Defending My Thesis

I have successfully defended my MFA thesis! It was a creative thesis (well, it is a creative writing degree, after all), which means I had to have at least 24 well-crafted poems plus a 7-10 page introduction discussing my writing biography and analyzing my craft. I went a little over that and wrote 12-13 pages, but they accepted it.

Steven and I drove up to Murray State Saturday morning, arriving about 30 minutes before my thesis defense. The defense included three professors, one of whom was my thesis director, and another who has previously been my poetry mentor. The other was the MFA program director, who is a fiction writer. I must say the hour went by quickly. There were a few curve ball questions, but I think I did okay. Of course, now I have thought of better things to say, but oh well. I went in ready to defend my poems, but I also did not know what questions were going to be asked. Afterwards, I was asked to leave the room so they could discuss my defense. It was only 5 minutes, but those 5 minutes were nerve-wracking! Finally my thesis director came out and said I’d passed. I literally squealed and gave him a huge hug. We had been warned that previously people had not passed their defenses, and had had to rewrite their theses, so I was elated and relieved that I’d passed!

Steven, my thesis mentor, and I went out for Thai food afterwards, and then Steven and I rested in the hotel until the catered dinner at 5:30 for all of the students coming to the winter creative writing residency. (I just had to be there for Saturday – no more residencies for me!) After dinner there was a reading given by all five thesis defenders. I was the only poet, which I felt was to my advantage, because it’s easier to listen to poems since they’re short. Speaking in front of people has never bothered me – in fact, I like it. In college I spent many Sundays speaking at churches about being a missionary kid in Thailand. So reading was no big deal. The audience seemed to enjoy it. After that there was a reception for all the thesis defenders, and then a bunch of us went out and got drinks and socialized.
It was a great day.

I am so glad that I did this program. It was the perfect fit because it was a low-residency program that allowed me to do all my work at home with the exception of four 10-day residencies over 2 years. I remember my first residency was when my son was 8 months old and my daughter was 2 1/2. I had quit nursing by then, so the feeding issue was no big deal, but let me tell you I cried like a baby when I left that day. It was so hard. It was all hard. I juggled parenthood and working full time and classwork. There were a few all-nighters. I could not have done it without the support of my husband. He was a constant encouragement, always cheering me on when I wanted to give up, keeping the kids for me the weeks I was gone, celebrating all my successes with me, and giving me time to write. I thank him so much and not to brag, but I am proud of myself!

My goal going into this program was to become a better writer. I have definitely done that. I have grown as a poet and as a person, and hopefully will continue to improve as I study more poets on my own. Now my goal is to keep writing and keep trying to get published. I sent out 87 poems in 2009, and 3 got accepted. If you ask any poet, he will tell you that that’s not too bad for a grad student. It’s a tough market flooded with good poets, but I just have to have persistence and keep sending poems out, getting my name out there, and hopefully publishing some books someday. As far as work, I will probably keep doing what I am doing unless some awesome college teaching opportunity (or other writing job) comes my way. Ultimately I would love to write and speak. Maybe one day I’ll get there. For now, I’m happy teaching my ESL students and writing at night! I have two classes left (non-writing classes) to take this semester, and I’ll graduate in May!

2 comments

  1. Karen Crouse says:

    Karissa,

    I linked over to your blog from your facebook post and was just reading over some of your posts. I really enjoyed them, thanks. I also wanted to say on this one in particular, congrats, and I am proud of you too! It is not easy to do what you have done and be a professional woman balancing kids and something so demanding as your grad degree plus your career as well.

    I think what is cool about you is that you are pursuing passions, and while I won’t be so silly as to say it doesn’t feel like work when you are doing that, it does feel very fulfilling, and that makes it worth it all. Your kids will be so proud of their mama when they get to the age to realize how amazing you really are!

    -Hugs, your old roomie, Karen

  2. kksorrell says:

    Karen, Thanks so much! I am glad I pursued this, too, although now I am in some considerable debt from school loans! But for Steven and I, we feel that education is something worth going into debt for.

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