Sunday, January 27, 2008

Not All It's Cracked Up To Be

For those who have complained about an obvious link between MFA programs and getting published, you will LOVE this article over at Vulpes Libris. Here's a highlight:

"Alice Munro, while teaching writing at York University in the 1970s, describes the time a student who wasn’t in her class brought her a story to read. “I remember tears came into my eyes because it was so good…she asked, How can I get into your class? And I said, Don’t! Don’t come near my class, just keep bringing me your work. And she has become a writer. The only one who did.”

Other famous writers echo this sentiment, while addressing a variety of topics. It's a great read.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, I love that! Who needs an MFA to get published? Nobody.

Alexandra Erin said...

I dropped out of college after a little over a year when I realized nobody would ever ask to see my writing credentials.

Anonymous said...

You're kidding, anonymous. Please tell me you're kidding.
As for Alexandra -- no, you don't need credentials if you write "Superhero Fantasy Fiction" (stuff about people with auras that can stop bullets). Not that there isn't an audience for that type of thing. But isn't literary fiction what we're talking about here?
Rejected, one problem with your idea of a Happy Book and Story Corner is that you're going to get 98% junk (much of it abysmal), and this will support the belief that writers who visit your blog have no talent and should be rejected. I'll bet you don't want to screen the material that comes in for the deserving 2% (I wouldn't).

Writer, Rejected said...

Mice: Did you read the article, though? It seems to me we are talking about literary fiction, and we are talking about talented writers without MFA's.

Also, that's some very cynical talk about everyone else's book being crap. I like to take Kurt Vonnegut's view of other novelists instead: we have all been through a similar battle. We are comrades in arms (and pens).

Samuel Edmonson said...

Yeah, good article -- speaking as one who has been doing a lot of griping about the MFA stronghold on lit fiction. I also appreciated that it mentioned Bloom, whose recent commentary on the-state-of-literature I just covered.

Anonymous said...

Yes, we're talking about literary fiction and about talented writers without an MFA. Absolutely!
But there have to be standards. A lot of writing IS crap. And some of it winds up in the Best American Short Stories anthologies (a bastion of MFA writing).

Alexandra Erin said...

@anonymous #2:

Hmmm, do I need to update a profile somewhere? I'm not doing superhero fiction at the moment. Not that I imagine you'd find my current projects any more literary. They're fun to write and they pay the bills, though, which is a common refrain in any area of writing. My very first attempt at writing online was semi-autobiographical fiction about growing up queer in the midwest. More literary? I was fifteen and it wasn't very good, but I've always intended to come back to the ideas.

Here's the thing, though: even if my current projects aren't "literary" by your lights, you're still wrong to imply that it would make a difference if they were. Who asked Faulkner or Hemingway or Steinbeck for their credentials? Who the hell asked Thoreau if they could see his "living in the woods by a pond" certification?

Of course, an education can be a valuable thing in and of itself, and colleges do produce educations... but my experience is they do so largely by accident as an unavoidable side effect of producing a degree. You can become educated without the paper chase, and there's little sense throwing many thousands of dollars and upwards of five years of your life in the pursuit of a paper that won't convince anybody that matters of anything.

Anonymous said...

I keep looking at this pic today.

What does MFA stand for, anyway?

Money ..

            For ..

                   (what? Acceptances? Accredation?)

Writer, Rejected said...

Master's of Fine Arts. A degree in creative writing.

MyTwoCents said...

While I certainly agree that you don't need an MFA to be a published writer of literary merit - I do think that they can be helpful.

For myself, I wouldn't have had any of the (very modest, mind you) success in winning awards and getting my work published that I have had, had it not been for the time I spent working toward my MFA.

I don't think that it was my writing itself that changed so drastically (though it certainly did improve), but it was my attitude toward my whole writing process.

I discovered a new drive to complete stories and books and to treat the act of submitting and writing and editing as all part of my job - what I was trained to do.

So, while I don't discount that it may not be financially practical (or necessary)for all writer's - going through an MFA program can certainly lead to a better understanding of the publishing industry, good connections with established author's and mentors and perhaps even a better idea of how to write a damn good story.

You know, if you're into that sort of thing. =)