The DIY MFA in Creative Writing

This summer, I’ll be quitting my full-time job to devote more time to writing. This renewed focus has me thinking about MFA programs, and I’ve been trolling creative writing web sites in my spare time, fantasizing about the application process. But with no programs here in Dallas, and only a few options for the low-residency MFA, the residency requirements (and costs) associated with most programs just aren’t practical for me.

So I’ve resolved to complete a “DIY MFA in Creative Writing,” utilizing free (or near-free) resources, including: the local library, local Dallas-Ft. Worth writing critique groups, a small network of alpha and beta readers, selective use of freelance editors, and the web. I’ll be trying to complete the first draft of my novel over the course of two years, taking occasional breaks to finish a collection of short stories (6 or 7 of which are complete).

The reading list for this stay-at-home-dad’s MFA is listed below, and reflects my tastes more than anything else. These are the stories I enjoy reading, and will hopefully influence the novel I eventually produce. I’ve read a few of these already, but most will be new. I’ve also sprinkled in some “just for fun” books such as Susanna Clarke’s “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell”.

And so here, in no particular order, is my reading list for the next two years. I’ll get started in early June, and will update you infrequently on my progress and thoughts about each novel:

  1. Rabbit, Run (John Updike)
  2. The Right Stuff (Tom Wolfe)
  3. Underworld (Don DeLillo)
  4. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Annie Dillard)
  5. 2666 (Roberto BolaƱo)
  6. Oryx & Crake (Margaret Atwood)
  7. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (David Wroblewski)
  8. Jesus’ Son (Denis Johnson)
  9. Suttree (Cormac McCarthy)
  10. The Brothers K (David James Duncan)
  11. Collected Stories (Raymond Carver)
  12. American Tabloid (James Ellroy)
  13. The Cold Six Thousand (James Ellroy)
  14. Matterhorn (Karl Marlantes)
  15. Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison)
  16. Under the Volcano (Malcolm Lowry)
  17. Drop City (TC Boyle)
  18. The Sweet Hereafter (Russell Banks)
  19. Middlemarch (George Eliot)
  20. Libra (Don DeLillo)
  21. Stories (TC Boyle)
  22. The Stories of John Cheever (John Cheever)
  23. Collected Stories (Amy Hempel)
  24. The Sportswriter (Richard Ford)
  25. Independence Day (Richard Ford)
  26. The Intuitionist (Colson Whitehead)
  27. American Pastoral (Philip Roth)
  28. Shadow Country (Peter Matthiessen)
  29. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
  30. Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)
  31. Gilead (Marilynne Robinson)
  32. Disgrace (JM Coetzee)
  33. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke)
  34. Tree of Smoke (Denis Johnson)
  35. Chronic City (Jonathan Lethem)
  36. The Unconsoled (Kazuo Ishiguro)
  37. The Sheltering Sky (Paul Bowles)
  38. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Michael Chabon)
  39. The Art of Racing in The Rain (Garth Stein)
  40. Await Your Reply (Dan Chaon)
  41. Geronimo Rex (Barry Hannah)
  42. Airships (Barry Hannah)
  43. Best American Short Stories 2005 (edited by Michael Chabon)
  44. Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut)
  45. The Things They Carried (Tim O’Brien)
  46. Empire Falls (Richard Russo)
  47. Escapes (Joy Williams)
  48. The Complete Stories (Flannery O’Connor)
  49. Too Much Happiness (Alice Munro)
  50. Our Story Begins (Tobias Wolff)
  51. The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery)
  52. Gravity’s Rainbow (Thomas Pynchon)

UPDATE: Eventually I completed this list and this novel. It was so fun I put together another reading list for the next novel.