun’s heritage is in Ireland so this trip has a greater additional meaning. I hoped that these delays wouldn’t cause him to miss the residency. We anticipated he would be able to get onto a flight that would bring him to us on Sunday. With the last person of our group accounted for or rather, we knew where he was, I picked up my suitcase and we made our way to the bus.
I’ve been to Ireland before. I used to travel for work and was given the distinct pleasure to represent our company. I was familiar with the greenery and the friendliness of the Irish. I had never been to Galway which was an enticement for this trip. I boarded the bus to find most of the others patiently awaiting my arrival. “Thanks, guys.” Tired heads nodded and said no problem. I plopped down into my cushy seat and the bus started on its way.
I am not familiar with the history of Galway and Shannon, I will find out about it later today as we tour a bit of the area, but I am familiar with Ireland’s agricultural infrastructure, demonstrated in the rolling green hills, the vast numbers of roaming cows and sheep. I quickly realized that not everyone on the bus had the same knowledge when one of my fellow MFA’ers burst out, “Cows!” She covered her mouth in amazement.
“Yup, those are cows,” I said. I had never thought of cows as a tourist attraction but hey, to each his or her own.
We arrived without drama to Corrib Village which would become our home for the next eight days. I have my own room (yay!), my own bathroom (double-yay!) and two talented wing mates (four apartments connect and share a common kitchen and sitting area) – Destinie and Brit.
With the unpacking of our bags, and a bit of chaos in terms of what we would do next, we made our way through Galway University and into Galway City Center to meet our Irish instructors, Eva Bourke and Mike McCormick, for our first dinner in the town.
We tried to talk over the high chatter and cheering for the Galway races. We arrived on the last day of the races to find women dressed to the nines in big hats, fancy dresses, and high heels while men wore their absolute best suits and separates. Midway through our meal, the cable feed to the bar/restaurant died which meant that revelers quickly exited the bar/restaurant in favor for one that continued to have Galway Races coverage. We enjoyed the last of our meals with lesser background noise and then steadily made our way back to Corrib Village, eagerly preparing for the first day of classes.
Some may recognize this bastardization of a great Who song. Just wanted to grab your attention, like the classic Pinball Wizard. My name is Lisa Diane Kastner and I’m a third semester student at Fairfield University. I’m currently sitting in the middle of the JFK airport, awaiting to board my flight to Shannon, Ireland with a residency destination of Galway.
The title of this entry is a bit appropriate. The reasons I chose Fairfield over many other programs (well known, top tier programs) was because of the low residency option, the phenomenal faculty, and the opportunity to travel abroad as a part of the program. So far I have not been let down by the low residency (I’ve been exhausted, overwhelmed, over joyed, and noted a significant improvement in my writing, but I have not been disappointed), nor have I been let down by the faculty. I’ve already worked with Karen Osborn, an award-winning, endearing, hard-working, amazing literary author who generously welcomed me to the program and worked with me through my first term. I’ve worked with the eclectic and awe-inspiring Jackie Mitchard who would not allow me to settle for good or even great. She will only allow excellence. For this I am forever indebted. For my third term, I eagerly anticipate working with the legendary Da Chen. His entrance into each residency at Fairfield is that of kings. His modesty and self-effacing manner only encourages the kudos.
And now my third wish, my third desire, my third reason for attending Fairfield University will come true – I will travel overseas as a part of my Fairfield experience. You see, I am a bit of a travel fanatic. When the opportunity arises for me to pick up my bags and head to realms unknown, I am there. Admittedly, I have been to Ireland, twice. Yet I have never been to Galway and all of my friends in Ireland say that it is a joyous experience. So, how could I give this up? (Let’s not mention how easy it is to hop to another destination like Paris, France or Amsterdam, Netherlands).
Over the next several days, I will provide my thoughts, feelings, and experiences during the Galway residency. I’m already eagerly anticipating reading the first official night. I’m torn as to whether I will read from the novel I’m polishing or from a fresh piece of narrative non-fiction. But before I worry about that, I think I have a plane to catch.