Judson Merrill Applies to the Iowa MFA

My literary career is young, but it’s never too early to begin flying the buttresses of posterity. For the benefit of scholars and fans alike, I will use this space on The Outlet, on a semi-regular basis, to release a selection of my correspondence and other papers. Enjoy. (Universities interested in acquiring the complete Judson Merrill archive should contact me through my web site.)

Dear Iowa Writers Workshop,

I’ve just mailed in my application to your graduate fiction program. To help you spot mine among the many thousands of manila envelopes, I wrote a pretty amazing piece of flash fiction on the back. It’s about a blind rug-weaver who learns to love again. Happy reading!


Judson Merrill

PS- I thought you should know that yours is the only program to which I applied. Once you offer me a spot, I’ll be able to accept immediately, which should save all parties some headaches.

Hey, Iowa.

I received back the self-addressed postcard I included in my application. Thanks much for your prompt turnaround. However, now that I’m looking at it, I realize this postcard is the only copy of my headshot included in the application. Please find attached, a digital copy of my headshot to pair with the rest of my materials.

Also, please pass along the below link to your faculty. It’s a quick video introduction to/lecture about my manuscript submission. I’m sure none of us want the story’s depth to be lost on your busy readers.




I know it was optional to send you my GRE scores, but, in the spirit of thoroughness, I long ago signed up to do so. Now that I’ve taken the test and the results are on their way to you, I’d like to share two mitigating factors for the low numerical area in which my scores chose to settle.

One, I objected to a number of the questions on principle. The so-called reading comprehension portion of the test contained anodyne passages with no artistic merit or creative flair. I could hardly be expected to take them seriously. Several of the grammatical questions were similarly hidebound and oppressive, leaving little room for skillful language play and improvisation, which I take to be a hallmark of my prose and great writing in general.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, having received a string of nasty magazine rejections recently, I spent the bulk of my test day drinking heavily. I was fairly intoxicated and severely impaired by the time I sat down in front of that computer. But what could be more writerly than that! It’s really pretty Fitzgerald of me.

In conclusion, please delete my GRE scores without looking at them.


J. Edward Merrill

Program Administrative Assistant,

Thanks for getting back to me. But “soon” is still pretty vague. As I mentioned in my voicemail, there are now six people on the MFA blogs who say they’ve been called with offers to attend your program. The first of them heard from you six days and four hours ago! I haven’t been able to confirm the last names of these accepted applicants, but assuming you’re going alphabetically and that I’m on the middle of the call list, of course I’m expecting a call “soon.” The question remains, does that mean later today? Later this week? Later this hour? I’m about to take the subway uptown but I don’t want to be underground if someone calls. Please get back to me immediately. Also, since you’re at a computer with a good Internet connection, could you check the MTA website for a bus that can get me uptown? I’m at fifth and 17th.

Write back,



Why would you tell me that decision letters are being mailed out this week? Is there some legal reason that my acceptance would need to be written and can’t be communicated over the phone? That would certainly account for how evasive you’re being.

Regardless, I cannot wait for the mails. When I previously claimed that I only applied to your program I forgot that at the last minute I applied to one other very prestigious program. Anyway, I just received an acceptance call from them. They’re offering me a very generous financial package. However, I need to give them a commitment in the next twenty minutes. Under the terms of their offer, you’re legally obligated to get back to me right away and let me know where I stand with Iowa.


Ms. Chang,

I appreciate that my emails have become “needlessly frequent” and that I shouldn’t be contacting you directly. To answer your question, I bought your email address from one of the applicants you recently admitted to your program. Perhaps that is an “invasion” on my part, but it represents an even larger betrayal on the part of the seller. I can give you her name if you think retracting your offer and re-opening her spot in the program is the best way to discipline her. In fact, out of a desire to be thorough, I bought your email address from upwards of four different admitted applicants. I can provide all their names.

Call me.

–Judson Merrill lives and writes in Brooklyn. Some of his work, including his e-novella The Pool, can be found at judsonmerrill.com.

More Like This

That Guy in Your MFA’s 10 Rules for Novelists

I have placed a short story in a very prominent literary journal that may or may not exist, so I know what I’m talking about

Nov 23 - Dana Schwartz
Thank You!