Q: A glove full of what?
A: Paraponera clavata, a large species of ant from South America. Actually more like, terrifyingly humongous with mandibles like saw blades. Fun fact: it’s called the “bullet ant” because each sting feels like you’ve been shot.
Q: Why is this change in the MFA curriculum being implemented?
A: The MFA faculty shares our students’ perspective that the workshop model is demoralizing, humiliating, and of questionable pedagogical value. Which is why we love it. But we have listened to your concerns, and we are excited to announce this alternative model of creative writing instruction that will inspire our students in completely new ways — by subjecting them to excruciating ant stings in an ancient Amazonian torture ritual.
Q: How does this new class structure work?
A: It’s simple! In a traditional workshop, you sit around a table while your peers discuss the positive attributes of your work and offer advice to fix its flaws, such as, “Maria, have you thought about changing the mermaids in this story to hookers?” Or, “I would love to read an even more detailed description of your narrator’s erect penis, Brett.” But with our new teaching strategy, you’ll just come to class and stick your hand into a glove with hundreds of furious insects woven stinger-side in, stabbing your flesh over and over like hundreds of tiny daggers.
Q: Cool, cool. Does the bullet ant have any other names that suggest terrible suffering?
A: The bullet ant is also called the 24-hour ant, because that’s how long the venom will leave you writhing in agony. Just like writing workshop.
Q: So, we’re just supposed to sit around the table with our hand in a glove full of bullet ants?
A: Of course not. Students are also encouraged to hop around the table on their left foot and chant.
Q: Is there an actual creative writing component to this class?
A: In order to make satisfactory progress toward their degree, students will be expected to recite Infinite Jest from memory while wearing the glove full of bullet ants. Students may also be asked to respond to a variety of topics, such as:
- Perform an interpretive dance in the style of each literary Jonathan.
- Using scholarly terminology, explain why there could not possibly be any merit to the latest #MeToo accusations against Professor Lambert.
- A third example we haven’t thought of yet that’s totally writerly.
Q: Is there any risk of injury from the glove full of bullet ants?
A: Oh yes. We suggest using your non-dominant hand, as the venom will leave your entire limb paralyzed. But just temporarily. Probably.
Q: This sounds dangerous.
A: Regrettably, students who die from bullet ant stings will be asked to leave the MFA program.
Q: Has the glove full of bullet ants been approved by the Curriculum Committee or Institutional Review Board?
A: Absolutely not.
Q: Aren’t you worried that putting your students through this kind of ordeal could get you fired?
A: Are you kidding? We’re the MFA faculty — we have Pulitzers! We were on that New Yorker “20 Under 40 list”! No one gives a fuck what we do as long as we keep bringing in those Benjamins. By which we mean 27-year-olds named Benjamin who can pay $30K a year for a creative writing degree.
Q: But what about my 60k-word autofiction project? I was really looking forward to getting feedback.
A: You’re still welcome to submit it. No one was going to read it anyway.
Q: Maybe I’ll just turn in a short story.
A: That’s fine, but if your story contains magical realism you’ll have to wear bullet ant gloves on both hands.
Q: Is there anything else we need to know?
A: Due to the large amount of soil required to sustain a breeding colony of bullet ants, we suggest you avoid picnicking on the grass. Or playing frisbee. Or walking. Just stay at least one hectare away from any of the grass on campus. It turns out bullet ants can smell the distress pheromones of their comrades and then assemble their bodies into one giant bullet ant hellbent on revenge.
See you in class, Ben!
Luke Burns’ “FAQ: The Snake Fight Portion of Your Thesis Defense”