Writing students may choose to attend a winter residency in Puerto Rico in lieu of Vermont. The Puerto Rico residency is scheduled at the same time as the Vermont residency and is open to all but those entering their first semester, including our alumni and postgraduate writers. The group typically consists of 14–20 people, including two to three MFA in Writing faculty.
The trip begins in Old San Juan in the nation’s capital. This walled colonial city boasts blue cobblestone streets, two historic forts, a plethora of museums, shops and restaurants, and a long literary history. The group stays in gorgeous, well-appointed18th-century buildings, with a communal kitchen, laundry facilities and an open courtyard for lectures and readings. Some of the best cuisine on the island is found in Old San Juan, with restaurants on every block for traditional Puerto Rican fare, vegetarian meals, or fast food.
The second half of the residency takes place in El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. forest system. The group stays at an eco-resort in an untouched part of the rainforest surrounded by lush green forest, waterfalls, and, at night, singing tree frogs.
The Puerto Rico residency includes all the components of the Montpelier residency, such as workshops, graduating student and faculty lectures, and readings. In addition, students take several excursions that support and enhance the academic experience.
While in Old San Juan students meet with established and well-known Puerto Rican writers in all genres. As these writers give readings, talk about the writing life on the island, and discuss their careers and processes, students have the opportunity for a stimulating exchange of thoughts and ideas. There are also readings from students, faculty, and alumni.
Possible excursions include the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico, El Morro Fort, The Poet’s Passage, and more. These trips help solidify important themes encountered in the literature of the island and during discussions with local writers.
In El Yunque students hike the untouched, tourist-free section of the rainforest in the town of Cubuy, learning through a guide about the flora and fauna of this pristine locale. Just steps from the hotel students can swim in waterfall-fed pools and find quiet writing time beneath the green canopy. Faculty members hold generative workshops exploring nature writing in the most idyllic of settings. The residency culminates with a special dinner honoring graduating students in Fajardo.
Fred Chappell, novelist, essayist, poet, and winner of the Bollingen Prize, once wrote an essay describing his ideal MFA program as one in which craft workshops were replaced in part with study of local fauna, astronomy, music appreciation, natural history, geography, art appreciation, and so on. Chappell's point is that a writer who knows only craft and not the world writes in a vacuum, and that the resulting writing can be sterile and self-referential. On the other hand, happy collisions occur when we read and experience out of our comfort zones; the result is an influx of creativity.
The philosophy of the Puerto Rico residency subscribes to this general principle. The point is to introduce students to the culture of another country known for its rich literary history in the hopes that such useful collisions will occur in the context of a basic workshop atmosphere. In many ways, the entire commonwealth of Puerto Rico is a classroom and learning experience.
Director of Student Recruitment
866-934-8232, ext. 8589
“The opportunity to be in PR and listen to local writers has been an invaluable experience. We’ve discussed so many topics – from race to gender to history to language and class. Doing the residency in PR and listening to local writers has really put this literature in context and connected it to their and our lives. The discussions were relevant and inspiring.”
-Becky Sernett, Winter 2011 residency
“I learned more in this 9-hour hike/adventure than I’ve ever learned in my life. Period. No Joking.”
-Adam Love, Winter 2013 residency
“I have had such a fabulous, educational, spiritual, beautiful week. Met amazing, intrepid faculty & students, been welcomed by all the writers and tour guides. Seriously, that rainforest hike changed my life and I would never have come to PR on my own...now I want to return and bring friends and family to show them this magical place, and perhaps even spend time living/writing here; it’s that good. Thank you for hosting this trip!”
-Giovanna Marcus, Winter 2012 residency