Friday, July 31, 2009

MFA Scholarship Essay for SHU

Here's my attempt at the scholarship essay question:

If I could have dinner with three people, living or dead, for the purpose of discussing my upcoming MFA degree at Seton Hill, I would choose Sylvia Plath, Ray Bradbury, and DH Lawrence. I’d like to meet Sylvia Plath, because I’m basing my thesis project on her poem, “The Thin People.” Many literary critics have conjectured about the meaning of the poem. Is it about women who want to be fashionably thin? Is it about television and media making our attention span short and thin? Or is it possibly about the people who were in interment camps in Nazi Germany? I would love to hear her interpretation of that poem (if she would care to tell me). I’d also like to meet the person behind the strong, gloomy and beautiful poems and short stories she wrote. I’d be curious to meet someone who, fifty years after her suicide, still has books and articles written about her life. Perhaps I’d like to reach out and help her to not commit suicide, tell her that if she hangs in there, things will get better.

Her command of language is an inspiration to me. And from her experience at Cambridge, Plath would know about the value of education. Plath was her own doppelganger: the society deb in evening gown and pearls who smiles out at us from those long-ago dinner party photos, and the bipolar, macabre surrealist who (shortly before her death by suicide) wrote the darkly beautiful book of poems, Ariel. I’d like to know what inspired her and what advice she would have for me.

While I was in grammar school, Ray Bradbury’s writing made me realize that magic exists. I’ll forever remember stories of a time machine safari, an April witch who inhabited the body of a young girl one fine spring night so she could experience the pleasures of love, a race of people who live for only ten days. He inspired me to write my first stories, which were at that time science fiction. Now everything I write is an attempt to capture the sinister enchantment I first felt in reading his stories. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could make my readers feel the same way? He transported me to other worlds and not just in physical location, but to a land of limitless possibilities.

Bradbury’s advice about developing a literary career would be invaluable to me. In his book, The Zen of Writing, he tells us that we have to do everything with excitement, do everything because we love it, to write about things that we either love or hate, grab the intensity and use it in our writing.

My third guest would be DH Lawrence because of the beauty of his prose. At an early age, his writing inspired me to love literature. What in his life caused him to have the outlook that love is everything? What inspired him to write Lady Chatterly’s Lover? What makes his writing so smooth and beautiful? To be able to evoke such emotion in the readers is my goal. I admire the intensity of Sons and Lovers, and I aspire to that level of emotional authenticity. Parts of his books are gritty and detail the lives of such persons as miners in the early 1900’s. He explores the every day emotional cruelty that people inflict on each other. The deep point of view he has of these characters is no doubt due to the area in which he grew up, but he writes about lords and ladies and lowly gamekeepers with the same sense of reality. I’d like to hear about what he encountered during his writing career, what he learned, what he would do differently.

Lastly, it would be interesting to see how they would interact at dinner? Would they all be reticent writers who don’t say much? Would one person dominate the conversation? Would Sylvia arrive in a shirtwaist dress and pearls? I think what they have in common is that writing wasn’t cerebral for any of them; it was a visceral experience that they all felt very deeply. I’d like to understand how they were all able to write with such power and passion.

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