Of the MFAC title (Master of Fine Arts in writing for Children), the “C” is the most important part…and perhaps tragically misleading. Although any good literary program is going to summon imagination, the MFAC repeatedly reminds us to focus that energy toward our child audience. Our intended readers are highlighted right there in the title, which differentiates us from other writing programs.
I began the MFAC program thinking I would end up writing novels for teens. In order to get through grad school as a single mom to four elementary aged kids, I happened upon a job working for senior citizens with dementia because it offered flexible scheduling. I spent time with 80-100 year olds in-between reading Winnie the Pooh and writing essays on The Hunger Games. Ironically, I was led into a love affair with picture books (intended for 3-8 year olds) because of the way such books could profoundly influence, not just kids, but also older adults. The brevity (for those with challenged memory), the large font size (for those with low vision), the thickness of the pages (helpful with arthritic hands), the artwork (for creative inspiration and story support), and the content (especially historical nonfiction) make many picture books truly intergenerational. People of all ages love fine chocolate; people of all ages love well-written picture books.
This untapped audience, a “blue ocean” opportunity, has been ridiculously overlooked by publishers and picture book writers alike. Part of the reason may be due to the fact there’s little research out there on older adults and reading patterns. Indeed, many libraries consider senior needs to predominantly mean purchasing large print novels and audio books, completely overlooking the physical benefits and emotional power of picture books. Perhaps our degree could be renamed MFAI in order to honor this intergenerational range of audiences we embrace? Could we list our age range to 100+ without being in the least bit exaggerative? What is stopping us? Is it perhaps that misleading “C”?
Jenny Barlow is a 2013 graduate of Hamline’s MFAC program which then led to a 2015 MFA in human development with a focus on gerontology. Her thesis on picture books used for dementia, Books for the Bookends, was adapted to a public presentation for writers, librarians, and caregivers. You can follow these intergenerational benefits via Books for the Bookends on Facebook. Jenny now works designing community programming for seniors and is the mother of four children who, coincidentally, have first names in birth order that spell out M-F-A-C.