MFA Spotlight: University of Notre-Dame

I am very pleased to welcome Lauro Vazquez to our blog. I want to take this opportunity to thank him very much for sharing his experiences and insights about the University of Notre Dame’s Creative Writing program.

Born in Cosamaloapan, Veracruz, Mexico, Lauro Vazquez, grew up in the California bay area. He is a CantoMundo fellow and an MFA student in poetry at the University of Notre Dame’s Creative Writing program. He is assistant editor and contributor at Letras Latinas–the literary program at Notre Dame’s institute for Latino Studies and maintains a regular blog. His poems have appeared at The Ofi PressParagraphity, Pemmican Press and other journals.

NICHE: Tell us a little bit about what led you to an MFA Program? 

LAURO VAZQUEZ: I started writing while an undergraduate. I use to attend class in the morning and in the evening time I would work full-time at my university’s dinning hall. I would daydream a lot, writing lines in my head, going over potential poems as I accomplished my tasks at work. By the time I would get home, I would have a draft written in my head and I would put it down paper. Slowly I began to conceive of myself as a poet and slowly but surely I learned of MFA programs. This seemed the next natural step. I wanted to be surrounded by an atmosphere of writers and also wanted to have the time and resources to be able to dedicate myself to my own writing. The desire to belong to a group that shared in the same values and that would value my creative endeavors drove me to pursue the MFA route.

NICHE: Is Notre Dame a fully funded program? Tell me a little bit about the funding that’s  offered to incoming students.

LAURO VAZQUEZ: Every accepted student receives a full tuition waver. This was one of the reasons why I finally settled for Notre Dame. Ours is a two-year program with ten poets at any given time (five per class). Not all of us get assistantships although all of us get the tuition waver. Some get to teach while others work in the administrative department; organizing the readings and program events. One special and unique assistantship is given to an incoming poet and it involves working with Action Books, a unique press founded by Notre Dame and MFA professors Johannes Goransson and Joyelle McSweeney.

NICHE: Are graduate students given the opportunity to teach?

LAURO VAZQUEZ: Yes, both in poetry and in fiction. This is, I believe, one of the assistantships offered to incoming students. That being said, there are also opportunities to teach despite not being awarded an assistantship.

NICHE: Which authors have you had an opportunity to work with?

LAURO VAZQUEZ: Orlando MenesJohaness Goransson and Joyelle McSweeney in workshop. But I have also had the opportunity to participate in private discussions with various other authors; some that come to mind are Olivia CronkLaura Mullen and Daniel Borzutzky.

NICHE: How do you find the workshop environment in Notre Dame?

LAURO VAZQUEZ: I think what makes the workshop environment unique here are the my peers and professors. They are all very passionate and hardworking people. The feedback I have gotten has led me to reconsider much of what I have been doing in my poems and has led me to find growth in my voice as a poet. I find the workshop here quite unique in many ways; for our discussions of readings and works of criticism we use an in-class blog which forces one to think deeply about our thoughts and also creates a democratic space where the conversation is not dominated by one particular person, as it often happens in more traditional classes. This also frees up more in-class time that can be used for workshopping poems. 

NICHE: What opportunities does this program offer that other programs don’t?

LAURO VAZQUEZ: I think that the tuition wavers and  plus the caliber of the faculty are probably what distinguishes this program.  But from my own experience, and I know this is a cliche, it is the people–particularly my peers that has made this program stand out. The caliber of their work and the diversity of poetics and of points of view has really pushed me to think hard and deeply about poetry and that in turn has made me a better poet.

NICHE: What is the Sparks Prize?

LAURO VAZQUEZ: The Sparks Prize is a year’s time to write for an MFA graduate. Every year it is awarded to a graduating MFA student. 

NICHE: Are there any downsides to this program?

LAURO VAZQUEZ: Yes, for me this has to do with the availability and diversity of literature classes. The diversity of subjects and the content of the class is quite poor.

NICHE: Tell me a little bit about Re: Visions and The Bend? Are the graduate students part of the staff there?

LAURO VAZQUEZ: Like the MFA student reading series, The Bend is one of Notre Dame’s creative projects, completely MFA students. The last issue of The Bend, #9, was edited by Margaret Emma Brandl, and graduates Ji yoon Lee and Seth Oelbaum. Submissions are open to current and past MFA students. I believe Re: Visions is the literary magazine run by the undergraduate students in creative writing here at Notre Dame and while it is autonomous from the MFA program I do believe a number of current and past MFA students serve as editors. 

NICHE: What advice would you give current or prospective MFA candidates?

LAURO VAZQUEZ: I think the most important thing is to choose a program where there are faculty that you want to work with; people’s whose ideas and work inspire you and motivate you to want to write. That being said, I think that diversity of styles, points of view and backgrounds is also important as these always push you to reconsider your own ideas and to think deeply about your own work. 

This MFA Spotlight was originally published on Niche’s website on December 1st, 2012.

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