Apparently, I've also asked Mary Gaitskill to recommend low residency MFA programs. I don't remember this conversation, by my notebook contains a list:
University of Southern Maine (Stonecoast), http://www.usm.maine.edu/stonecoastmfa/
Pacific University, http://www.pacificu.edu/as/mfa/
Wikipedia lists all available options here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Low-residency_program I'm not planning to apply, and I think I keep asking everyone about this because I want to want to apply. In theory, an MFA sounds like a great idea, and low residency (lower cost) a particularly great one.
I must've been having a severe memory outage that day, because I also don't remember the afternoon Q&A with Russell Banks. Judging by my notes, the conversation was fun, rowdy, thought-provoking.
His work, he said, generally "takes a few years to find its reader."
Male reviewers of one of his latest novels (I think he was talking about The Darling) were complaining that the central chracter is an "unrealistically drawn woman" simply because she abandons her children.
"Graham Greene -- perfect balance between background & foreground."
Talking about historical fiction again: "responsibility to beliveability, veracity, known historical reality, plausibility."
"... dramatize unintended products of good intentions." Have no idea what this means, but sounds good.
Writing about Africa might be valuable for [amongst other things] a metaphoric resonance, but it is "important to be responsible to the realities on the ground" (and staying away from appropriating their history, their lives) -- Good idea to tell "novels from the point of view of an outsider." (I think this refers to one of his novels that's based in Lybia.)
"The more I know about a place, the less judgemental I become" (This is in response to a question).
"I put on the page only that which is necessary for me to see to unfold a story."
After beeing offered a sweeping statement about novels and humanity, in lieu of a question: "When I hear sweeping statements I tend to reach for the revolver." His next sentence was: "What all art does is ask the question, what does it mean to be human?" There are signs of amusement in my notebook. He's just replaced one sweeping statement with another! So hard to stay away from these in an interview. It's a genre that seems to thrive on sweeping statements. So is, judging by my previous sentence, blogging. Oops. That's why I love short stories.