Giving Props for My SC Acceptance

USC's PhD program for literature + creative writing is badass. It's so rad, in fact, that it makes me dizzy. On the fiction side (my side), you've got TC Boyle, Aimee Bender, Percival Everrett + Marianne Wiggins. On the poetry side you've got David St. John, Mark Irwin + Carol Muske-Dukes. USC's PhD program is basically artistic vertigo. But I digress.

After screaming out loud + crying in my girlfriend's neck, the first thing I did was write the people that helped me get into USC. You have to do that, thanking not just the creater/universe/whatever configuration you're into frankly for the privilege of being able to write, read + evolve, but also thanking all the people that helped you achieve that. These are people that pushed your potential art into kinetic art. They used their own energy to nurture and guide your writing.

So, I wrote letters to Valerie Sayers, my thesis adviser and friend from Notre Dame, and thanked her for guidance, widsom + perspective (after all, she helped me decide which writing sample to submit, not to mention she was the person who introduced me for my Sparks Reading, and called to accept me back in the spring of 2005, officially creating space for me in this world to be a writer). Then I wrote William O'Rourke and thanked him for accepting my conceptual story in the NDR, and for his help as an old skool critic. Apropos, he wrote one of the most flattering rec's I've ever read. Then, I wrote Steve Tomasula and thanked him for his mind, for his literary deviance, and above all, for his support, intelligence + enthusiasm. He told me he made we walk on water in his rec., and damn I needed a little Jesus in my application. I also wrote my friend and mentor, Jim Dorsey at Dartmouth College, who was a visiting professor at Yale for one of my classes when I was working on my first M.A. there. He has written no less than 10 rec.'s for me over the course of 10 years for a million different programs (and half-baked aspirations) at a long-list of schools (PhD, MFA), supporting me when I considered going straight academic (Berkeley, Stanford, U Dub), straight fine arts (Notre Dame + Indiana U), and now, a perfect hybrid of the two (SC + FSU).

Finally, I wrote Julianna Baggott, the assistant director at FSU. I know this year didn't have a normal fiscal pulse for Florida State, and I didn't want her to feel bad about not being able to accept me like she may have in a normal year. I know she respects me as a writer and likes me as a person, and had hoped that FSU financial situation would improve. It didn't, they accepted 2 fiction PhD's instead of 5-6, and that's not her fault. Anyway, here is the letter I wrote her:

Hey Julianna,

I'm sorry things didn't work out. Sort of feels like we broke up before we dated or something. . . Even so, I just wanted you to know that I really appreciated your support, honesty + compassion. I know you only had so much control over your budget, and the FL legislature, and that in another year things probably would have ended differently.

Even so, because I know you feel a little guilty about l'affaire FSU, even though it's clearly not your fault, or anyone else's for that matter, I thought it might assuage things a little bit to let you know that things ended up great for me anyway. I got into USC's PhD program for Lit + CW (fiction, obviously) and I'll be working with some cool writers (not to mention, I'll be an hour away from my mamma), so don't worry about me. I'm cool. And more importantly, happy I got to know you a little bit during this whole process.

I'm looking forward to running into you at a conference/residence in the future. Thanks again for the way you handled things and the grace with which you did them, and stay in touch.

Peace, Blessings,


And here is her response:

USC is a great program! and personally i'd love to be only an hour from family. thanks so much for the updates. i don't consider us broken up! i'd love to hear what you're doing from time to time, if you don't mind jotting me little notes. i know you're going to have a long and splendid career! it'd be a pleasure to watch it unfold -- even from afar.

all my best,