Fiction | Bootcamp

MFA Application Bootcamp

MFA programs are extremely competitive—some highly ranked programs have acceptance rates as low as 1%—and submitting a strong creative manuscript in your application is the best way to increase your chances of admission. In this weekend class for writers applying for MFAs, National Book Award finalist Karen Bender will help you get your fiction MFA manuscript into top shape.

The class, which will meet from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. on  Sunday with an hour break for lunch, will be structured as a workshop. Students will turn in up to 20 pages of work (typed, double spaced, a story or novel excerpt) to Catapult by August 2. These manuscripts will be distributed in advance of our first meeting, and students will be expected to read them in preparation for class discussion—though you are not required to provide formal written critique. In class, we will spend 30 minutes discussing each work, with an eye to improving it. Each day, we will also dedicate time to discussing the personal statement; students will bring these to class and we'll discuss concrete ways for making these statements stand out. At the end of the second day, we will have a Q&A about preparing manuscripts and MFA programs in general.

Students will leave the class with suggestions on how to improve their manuscript, a 1-page typed letter from Karen with revision ideas, and ideas on improving their personal statement. In other words, armed with the tools to help them achieve an acceptance into a top MFA program. 

Karen Bender

Karen E. Bender is the author of the story collection Refund, a Finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction and shortlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Story Prize, and the novels Like Normal People and A Town of Empty Rooms. Her stories have appeared inThe New Yorker, Granta, Ploughshares, Zoetrope,Guernica, and Best American Short Stories and won two Pushcart prizes. She is the Distinguished Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Hollins University, and has also worked with MFA students at Warren Wilson College, Chatham University and Antioch Los Angeles.


"The tales told in Karen Bender’s REFUND, a collection of stories that centers on money and family, are exquisitely composed portraits of modern life, and chances are you will encounter characters that remind you a little or a lot of yourself. That’s the brilliance of Bender’s storytelling….Bender’s ability to transform observations of life into uncomfortably realistic stories cannot be denied.”


“Each of the REFUND stories is an impeccably constructed miniature, a ship in a bottle that makes the reader wonder how the author got all that detail, all that craft, into such a small container. Taken as a whole, the collection is a 13-stop journey into some richly imagined worlds…Bender’s willingness to go deep, to burrow down into what’s right and wrong about 21st century America and Americans is a mirror that draws us in and does not allow us to look away.”


“In the 13 electrifying tales of REFUND, she examines the themes of wealth and poverty, health and disease, and the suddenness with which our lives can change — or even end….Bender ends on notes of hope and despair: hope because one is still loved and can love, despair at a life fraught with worry and disappointment. The author’s sharp observations and fine, crisp writing keep these stories crackling with energy and wit, while they excavate the buried secrets of 21st century America.”


"This is marvelous writing: energetic, precise, sympathetically alive to the strangeness of ordinary life."


"Karen Bender was an essential guide during my formative writing years. She helped me push my short story characters further than I would have ever pushed them, and she even allowed me to workshop this story two times in class, so I was able to try out different techniques multiple times and see what stuck. A phenomenal writer, reader, and teacher."

Profile Photo Garrard Conley author of BOY ERASED

"Karen E. Bender is one of those rare teachers who, despite her incredible success, makes you feel like you are the most important person in her world when she is working with to you. This presence and care inspires her students to create the best work of which they are capable. Her insights into how texts work are incredibly keen; she know how to dig into a piece of writing and figure out exactly what the writer is up to. She opens up her heart and her mind to her students, molding them not only into better writers but into better humans, into more eloquent, effective, and empathetic versions of themselves."

Ellen Louise Ray Writer in Residence, St. Albans School

"Karen E. Bender is an inspiration in and out of the classroom. Her enthusiasm is wonderfully contagious but also deeply rooted in her love for writing, which she takes seriously, along with her students, regardless of their experience or talent. I can honestly say I’ve never known a better teacher of creative writing."

Paul Matthew Maisano author of BINDI, forthcoming from Lee Boudreaux Books/Little, Brown, 2018