It was a dark and stormy night

The January residency for the MFA program takes place in Seaside, Ore.

Students and faculty bond during the twice-annual residency portion of Pacific University’s master of fine arts in writing program. Ranked third in the country, the MFA program draws published and aspiring authors from around the United States.

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It’s the third day of Pacific University’s Seaside, Ore., residency for students and faculty in the master of fine arts in writing, or MFA, program. At 7:45 p.m., in the middle of a faculty member’s reading, the lights flicker, then extinguish entirely, victim to a storm that’s blown wind and rain sideways for days.

Interns take the stairs to the lobby and return with an arsenal of flashlights, but the crowd, comprised of 98 MFA students and various faculty members, hasn’t moved. They’re silent, listening as fiction professor and noted author Jack Driscoll continues to read. The wind, beating thunderously against a metal sign outside the hotel windows, punctuates Driscoll’s fishing tale.

When the electricity powers back up, the crowd sighs in disappointment; they were starting to enjoy the darkened ambiance.

Rated one of the top low-residency programs in the nation, Pacific’s MFA program draws students and faculty from around the world, including Israel, Ghana, France and every region of the United States. Faculty members are comprised of published authors — specializing in fiction, nonfiction, or poetry — and range from decorated poet Kwame Dawes to novelist Bonnie Jo Campbell. 

Students work remotely with faculty mentors, and the whole group meets in person just twice a year for a pair of 10-day residencies. In January, the residency is in Seaside, while the June conference takes place on Pacific’s Forest Grove Campus.

This winter, the informal theme of the meeting seems to be community. At the end of her welcome speech, Director Shelley Washburn emphasized the importance of students connecting with one another, despite their short times together in the program. And, during a panel discussion on Day 1, guest speaker Barry Lopez, a best-selling nonfiction writer, noted that, “the impulse to write is a social impulse.”

As, apparently, is the impulse to share in the story, an impulse evident as storytellers and poets read their words by flashlight to a rapt crowd on an otherwise dark and stormy night.