Monday, March 16, 2015

MFA programs. And what they create. (non-fiction)

So the internet is abuzz with the latest literary controversy. As per the controversy, the people attacking it are hardly adding to the debate. Rather it's about personal screes (and oh aren't those addicting?) and people staking their tribal flags. What I've mainly seen—besides the reactions from those directly affected—are people who think it horrendous that he's teaching his MFA students in such a crass manner, and people who think that he's spot on. These views either hold contempt for those who take the MFA route or reject most of the doubt thrown at the students taking the MFA route.
On the former account, it would seem that people are questioning the MFA route, but that has been going on for some time. Having only spent some time in workshops (with MFA tinges), I can only say it did seem to be preoccupied with odd matters (whether or not there was a certain view represented, let's say of a certain race), and the basic setup was also a little on the odd side; I mean, why have people learning to write tell you about writing? And even amongst those who have been published, is that always an indication of being able to teach (assuming there is a way to teach writing)?

Nonetheless, this nagging doubt of mine doesn't align me with the author of the controversial article. I merely see ways to improve the workshops in which I partook. In this sense, anonymity would be one possible cure. Have pieces turned in and don't tell anyone, maybe not even the teacher, who wrote it. That way one can be assured of a less prejudiced critique. There might be more aspects of the workshop that could be examined, but I wonder what those are (I have not given this much thought, mind you).

As for the latter account that seems to think that any remark about one's students is misplaced, I share some of those sentiments, but sense that some aspect of the MFA program needs to be examined. Nevertheless, if one is to take the author to task, why not ask him to name the real deals, and let's compare those to the hacks after a few years, or a few decades. 

And in the end, I sense that this is the point of the article: that we do need to take another look at what our MFA programs are creating. This isn't hard to answer and we will indeed see what shall come out of these programs in the upcoming decades (we will have plenty of time to see which books make it and which ones don't; nevermind the sometimes insular worlds they seem to create).

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