I can still remember what it felt like to pine for CSU.

Visiting this same green website, letting my mouse linger over the slightly rotating geometric shapes, drooling a bit at the corners of my silly grinning mouth, searching pockets of webpages for a snatch of content I had overlooked. I remember reading “The Book” and exhausting pages on people and program requirements. And I remember stumbling upon the blog.

I don’t remember if I had questions about the blog writers, if reading the posts made me feel more or less confident, or whether I could relate to any of the content. What I remember is the person I was when I was reading them.

And so, I’m wondering if a person like me is who would be reading them now.


I had ordered Tom Kealey’s iconic 2008 guide from Amazon before graduating undergrad in Davis (of course it started with a book), and through all of my brutal twenties kept it dog-eared and flayed open as I built and rebuilt my program application list while I built and rebuilt my life.

I dreamed about getting an MFA while getting my first nonprofit job, breaking up with my boyfriend of four years, moving into my parents garage, paying off debt, selling all my possessions and flying one-way to Asia, moving back into my parents garage, guiding backpacking trips for teenagers, enrolling in a CA teaching credential program, moving into a box truck, losing my dream job, enrolling in an MS in Education program, living alone in a small loft in Tahoe, and training to tutor people with dyslexia.

My MFA application list was forever shifting and rarely had the same names on it for more than a few weeks. My kaleidoscopic confidence, awareness of location, lack of knowledge of current writers, and daily reorienting worldview made it nearly impossible for me to stick to an application list for long. And so, I perpetually postponed while feeding the other hungry animals of my life in succession.

Only one program never left the list. And along with Rocky Mountain wilderness, it was Tom Kealey’s observation that reverberated strong enough to secure its place there. He wrote:

“Of all the programs assessed, the enthusiasm of CSU’s MFA students for their program—and vice versa—was more evident than at any other school…to read about CSU (both in the programs sponsored materials, as well as in the materials produced by its students) is to want desperately to attend the program” (93).

And so when another application season was quickly passing by and I couldn’t decide on any program but CSU, I applied there. (And to Montana too, for good measure and for not requiring the GRE).


Now here I am—one year since embodying that desperate want—an enthusiastic CSU student, attempting to produce material related to how I feel about this unique program. So now to get to the point.

Before attending, I envisioned my MFA as the bold leap into the unfettered territory of unlimited creative expression and alpine mountains. When I arrived in Fort Collins it was mostly flat and brown, and I spent my first week enduring 9-hour days learning the bureaucratic elements of dedicating my life to teaching first-year composition.

I felt bamboozled. And I cried a lot.

But then something happened. This program embraced me wholeheartedly and instead of ever offering me any answers, helped me learn how to really ask my own questions. All of a sudden my days were filled to the brink with readings, potlucks, costume parties, lawn games, bars, pool halls, breweries, parks, classes, lakesides, lectures, hikes, beautiful discussions of craft, meaningful meetings with my advisors and mentors, thoughtful panels, round tables, and discussions, cafes, grading parties, unofficial swim clubs, dinners, 5×5 readings, used bookstores, AWP conference attendance, Galentine’s waffle breakfasts, game show viewing pasta nights, movie screenings, pub crawls in paper crowns, live music, road trips, whole days alone writing, late night scrambling to finish assignments and submissions, the terror of submitting to journals, the butterflies before a workshop, the beaming weight of toting home manuscript notes with ten full-page letters from your brilliant peers about your latest work, the daily mountain climb up and down to the 4th floor of Eddy, spontaneous phone calls with new friends, hourly reunions in the Grad print lab, carrying home stacks of free books off the Eddy office table from retiring professors lightening their intellectual load, walking the dog in new corners of City Park, a little crying, some doubt, the way they light up every tree and storefront in downtown for the winter nights, how it will be 75 degrees the day before a snow day, Wednesday, then Tuesday, then Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Avo’s, group texts in more variations than my phone can compute, smart humor, new ideas, book recommendations, deep laughter, The Arc, amazing classes, inspiring professors, relevant internships, helpful generous 3rd years, kind and inclusive 2nd years, eager and investigative 1st years, interdepartmental friends, roommates, pets, indoor flea markets and the cat I brought with me from California.

There is also brown flatness, and little pockets of congested shifting dynamics, and writer’s block, and unfortunate requirements, and lots of other things.

But mostly there is friends, and writing, and space to ask the questions that matter.

One year in, I still know what it feels like to pine for CSU.

Hannah Bright is a first-year MFA candidate in creative nonfiction. | Hannah.Bright@colostate.edu