Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Letter to MFA Students and Graduates from Bob Begiebing

June 28, 2011

Dear MFA Students and Graduates:

Welcome back from your MFA residency.   I’m pleased to hear you all survived, in various conditions, Star Island, dormitory life, graduation, and a day with the advisory board.  I’ve been enjoying tales of your adventures and survivals from Diane.  Charles Stella’s blog added spice to the island narrative.  And Facebook (esp. Kelly’s gallery) gave me a look at the questionable, productive, and celebratory goings on.  So though I missed you all, you certainly have managed very well without me.  I couldn’t be more pleased that the residency worked out and you are now all launched on your new semester through December.

The real purpose of this missive, however, is to tell you how moved I was by your thoughtfulness in putting together that little gathering in Frost Hall, third floor, to acknowledge my retirement from the directorship of this MFA program over the past five years and from the university after thirty-four.  I was genuinely surprised, even overwhelmed, by all the gifts, handshakes, hugs, heartfelt good wishes, and smiles.  Not till the next morning, however, when I looked through your gift bag again did it really come home to me how much you all offered of yourselves and resources to give me a proper send-off.  The wine box, its inscription, and contents are superb; the GPS is something my wife Linda and I have been talking about getting for a long time; and then you go and add to all that gift cards to wine.com and my favorite bookstore (Water Street Books in Exeter NH).  Two bottles of good Pinot Noir—you all know my weaknesses by now!  I mean you really outdid yourselves, and I am very grateful to you all.  Mama Kelly, special thanks to you for setting up the send-off and working so hard behind the scenes with Linda and everyone on the gifts.  

When I founded this writing program six years ago I didn’t know if we could make it work, didn’t know whether we could build an exceptional community, didn’t know what working with a bunch of writers and artists would be like (or even if tolerable), didn’t know if we’d be taken seriously among the national competition, and didn’t know if I had the psychological or cardiovascular system to do endure such a mostly administrative position (something new to me in a long academic career).  Well, somehow, mostly thanks to wonderful, hard-working students and faculty, the whole thing worked out.  And here we all are starting the program’s sixth year, all systems “Go.”

Board member Lissa Warren said at the faculty dinner for the advisory board June 17th (where I was given yet another send-off) that being a graduate of an MFA program herself and familiar with a number of others, our MFA program is the most non-competitive, respectful, and supportive community of writers she’s ever seen.  To the extent she’s right, we have all the members of this writing community to thank.  It’s the character of the people who create such healthy communities, and we’ve been most fortunate in the people we’ve attracted and retained.  Your generosity toward me earlier that evening also reminded me of that good fortune.

To those of you who expected to see me at the after-graduation party, I apologize for being a no-show.  After graduation I could see that Diane needed a little down-time, needed to talk to me about a number of things in the heave, as Emily Dickinson puts it, between two storms—the campus residency and Star Island residency.  So I took her out to a quiet spot for dinner and we talked for two hours.  Then she asked if I’d help her pack and load her truck so she could get home and repack for Star.  By the time we were finished it was getting late, we were both wiped out, and we just went our separate ways home.  But by all accounts you had a great time without us.  I guess that’s one thing we never have to worry about.

Again, my heartfelt thanks to you all.  I am going to miss you and the labors and joys of working as a teacher and administrator in this MFA program.  The faculty gave me a card with all their signatures and delightful little sayings at the board dinner.  I’ll quote you just one, from the inimitable Craig Childs, who summed things up for me in a way I’d like to share.  “Your presence is already missed, a spitfire is sitting in your chair, and what you’ve created is sailing.”

My warmest best wishes to you all on your continued voyage,

Bob Begiebing

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