The Neverending MFA Debate, Part XXVII.2

November 29, 2010 § 2 Comments

Writers love to write, and they love to write about what interests them most, so I suppose it shouldn’t come as too big a surprise that writers end up writing about writing quite often, and that they occasionally write about writing programs.  But that “occasionally” seems to have turned into “constantly” with the slew of  recent Huffington Post and Slate articles examining the health, utility, validity, rankability, and alleged homogeneity of MFA writing programs.

The latest in the series, an essay by N+1 editor Chad Harbach, is a quite lucid examination of how being a writer in Iowa City or Tuscaloosa differs from being a writer in Brooklyn or midtown Manhattan, though some of the conclusions he draws seem false.  I don’t agree, for instance, with his assertion that we have two separate literary cultures.  Instead,  I see the two worlds — 1) MFA programs/the associated literary mags, 2) the NY publishing world — as often very supportive of one another’s differing missions and targets.  Healthy give and take.

If you ignore Harbach’s assumptions and just look at his facts and assertions, he is describing a  well-functioning system, where art supports commerce and commerce supports art, and writers move fluidly in between.  Like the dog in the photo, we in the writing community can balance multiple coffee cups (art, commerce, teaching, judging, editing, writing) and still get along with our lives quite well, thank you.

Julianna Baggott agrees:  Baggott.

Michael Nye over at the Missouri Review checks in with some sensible commentary:  Nye.

Here is Harbach’s original article.  Harbach.

We won’t link to the Huffington Post articles, however, because they tend to be self-promotional and less nuanced.

— Dinty

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§ 2 Responses to The Neverending MFA Debate, Part XXVII.2

  • In practically every article I’ve read debating the ‘efficacy’ of MFA programs, I barely see mention of the fact that the degree is a Fine Arts degree, not a Professional degree. The degree is not meant to make you career ready. If writers would like a degree that prepares them for a writing career, they should enroll in a professional writing course, which you can find at a number of colleges and universities. Artists rarely expect their MFA degree to get them a job, nor do dancers, photographers, sculptors, or any other artisan who studies under experience mentors in their ‘art’ of choice. The degree allows students the time to explore and develop as artists — and no one ever said that being an artist will put you on the fast-track to riches, or even a steady paycheck.

  • Maggie says:

    Well, this article is apparently only about fiction writers–though the author acknowledges the existence of poets, as well as the fact that Jonathan Franzen wrote an essay once–so it doesn’t apply to us nonfictioneers anyway.

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