Book Review: “Low-Residency MFA Handbook” by Lori A. May

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Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing StudentsTitle: Low-Residency MFA Handbook: A Guide for Prospective Creative Writing Students
Author: Lori A. May
Publisher: Continuum
ISBN, PUB Date: 978-1-4411-9844-0, January 15, 2011
Reviewed By: Joan Hanna for Author Exposure

“The low-residency MFA is meant to pair you with writing mentors who will push you to become your best, surround you with a community of like-minded peers, and support you with feed-back on your book-length thesis or other substantial body of work.” (6)

Lately, there has been so much talk about low-residency MFA programs, but until now there hasn’t been a comprehensive guide for anyone considering one of these programs.

Lori A. May has put together an impressive amount of information in The Low Residency MFA Handbook. This book not only gives the reader an overview of the programs, but also provides tips on how to choose a program that is right for you.
Some of the information covered includes:

  • What happens during the non-residency semester?
  • What do the on campus residencies include?
  • What kind of community is established between faculty and students?
  • What opportunities are there for writers to gain pedagogical training through a low-residency program?
  • And, most importantly, how do you determine which low-residency program (if any) is right for you?

“All of this is meant to help you determine (a) if a low-residency program is right for you, and (b) which programs speak to your personal goals and ambitions.” (8)

May’s book will guide you through the application process and it includes useful tips from the program directors themselves. The information is sorted conveniently so that the student can compare each program easily. May lists program features to consider such as:

  • program curriculum
  • faculty
  • student/alumni success
  • visiting writers and special guests
  • reading/events
  • tuition and funding
  • formats of study

This extensive summary of programs is what separates May’s book from other information available for prospective students. Along with previews of the low-residency programs, May has included comprehensive interviews with program directors, faculty, alumni, and current students. May lists the program, a bio of each interviewee, and walks the reader through everything from the application process, program curriculum, teaching philosophy, tuition, and how the residencies and non-residencies work.

Without this guide, a perspective student would have to gather information by hand or by requesting a packet from each school. Since each low-residency program has a different curriculum, residency length, and requirements, it could take months just to gather all the information. May’s book has compiled all of this information for you in a concise and user-friendly package that plainly lays out all the information you need for choosing which program is right for you and determinng precisely what you want to accomplish by attaining an MFA degree.

So, if you are looking for a program for yourself, counseling students on selecting graduate programs, or are just curious about how low-residency MFA programs work, The Low-Residency MFA Handbook is the book for you. May has taken a daunting, and sometimes frustrating, process for prospective students and compiled it into a comprehensive, fact-filled book that should be considered vital information for prospective students and advisors alike.

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About Traci

Traci is a strategic project manager that uses mind mapping techniques and her profound love and consumption for books to help fiction authors strategize their businesses to profitability. To learn more about her, visit

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