Today I have the absolute pleasure of introducing you to Katie Bockino, a Geneseo alum and amazing writer currently working on earning her MFA. Katie took some time out of her really busy MFA schedule to tell me a bit about her experience as a writer and at NYU.
Hi Katie! Thanks for doing this interview. Can you tell me about your writing life before going to get your MFA (where you earned your BA, magazines you worked with, etc.)?
Hi Meghan! First, thanks so much for “having” me (I sound like I’m on a talk show right now).
Since third grade I loved writing stories, and telling tales. After reading out loud this Halloween inspired story I wrote to the class, I remember thinking, “Oh man this writing thing is EASY.” Laughs. I wish I still thought that! But really it was at a rather young age that I knew I wanted to pursue writing in some way, shape, or form.
In high school I continued to write (and read), and even was a Features Writer for this online magazine called Portrait. When I started applying to colleges I officially decided I wanted to pursue English.
I attended SUNY Geneseo from 2012-2016 and studied Creative Writing and Business Studies. I’m the type of gal who constantly loves to be stressed (just kidding). But I do love to be heavily involved so I joined Geneseo’s literary magazine (MiNT), the English Honor Society’s executive board, became a tour guide, and joined a sorority where I took on a few leadership positions. Of course, anything involving the English Department made me especially happy.
I always wrote in my spare time, and continuously had a story in my head. Even if I wasn’t getting my MFA I would still would be writing as much as I could.
Can you tell me a bit about your decision to go get your MFA? Are you concentrating in a particular area of writing?
For a while I wanted to get my Ph.D. in literature; then, I was sitting in class one night two years ago and having a “revelation” that there was no way I was ready to pursue that type of degree. For a while after I was terrified, since that’s all I had thought about for a very long time. But it made me realize that my true passion always was writing, so why not directly try and pursue that?
I also have always been that person who didn’t want to stop after her BA. So when I took a Ph.D. off the table, I did research on how I could continue to learn – hence, finding out about MFA programs. My professors at Geneseo were wonderful and gave me great resources once I told them of my plans.
The biggest question was if I wanted to take some time off before applying to MFA programs. As I said, I always planned on earning another degree in something, so I figured why not apply now and see what happens. I thought, if I don’t get in anywhere or like my options, I’ll take that as a *sign* to take a gap year or two. However, I ended up getting into five different MFA programs, and chose NYU!
I’m concentrating in fiction right now at NYU, and am currently still in my first semester. I am also taking a “craft” class, where we read different types of books, discuss/analyze them, and even map out the book’s structure.
Can you tell me more about your MFA journey – what have you done so far and how are you liking it? What have been the biggest challenges? What does the rest of your program look like (i.e. what will you being doing between now and earning the degree)?
So far I have been work-shopped (as in my class reviewed/gave feedback on my writing) twice. I took similar classes in Geneseo, but the stakes feel higher here. And I won’t lie, that’s challenging. I feel that I need to prove myself to someone. That yes, I am here for a reason. That’s been the biggest challenge for me personally. I want others to know that I didn’t get in here by chance (even though I have thought that…).
I’m also one of the youngest in my classes/program, and while I had a feeling this would happen, it’s still daunting. I worry that I’m not on the same level as some of my cohorts, but I have to keep telling myself that I wouldn’t have gotten in if NYU didn’t think I was ready.
Between now and when I (hopefully) graduate in May 2018 I will be taking two classes a semester (one workshop, and one elective), teaching an undergraduate creative writing class, working on the Washington Square Review, and then working on my thesis.
Can you tell me about your writing process?
I need to have a coffee and at least one baked good in arm’s length before I sit down to write! There’s nothing like writing a few pages and then taking a bite of a tasty muffin. But in reality, before I write I usually have daydreamed about a story and have thought through a few major points. As I fall asleep I love to envision myself as each character and think through their minds and see what they see. A lot of times my dreams will revolve around this. However, I don’t normally draft things very far out in advance. I like to just have a few ideas in my head, and then sit and see where it all takes me. During revisions I do more mapping/planning, especially if I don’t like where it is currently going.
What are some of the writers that inspire you to keep reading and writing? Some lit journals you just love and why?
When Karen Russell read at Geneseo last year I was in awe. I loved her creepy, unsettling stories and the way they bend genres. Since then I’ve devoured almost all of her stories. I also really do enjoy Young Adult literature, and love Sabaa Tahir’s books. I think she is currently one of the best YA writers out there, and she definitely inspires me.
I love Gandy Dancer (the SUNY wide literary journal), One Story, Washington Square Review, and Glimmer Train! Geneseo’s English Department had some of these in their office, and I loved reading them and finding new writers who give me chills.
What’s your proudest writing moment to date? What are your biggest writing goals for your future?
My “proudest” moment so far was when I was selected as the Washington Square Review’s (NYU’s graduate literary journal) new Assistant Managing Editor. I felt like I put my heart and soul (and a few sleepless nights) into that application, and almost cried when I found out I was selected! So I’ve been working there for the past month.
For my biggest “writing” goals, it’s funny, because I thought about the MFA for so long and how I would get into one, that I never really stopped to think about what will happen to me after the MFA (laughs). I have a few novel ideas I have semi fleshed out, so I would love to actually write those and have them published. But being published is what every writer hopes for! I would love to continue to write for magazines after I graduate, or even teach at the university level.
What advice would you give other writers who are just starting out and considering an MFA program? What should they look for in a program?
First, I would say apply when you want to apply. If you feel ready to go right after college, then apply. If you want to take one, two, or eight gap years, do that. There is no “perfect” age to get this degree. When you feel ready and excited, then you go. I feel like I heard so much conflicting advice about this. I heard one needs to take a year off, or that one has to apply every year until they get into their “dream” program. That’s silly. Do what feels right to you, and when you know you’re ready to commit to your writing.
I would also say make a list of what your “ideal” program would be: what size, how many classes do you take a semester, location, how many years, what type of funding do you need/want. Then, throw that out the window. Just kidding. But know what you want, then apply to schools that are closest to meeting those criteria. Then apply to some schools that are close, but perhaps not “perfect.” I say that because you might get an amazing package from a school you initially didn’t think about, and end up loving it.
Finally, apply to schools that are not just on “the list” of best programs. There are so many awesome programs out there, and I feel like I didn’t know about many of them until my professors at Geneseo mentioned them to me. You can get an amazing package, learn from remarkable faculty, and be in a pretty great location from so many schools that aren’t in the “top ten.”
I’d like to end with something that brings us cross-genre – can you tell me about your favorite science topic, class, piece of writing, moment, etc and why?
Oh man great question! This is hard!
Favorite science topic: space. Anything to do with space, black holes, wormholes, other dimensions that could be out there, how small / insignificant earth really is…anyway.
Favorite Piece of Science Writing: Contact by Carl Sagan.
Thanks so much for joining me for my interview with Katie! You can find out more about Katie and her work here, at her website; look forward to a guest post by Katie later this month.