MFA in Writing

Winter Residency in Cozumel

Writers enrolled in the MFA in Writing program may choose to attend a winter residency in Cozumel, in lieu of Vermont. The inaugural Cozumel Winter Residency is January 2-10, 2019. The deadline to register is August 15, 2018. For more information, contact the MFAW in Writing program office

The residency is open to all except those entering their first semester. Alumni and postgraduate writers are welcome as long as space permits. In addition to taking in the many wonders of Cozumel, we will visit the ancient Maya ruins of Tulum, a stunning palace complex perched on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea.

The Setting

Cozumel, an island offshore the Yucatan Peninsula in the northwestern Caribbean, was first settled by the Maya 2,000 years ago. Considered a sacred site by the Maya, in ancient times Maya women made the crossing from the mainland in canoes to received fertility blessings. The two primary religious and trading centers, San Gervasio and El Cedral, still exist, although San Gervasio is today preserved as a Mayan ruin complex. 

During the residency, we will reside in Cozumel’s thriving seaside village of San Miguel, a worldwide destination for artists, nature lovers, history buffs, snorkelers, and divers. “Cozumel” is a Spanish derivative of the island’s original Mayan name—Cuzam (meaning Swallow) and Lumil (meaning land of). Therefore, “Cuzamil” is Mayan for “Land of the Swallows.”  

Cozumel is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, also known as the Great Maya Reef, the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere and the second largest on the planet. We have three fine hotels to choose from, two on San Miguel’s world-famous waterfront malecon and one on a pedestrian-only avenue. A large breakfast buffet offering everything from Maya and Spanish cuisine to American staples and fresh fruit smoothies is complementary. Sidewalk cafes and open-air restaurants are ubiquitous with an average meal costing under $10. Additionally, the peso to dollar exchange rate heavily favors the dollar. In our off-hours, there is much to explore: shops, galleries, ruins, tequila tours, swimming, sunbathing, snorkeling, diving, and more. 

During the residency we will take a daytrip to the vast archeological site of the Maya ruins at The Royal City of Tulum. Its three most important buildings are El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes, and the Temple of the Descending God. Tulum is considered one of the most important and well-preserved sites in the Mayan world.

The Program

The Cozumel 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.

Students will meet with Mayan, Yucatecan, and Mexican writers and artisans. The writers and artisans will give readings and talks, thus promoting a stimulating exchange of thoughts and ideas. 

In addition to visiting Tulum, possible excursions include the Mayan site of San Gervasio, the historic seaside ecological park Punta Sur, the uninhabited and pristine eastern shore, snorkeling trips to El Cielo and Isla Pasion, and the Frida Kahlo Museum in Playa del Carmen. These trips help deepen our understanding of Mayan and Mexican cultures, thus prompting insights and understanding regarding the history and present-day lives of the people, many of whom are indigenous, who populate this rich and complex region of the Americas. 

The Philosophy

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, 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 Cozumel residency subscribes to this general principle. The point is to introduce students to other cultures, including an ancient civilization known for its pyramids, astronomy, calendars, art, weaving, and even the Maya script, the sole fully realized pre-Columbian writing system in the Americas.


Connie May Fowler

Coordinator, VCFA Cozumel Residency
[email protected]

Photo Gallery: Cozumel

Student Feedback for Residencies Abroad

…the experience of this residency was absolutely valuable to my writing. I can't even explain yet how much it will change me for the better. Truly the experience of a life time, I learned like a sponge; I was all eyes, a notebook and pen, recording, observing, learning.”  - Megan Baxter,  July 2016

“I think the program is fantastic…the exposure to a different country, its culture, history and literature is invaluable for a writer…I would not have missed this for anything.  I’m sure it will affect my work in ways that even now I can’t imagine…I think a residency abroad should be written into the VCFA program as a requirement.  It’s an invaluable experience!” - Ros Zimmermann, 2014 Slovenia residency

“I felt like I made real connections with writers in another part of the world. This is an experience I will not soon forget.  It has made me want to return to this part of the world and to travel more in the future, to explore other cultures and to connect with the global community of writers and artists.” - Phillip Clingenpeel, July 2011

“The residency was a fulfilling and broadening experience for me . . . diving into a new culture/locale, and thinking about how that place spawns art, helped me grow tremendously as a writer and a student of literature.” - Winter Residency Abroad Participant