Building Community

Some Members of the Best Cohort EVER!

Can I tell you about how much I love my cohort?

If you’re unfamiliar with the whole grad school scene, you might be asking What the heck is a cohort? Simply put, your cohort consists of the folks who start grad school in your year and will graduate with you at the end of everything. During the program they’ll become some of your closest friends, greatest allies, best editors, and strongest professional connections.

My cohort is one of the smaller ones, coming in at eight people. At Columbia, Nonfiction cohorts are usually 10-13 students. Each one of us came from a variety of different places around the country, but each of us decided that ending up in Chicago at Columbia was the best decision for us. Throughout the last two years I’ve come to know, love, and trust my cohort for academic, professional, and moral support. Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the state of our literary community, in a variety of forums ranging from informal discussion to think pieces on the state of MFAs and the current literary landscape. These things are on all our minds as we get closer to the end of our program and our time together.

I’m reading an essay at the Poet House!

Many of us have decided that we need to do something more than just write essays and attend readings. We are beginning to feel out not only what currently exists within the literary community in Chicago and our country but also what we want out of it, what we want to make of and for it, and we’re starting to make plans for building our own community post-grad school and continuing our work together beyond the program. We’ve all come quite a way from where we were in fall 2013 when we first met, uncertain if we would get along, how the classroom dynamics would work, how we might feed off each other or inspire one another. I think we were all delighted to discover that we each have very distinctively different styles and that we can see the difference in one another’s work from that first workshop we had together in our first semester.

Amazing Readers at the March 33 Reading

One of the things that attracted me to Columbia’s MFA program is the diversity in approaches to nonfiction that our faculty possesses. Each instructor has a different philosophy regarding the essay form and a wide range of styles from lyric to theoretical to memoir to biography. It excites me to see this same range of literary interest and style reflected in the students I share my program with and I am excited by the ways in which my cohort challenges me, shows me new approaches, gets real with me when something’s not working, and celebrates my triumphs (and vice versa).

Spending three years of your life for sometimes 20+ hours a week with a small group of people is something like what I imagine having a bunch of roommates is like without the territory disputes and arguments about whose turn it is to do the dishes. We started as classmates but over time have become close friends that I hope I will be able to keep for the rest of my life as I support them in their writing careers as I know they will support me in mine.