Mastering Folklore (as best as can be done) pt i: The Application: Statement of Academic Objectives

Writing this post feels unreal. Writing about applying for grad school when I’m ten hours away from starting my third week of my masters is a strange, estranged thing. A reminder of how I’ve shifted (in time and place and self), and of how stress always shifts along with the shifting–and how I’m actually pretty decent at handling stress. For the most apart.

At any rate, to relieve some of your stress (assuming you’re a potential grad applicant to a folklore or creative writing MFA program [though I imagine this information could be potentially useful to any applicant]), I’ve decided to post some of my applications materials. Don’t steal them, don’t copy them. You’ll be found out if you do, and you’ll look very stupid, and very rejected.

Instead, use them to learn–probably mostly what not to do. But maybe what to do as well. I didn’t get into every single program I applied to, but of the twelve programs I applied to, I was rejected by five, waitlisted by one, and accepted by six. Not terrible, I guess. Others have done better, and less better. We’re all were we are.

All the above, briefly mentioned, programs were creative writing MFA programs, except for one in folklore–the University of Oregon’s folklore program, which I’m attending at this very moment. In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting more info and application material and thoughts about all my applications, but I figured I’d begin with the program I’m actually in.

So without any further worded procrastination, I give you…a statement of academic objectives, written for the University of Oregon’s Folklore program’s application requirements. (Click the link for a pdf, or just read it below.)

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University of Oregon—Folklore Master’s, General Folklore Track

Statement of Academic Objectives

 

I never imagined myself living in Montana. The hungry skies, earth so dry it crackles, the smoke in August—it’s terrifying to a girl born and raised in Washington, whose skin splits and bleeds when the air isn’t damp enough. And yet here I am, living beneath a hill dry and yellow as an old scapula, while my partner goes to graduate school. There’s no place for me to hide in the Bitterroot. But this self-imposed hermitage gave me something I never had in or outside of my time as an undergraduate—the space and silence to examine myself, and the perspective to realize what has always driven me: folklore.

Whether I’m drumming in my neofolk metal band, Felled, or writing short fiction and novels, the bones of folklore have always been present in my art. But I know now that presence isn’t enough—I need to go deeper. I need knowledge and awareness—I need a Master’s in Folklore. I want to study folklore from a theoretical perspective to delve further into my own art, to create work with more meaning, relevance, and nuance. Through these studies, I hope to become more sensitive to the world, and humanity’s folkloric distillation of existence—and to take this learning and share it with the larger communities of my artistic disciplines.

I graduated from Fairhaven College with an interdisciplinary degree in Percussive Wordcraft and Narrative Drumming, an exploration of writing and percussing with more empathy—using rhythm and sound to make my words tactile, story to deepen my music. Beyond school, I published a number of short stories and poems (many of them driven by folklore), lead writing workshops, taught high school percussion sections, and instructed undergraduate music students in a recording studio. Late this autumn, I finished a short piece of fiction titled For Hunger She Goes into the Forest, a feminist subversion of Little Red Riding Hood; not long after, I wrote The Eggs We Ate in Winter, a story in conversation both with the 1990s music subculture of Norwegian black metal, as well as a quieter dialogue with Koschei the Deathless, of Slavic lore.   My most recent musical endeavors have also spoken directly to (and of) folklore—my band’s newest album, Winterwheel, is a modern exploration of seasonal ritual, through the lense of ancient Anglo-Saxon Paganism.

I want to continue approaching these themes and lines of research in my art, but also attack them from an academic perspective in graduate school. I’m interested in studying the intersections between folktales and myth, and the literature of the fantastic—especially science fiction; in particular, I want to focus on gender roles and cultural appropriation in this sphere, as well as the fan cultures of fantastic media, and the creations that stem from them (specifically, fan fiction, art, and video). Beyond this, however, I’m also interested in the use of mythology in the established musical genre of folk metal, and the evolution of black metal—from its embryonic Satanic beginnings, to its current (and ever-growing) presence in eco-activism, and the mythopoesis of the Cascadian bioregion.

I’m drawn to the University of Oregon’s Master’s in Folklore because it seems very much alive. Both the faculty and current graduate students are involved in studies and projects that genuinely excite me. Not only is it a community I’d very much like to be a part of, I also believe I can offer the program a unique perspective on both music and literature in relation to folklore. Beyond this, however, Oregon’s Master’s in Folklore (and associated programs) has many of the resources I need to study my afore-mentioned interests. A number of courses are extremely relevant to understanding the bridge between folklore and fantastic literature, and the associated fan cultures—Gender in Japanese Literature and Film, as well as Tokyo Cyberpunk, Folklore and US Popular Culture, Folklore and Sexuality, and the German Fairy Tales course—among many, many others. There are also a number of faculty members with strong backgrounds in ethnomusicology, folk song, and Scandinavian folklore—knowledge that would provide tremendous support for my more musical slant of interests. In relation to music, both the courses offered through the Scandinavian program, and Folklore of Subcultures, would be quite useful to my studies. But besides Oregon’s excellent (and quite relevant) faculty and course offerings, the opportunities for the Graduate Teaching and Research Fellowships interest me as well, as I’d like to approach folklore from as many paths as possible. In my experience, studying a discipline from multiple angles makes for a more holistic and powerful grasp of the subject.

Ultimately, I would like to conclude my graduate studies with a terminal project that bridges my artistic and academic interests—a book of short stories, or a novel, that shows via fictional wordcraft the nodes between folk tales and their modern, fantastic counterparts. Conversely, I’m very interested in researching and writing a novel set during Norway’s second wave of black metal (during the time of the church burnings and murder), that gets into the intimate headspace of that particular subculture, all of its quirks, rawness, and darkness–or perhaps even writing and recording an album that strains and breaks the boundaries of that same genre’s current, modern incarnation.

After graduate school, I want to continue writing books and making albums with folkloric hearts, but also use my writing and musicianship to create a community-oriented, interdisciplinary narrative workshop, to share the knowledge I hope to gain by studying folklore. Before that, though, I want to whet myself with a Master’s of Folklore from the University of Oregon. I’d like to continue the interdisciplinary studies I began at Fairhaven College, but with even more depth and academic rigor. The Folklore Program offers just what I need: a vital, innovative community where I can thrive, struggle, and offer my very best, all while studying the folkloric spine of my art, and the earth and people it’s beholden to.

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