Books I Brought to My MFA

June 19, 2019 § 12 Comments

z morandBy Amelia Morand

The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien

The night before I move to Montana, an online forum tells me that the trailer I’ve rented will void my car insurance and possibly kill my engine. The next morning, I buy a discount rooftop cargo box and consolidate my life into sixteen cubic feet. I leave behind: the King bed and dining room table I got in the breakup, my Crock-Pot and large and small food processors, half of my shoes, and most of my books. I bring: four pairs of SmartWool socks, three forks, rain boots I will never wear, and two drugged dogs.

The Drama of the Gifted Child, Alice Miller

Reading the very first round of submissions, I realize that we were all the star writers in our undergraduate workshops. Our teacher tells us that if we let it, the jealousy will consume us, and we write this down, desperate for his approval. Each week our cramped classroom will hold our egos and impostor complexes, shifting rivalries and alliances, layers of flannel and down, the smell of spoiled milk growing more urgent and distinctive as the weather gets colder.

Just As Long As We’re Together, Judy Blume

Early on, one of my new friends tells her partner, “I’ve found my tribe.” We nickname our program The Bubble, and our old lives feel far away. It’s too hard to explain to everyone back home what we’re doing here. The three of us often end the night holding hands above the console as the engine idles for an hour, gossiping about the cohort, complaining about our students, laughing again and again over the same stupid joke. I always forget to turn off my headlights, and we watch deer making their way across the lawns.

When You are Engulfed in Flames, David Sedaris

I spend my first term failing to do the following: teach my students how to write a strong thesis statement; understand or even finish Ulysses; talk to a human every day; write a story I’m proud of.

Capital Volume I, Karl Marx

I’m lucky enough to receive a tuition waiver and a stipend, which puts me a little more than six thousand dollars below the poverty line. At first I feel guilty for applying for SNAP, for using my EBT to buy organic chicken, for using it to buy ice cream. I majored in economics as an undergrad, as I make sure to tell everyone, but my Marxism is theoretical, not personal. The choice to study creative writing instead of inequality seems so stupid, so selfish, I feel I don’t deserve any assistance, let alone the public’s. Still, after a few months, I will go just about anywhere if the food is free.

Blue Nights, Joan Didion

I think that the world will probably end soon, and also that I never had any talent to begin with, and I’m not sure which depresses me more, and this ambiguity is another reason I lie awake and anxious from two to five, sleep until nine or ten, spend the day groggy and ashamed. The third time I tell my doctor I want to go back on Wellbutrin she gets it, and while this doesn’t change how I feel about climate or my writing, I now feel able to teach, and read, and walk my dogs. Some days I even write.

Preparation for the Next Life, Atticus Lish

I don’t register the rejections most of the time, though sometimes they’re a little nicer, and I feel optimistic, and sometimes they all come the same week, and I think I’ll quit. The schools all started hiring months ago, and the restaurant in Santa Fe would be glad to have me back. My friend asks if I’ll be home for her wedding in September. “It’s complicated,” I say.

And Then We Came to the End, Joshua Ferris

The theses were read last weekend, a thousand pictures taken by parents and partners (none mine). I skipped the last two parties and with them several goodbyes, and I’ve spent most of this cold and sunny day staring out the window, slowly revising my final few assignments. In fact, I did not bring this book to Missoula, but when it shows up on a syllabus in my final term, I remember exactly which box it’s in beneath the framing table, wedged between half-empty journals and my high school yearbooks, taking up space, she reminds me, in my mother’s garage.

Originally from Santa Fe, Amelia Morand now lives in Missoula, where she serves as a Fiction editor for CutBank and has just finished her MFA. Her writing is featured or forthcoming with apt, Hobart, Pithead Chapel, and Lunch Ticket.











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§ 12 Responses to Books I Brought to My MFA

  • Loved this! Where did you go for your MFA?

  • Phyllis Brotherton says:

    What a great treat over morning tea! Well-written, honest, inspirational, fresh AND a book list. Who could ask for more?

  • Splendid. That is the moment, isn’t it, when we “write a story [we’re] proud of” and feel permission granted, at least for a while. (And, seriously, no one needs to read all of Ulysses. Read Mansfield instead.]

  • kelly says:

    loved. loved. loved. felt like doing yoga. the way you made us breathe through the sentences; the way you made us breathe with the paragraphs.

  • This is SO GOOD. True, wise, and also smart. So well crafted.

  • Amelia Morand says:

    Thank you all so much, you’ve made my week. And to answer Barbara, I went to the University of Montana. For the record, it was challenging at times, but I had some very supportive and inspiring teachers. This essay wouldn’t exist if the incredible Judy Blunt hadn’t let me sneak into her nonfiction class.

  • Amelia Morand says:

    This year she was running the program, being the only nonfiction faculty member in Missoula, cooking all the food for every event, and she still gave a fiction student one-on-one time. She’s the best.

    • ♥ I never got to work with her at Pacific while I was doing my own MFA in fiction, but her craft talks were great, and I admired her very much. In those days (I graduated in 2007) there was a great deal of mixing between the genres and I have always been grateful for that.

  • I adored this piece. How true–the good, the bad, the impoverished. Definitely took me back to my own writing program, and those days when returning to work at the restaurant was a siren song. Love CutBank! Well done, Amelia.

  • Bryce Townsend says:

    I love this. You weave so much together using few words. A therapist once gave me Drama of the Gifted Child. I’ve yet to get past page 10.

  • DoingDewey says:

    What a lovely post! I’ve not done an MFA, so I enjoyed hearing about the experience and I did relate to the self-doubt bits from doing my PhD. I really enjoyed the organization by book title.

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