Afaa Michael Weaver
POC and MFAs. Well, let me be specific in terms of the African American community and HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and say I would like to see more growth of MFA programs in that world. For black people the idea of a “practical” education has favored instruction in conservatory over newly creative art. There has been a brain drain on HBCUs in the last fifty years or so. Poet-teachers such as Tony Medina are doing important and valuable work, but they need support. I’m talking about a renewal inside the black community where the idea of an MFA program has to compete with alarming dropout rates and the prison pipeline problem. The history of HBCUs makes the reality of black literary artists a little bit different. As the first Elder of Cave Canem I would like to suggest all the retreats for people of color exchange faculty among themselves and invite white literary artists who teach to give guest presentations and be guest faculty. I know a few white poets of some standing who are just waiting to be invited. The only other thing I can say is that my first experience teaching in a low-residency MFA program has been at Drew University, and I love that community. I’m having a great time, and I think it’s due in no small way to the megadose of compassion put into the program’s DNA since its inception. My MFA experience at Brown in ‘85-‘87 was tough. Really tough, and I do have to say the challenges were not all the making of the whites in the community. I got a good whacking from my own racial group. Let me repeat for clarity. I am a member and a big fan of the low-residency program at Drew University. An MFA for POC could take notes from a vibrant MFA at an HBCU. However, that vibrant HBCU MFA needs support where it’s trying to be.