New OLLU Graduate Program Offers MFA Through Social Justice Lens 

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San Antonio has a new MA/MFA program and it is rooted in el mero hueso de San Antonio – Our Lady of the Lake University, the educational oasis of San Antonio's West Side.

It was a big jump for me to go back to graduate school. I am 43, a single mother, and a cultural worker balancing several part-time gigs at several local arts organizations. For me, my cultural work had always been rooted in social justice.

I had been looking at OLLU as a possible place for graduate studies because of the university's proximity to downtown, the English department's renowned literary festival and the school's spiritual heart. Also, the English department has a long history of supporting professional writers through its writer-in-residence program; Sandra Cisneros was the first to hold the post.

Visiting writers walk the halls each year, exposing students to a wide range of writers working in multiple genres. Pair that with OLLU's commitment to community service and the launch of its new MA/MFA in Creative Writing, Literature and Social Justice and I was eager to start.

I applied, got accepted conditionally, took the MAT, cleared old undergraduate library fines from 1993, took out a student loan and bought some highlighters and fine-point Sharpies. I am now entering year two of the three-year program as a Quest Graduate Teaching Fellow. Yes, they offer graduate work opportunities, too. If I can do it, so can you.

This program is special, not just for San Antonio, but for our nation. It is one of maybe three such MA/MFA programs in the U.S. Our classwork is a balance of scholarship and creative writing viewed through the lens of social justice. The first year introduced scholarship methods and creative writing workshops. My professors included Nan Cuba, novelist and founder of Gemini Ink, and Yvette Benavides, radio commentator, book critic, and writer. Class visitors included Robert Rivard, Ellen Meeropol and Joan Cheever.

One of my favorite writers of all-time, Denise Chavez, was the featured writer at this year's literary festival; I was fortunate to sit with her at Toro Taco Bar while drinking an Indio and discussing Chekov. Classes meet in the evening. Taking two classes per semester qualifies you as a full-time graduate student. Many of my fellow classmates are parents and have full-time jobs.

I have generated more creative writing material I am proud of in my first year at OLLU than I had amassed in the past five years as a cultural worker because I am finally learning the craft of writing and practicing discipline. I am a walking billboard for the power of continued education and I am so happy to be working toward two degrees, an MA and an MFA, at Our Lady of the Lake University.


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