Pleau: Stonecoast is special and sustainable

Posted on March 18, 2014 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

I’m a student in the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing. I also graduated in 2012 with a BA in Media Studies from USM. I thought about comparing all of the ways that being at Stonecoast is different and special but I only have so many words and I have to get a packet to my mentor.

Let me not mince words: Stonecoast is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I submit 25 pages of new material along with two book reports to my mentor every month. Then when our residencies roll around twice a year, tack on reading and responding to my classmates’ work and the required reading for the lectures. When I was applying, in an attempt to utilize my company’s tuition benefit, a graduate of the program cautioned: “It’s a lot of work.”

I know that I’ve grown so much as a writer since this summer when I started the program, but what I really want to talk about is the Stone House. It’s the creaky old mansion at the end of a partially paved road where our workshops, lectures and tears happen. At a low-residency program, it’s important to us to be able to focus on nothing but our writing while we’re there, and there’s nothing that takes us away from real life than the Stone House. On good days there are multiple ocean views. The house is removed but close, old and storied, beautiful and flawed. It’s everything our writing should be. Most of the graduates of Stone Coast never have to step foot on any of the USM campuses: Portland, Gorham, Lewiston, Online. During the residency, we stay at ten minutes away from the Stone House. We’re all together on the bus, at breakfast, in the evenings, hanging out with our talented faculty. I’ve trudged up the snowy walkway to the tune of recited poetry. I can promise, I have never walked into Luther Bonney to the tune of someone spontaneously moved to poems.

It has come to our attention that it is the intent of the administration to close the Stone House in order to save $45,000/year. Bold move, administration. I understand these are difficult decisions to make but off the top of my head, enrollment at Stonecoast is about 100 students per year, and the tuition runs us about $12,000/year. So essentially, four of us pay to operate the Stone House for one year. If these numbers add up, our program is something of a cash cow here at USM. But that’s not the most special part of the program. It’s special because it’s like Hogwarts, a magical getaway for people to be with the ones who are like them. People who are passionate about writing. Closing the Stone House, which is a quintessential part of the program, could cost the University so much more than $45,000 in one of the few “profitable” degrees.

Amanda Pleau graduated from USM in 2012.