Normally undertaken during a student's third semester of long-distance learning, the Augsburg MFA Program's Craft Paper course is paired with the “Mentorship and Critical and Creative Reading” class.
The Craft Paper course asks students to conduct a semester-long investigation on an element of writing, then produce a paper based on their findings. This paper, totaling approximately 20 pages, should cite numerous sources. It can later be used as the basis for the 20- to 25-minute Craft Talk that MFA students deliver during their final residency.
This 1864 image is in the public domain, according to Wikimedia Commons
Your Craft Paper class will likely meet seven times in the course of a semester. Here is how the class is typically structured:
Provide roughly five topics for a possible paper, using the Moodle forum. If you have already settled on a topic, describe it in some detail, outlining what concepts and texts (at least five) that you plan to cover. This should run to about a page, single-spaced.
See below for the structure and purpose of a prospectus.
Submit the first five pages of your craft paper to your mentor, using the private studio space set up for you on Moodle.
Submit the first fifteen pages of your craft paper to your mentor, then respond to and/or incorporate their feedback.
Submit your completed craft paper to your mentor.
After responding to and incorporating feedback from Session 5, post a revised draft of your craft paper to the appropriate forum on Moodle. Read and comment on the papers posted by your peers.
Submit the final draft of your craft paper to your mentor.
The required texts will vary from student to student, depending on their interests and the subject of their craft paper. Here are some selected representative texts drawn from one 2014 paper:
There are many different kinds of prospectuses for different purposes. In the humanities, Ph.D. students are asked to submit dissertation prospectuses to their committees; most research grant applications require them; academic job candidates often include short prospectuses with their application materials; and book publishers request them as part of the process of considering a manuscript for publication. Editors of journals and essay volumes may also request a prospectus of a proposed article. These different kinds of prospectuses differ mostly in regard to the length and detail with which the project is described. Dissertation prospectuses can run anywhere from 5 to 30 pages, depending on the amount of detail requested of the student, while grant and job applications generally require brevity (1–2 single-spaced pages for a job application; 3–5 single-spaced pages for many grants). It is highly likely that before a major humanities project is published, 3 or 4 different kinds of prospectuses will have been written for it.
A prospectus should answer the following questions:
Think about your audience. Your prospectus should be meaningful and interesting to an intelligent general reader.
In most cases, prospectuses are being reviewed because people are considering entrusting you with something: the freedom of advancing to candidacy; a job; grant money; a book contract. They need to know if their trust will be well placed, and that you are a good bet to follow through on your proposed work. Questions that often arise in this regard are as follows:
Your prospectus should address the first of these concerns head-on and show the reader exactly why your project is important, interesting, and, if possible, relevant to broad (human/social/political/cultural) concerns.
The second two questions are a little tougher to address. Often, they emerge because the project appears to be too broad or ambitious in scope or not yet completely formulated. Or perhaps the readers have concerns about the author's scholarship. If you are concerned that your prospectus describes a project that appears too big to be successfully completed, this might be a signal that you need to reconsider your project's structure. As for the scholarship issue, you can best address this by making sure to show that you are completely in charge of the scholarly apparatus of your project: you know what you're talking about in regard to the scholarly debates, and you give sufficient (and the right) citations. (A negative example: if you say you're the first person to study a particular topic, you had better be right!)
For each source you consult, you will write a brief paragraph — also known as an “annotation” — that summarizes the source, evaluates it (what do you find interesting or insightful about it? disagreeable or questionable?), and proposes how it might be useful to you.
For more details on annotated bibliographies in general, see the Purdue OWL — the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University.
Here’s an example. Let’s say I’m writing a craft paper on the divide between literary and genre fiction, and I’ve read Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven to use as one of my examples.
St. John Mandel, Emily. Station Eleven. New York: Penguin Random House, 2014.
This bestselling novel is dystopian in its content but literary, graceful, and evocative in its style. On the first page of the novel, an actor playing King Lear dies on stage of a heart attack; but the real tragedy is the pandemic that sweeps the globe that night, destroying civilization as we know it. Weaving together the threads of multiple characters from that night, the novel moves forward and backward through time in a way that is powerful without feeling pat. The questions that propel us through the narrative: will these people survive, and how did they get here (who are they? Where do they come from? How do their stories connect?). Art is also very important to the novel, and the mantra of the story is the phrase painted on the caravan of the Traveling Symphony: Because survival is insufficient. In my craft paper, I will argue that the reason the novel has baffled critics who want to categorize it as either “genre” or “literary” fiction is because it is both: on the one hand it asks the same questions of plot that a generic sci-fi novel might ask (for example: how do people survive when civilization is destroyed?), but also the same questions of philosophy and humanity that a literary novel would illuminate (what constitutes a good life? A good death? What does civilization even mean?). I intend to use the novel as an example of contemporary fiction that combines a compelling, tension-filled plot with the hallmarks of literary prose: a thoughtful structure, well-drawn characters, and language that is vivid, often bordering on poetry.