Why Hillbilly M.F.A.?

The abbreviation “M.F.A.” means different things to different people, but to folks from the worlds of creative writing and art, it means someone obsessed enough with their own creative urge to spend three years doing nothing but indulging it. I belong to that group of people. I am one of the legion of artist-academics with enough of a masochistic streak to survive a graduate program in fiction writing. To further this penchant for torture, I then managed to join the ranks of full-time faculty at a small state college.

“M.F.A.” isn’t just a graduate degree, it’s a kind of life style. It doesn’t only apply to people who earned diplomas. All over this country, and certainly here in my home state of Arkansas, there are writers, visual artists, and musicians whose lives are just a series of gigs. We spend the summers teaching at art camps, we sell a piece or two, we teach full time for nine-months a year, we follow craft fairs, we start small businesses related to our work, we work day jobs and write at night, we drive around in vans from show to show, we juggle nine projects at a time. We do all of this, mostly, in complete obscurity. We do it for very little money. We’re the workaday artists and thinkers that keep art alive in every small town in America.

I happen to write short stories and creative non-fiction. I am the editorial muscle for a fine press which is associated with my best friend’s book bindery (she’s also a fellow M.F.A.). And there’s the teaching job.

I have at least two major writing projects I’m working on currently and I have no idea where they will take me. Smaller projects bubble to the surface semi-frequently too. After years of boring a tight group of friends over at www.livejournal.com, I decided that I needed a different place to indulge these projects by talking about the issues in my research, issues in ethics and culture, issues in literary arts and publishing, and art in the land of Hillbilly.

“Hillbilly” is another one of those terms that connote very different things to different people. The most common, of course, is a bare-foot slack-jawed yokel playing the banjo in the mountain backwoods of Arkansas, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, or Kentucky. It generally means someone who is ignorant, uneducated and prejudiced. To people who actually live in those mountains, the word is either a slur or a thing of pride. I happen to agree with the “thing of pride” camp. That is not to say that there aren’t ignorant, uneducated, prejudiced people who live in my corner of Hillbilly land. There are more than there should be.

But like all stereotypes, that image only goes so far. Hillbillies, in reality, are a complicated and interesting bunch of people. They have a long history of independence and fortitude that goes back to early American colonial history. You can find out about most of it here: Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon by Anthony Harkins.

I’m a native Arkansan from a small town in the Arkansas River Valley. After college and graduate school, I came on home and settled down. A long time ago I heard a quip that went like this: “All children born in Arkansas are born with a boomerang on their asses. No matter how far they go away, they always end up back home.” I’m one of those former Arkansas ex-pats who, like old Mr. Twain, left home at 18 thinking I knew everything the state could teach me. I came home at 31, clutching my conviction that Arkansas had more to teach than I could learn.

These two major themes, art and Arkansas, make up the major content of my creative focus. This blog will most likely cover them both in detail. But I’m also going to throw in some genealogy, American history, a few good books (I’m on a non-fiction kick right now), the occasional movie review, and some reflections on the research and writing process.

I hope it doesn’t bore ya’ll to death :).

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2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Amy Jude Keaton said,

    Hey woman! This is totally awesome! I’ve subscribed to your feed through Google Reader and I’ll be watching everything you post . . . 🙂

  2. 2

    hillbillymfa said,

    Glad you’re digging it girl! I hope all is well with you!


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