The Columbia College Chicago Spring 2017 semester came to a close with Manifest, Columbia’s annual showcase of graduating students. The Creative Writing Department took part in Manifest on Thursday, May 11th and Friday, May 12th. Thursday night was the big night for MFA students.
The Creative Writing MFA Showcase took place in the Faculty Center, on the 8th Floor of the 600 South Michigan Avenue building. Two Creative Writing Department MFA candidates, Sadaf Ferdowsi (Creative Nonfiction) and Najm Haq (Fiction), coordinated the reading with the help of Director of Graduate Programs David Trinidad, Interim Chair Tony Trigilio, Associate Chair Joe Meno, Academic Manager Devon Polderman, and Assistant to the Chair Deborah Siegel. That sounds like quite a handful, but the event was both huge and hugely successful so there’s no such thing as “too many cooks in the kitchen” here.
Sadaf and Najm started setting up by 6:00pm when the room, with its many windows, was very bright. Swag bags for MFA graduates were huddled together on a back table, replete with frilly ribbons on the handles. Faculty, friends, and family of the graduates began to arrive and fill up the chairs by 6:15pm, when Najm wheeled a huge cart of food into the room.
Sadaf, Najm, and I arranged the food – a marvelous spread of vegetarian options – on a decorated counter fifteen feet long. Before we finished, some hungry parents, eager to avoid embarrassing stomach grumblings during the readings, began sampling to food. Soon Tony Trigilio gave his blessing, and everyone else joined in the feast as well.
Representatives from Columbia’s A/V department provided a microphone, amplifier, and mixer for the reading. My one job was to test the microphone just prior to opening remarks. Put a hot mic in front of me and there is a high probability I will accidentally profane. Oops, I did it again. The sound was really good though.
Some faculty and MFA graduates were unable to join us for Manifest. With focuses in Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry, the department is actually quite large. Some faculty had to teach that night; many graduates are already in other parts of the world.
Around 7:15 p.m., the readings began with an introduction by Tony Trigilio. Whenever possible, MFA readers were introduced by their faculty advisors – a very nice touch. If a faculty advisor could not be present, introductions fell to Joe Meno and Patti McNair (Fiction). Joe and Patti would read remarks prepared by the advisors.
At 8:15 p.m., Tony called for a break so everyone could mingle and have some more food. By this time, it had become quite dark in the room. The darkness created a nice ambiance but we all felt bad for the people who could not see their work as they read. I adjusted the lights before we recommenced.
Despite the fact that not all MFA graduates could be present to read, those that were and did were a wonderful representative group that reminded me how proud I am to be among them at Columbia. Across all three genres, the work of Columbia graduate students is strong and engaging. The diversity of people and ideas results in an incredible cross-pollination of talent that I don’t think I’d be receiving elsewhere.
The event ended at 9:15 p.m. Many MFA students went out to a late dinner (despite all the food we’d eaten at the event) with family members. Faculty made sure to congratulate the students once more before heading home. Sadaf, Najm, and I cleaned up. It was a good night.