Category Archives: MFA
1 Comment | tags: Creative Writing, humanities, science, scientism, STEM | posted in Creative Writing, graduate school, MFA, policy, politics, Publishing Industry, Splice Today, the writing life, United States, Writing, writing life, zombie culture
I sat down today intending to write a piece critical of certain shrill MFA voices that seem to have gotten shriller since MFA vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction hit the shelves last February. Is “shriller” actually a word? It is. But it only takes meaning as a comparative adjective once something that was brittle, high-pitched, piercing, and so exaggerated as to be deeply annoying gets intensified beyond the bounds of reason and tolerance.
In fact, this was going to be one of those, “I think yon highly privileged (shrill) MFA Child Of The Universe doth protest too much, Horatio” posts. In it, I would have been sure to impart a sense of having been there and done that, taking care to insinuate that I was a hard bitten veteran of the academic creative writing hustle. I might have added a touch of weary exasperation that the culture of many workshop-based programs is about everything but the work. And I might have tried for a some kind of brief reversal three-fourths of the way through so that I could have ended on a slightly hopeful note.
But come on. I’ve done all that. I’ve argued both sides: that MFA writing programs are excellent ways to focus on learning craft for two to three years without the distractions that would otherwise apply. I’ve also argued that the bloated culture of privilege and cynical, thinly veiled mediocrity in many of these programs short-changes students from the beginning. I still believe all of this. I also believe that if you go into it with open eyes, intending to use the program as a tool to facilitate your development as an artist, you will not regret your decision. If you go in and expect a big hug and Wonder Boys, your life will come to resemble a Muddy Waters song.
I’ve written a lot, here and elsewhere, on MFA programs—why I think we should still believe in them and the ways I think they utterly fail everyone involved. And by “everyone,” I actually mean anyone interested in the mission of creative writing, which I guess means everyone. The Big Everyone—like you, me, the kid on the big wheel down the block, President Obama, and Ray Kurzweil. Everyone. Because, in my opinion, the mission of art school is nothing less than cultural transformation. It’s founded on the assumption that the arts can and should have a place in society.
So I don’t know. Maybe I should recognize a certain degree of irony implicit in any post I write about gifted, neurotic, highly privileged 20-somethings in creative writing programs. I was one. In many ways, I still am. I feel at home with that crowd. And as a freelance writer and fiction instructor for the Gotham Writers’ Workshop, I’m still connected to the academic MFA world. I guess the question is whether there is anything new to be said about it. The perspectives in MFA vs. NYC have not been very surprising or insightful. It seems like the same old array of objections and justifications we’ve been hearing for years. Now they’ve been collected in a book instead of appearing in The Atlantic or on websites.
Maybe an even better question is whether anyone sees MFAs clearly at all. What if I point out that there is a perceptual “distortion field” around MFA programs which encourages students to believe themselves at the center of the universe? What if I argue that, because of this world-view, many MFA students also believe that the universe is in a state of perpetual collapse—because its center has been revealed to contain semen, bent paper clips, and cotton candy instead of the fire of the gods? And what if I describe the almost universal malaise that seems to descend on these young lords and ladies of creation around the time they’re halfway through their programs? A certain melancholy made from dwelling on the absurdly large student loans they took out in order to be “student writers” and how this seems like a perverse existential joke considering their post-program job prospects?
Oh, don’t be sad. There’s enough cotton candy for everyone.
Comments Off on The MFA Distortion Field (yes, Dottie, and not just in Iowa) | tags: Creative Writing, MFA, Writing Life, Writing Programs | posted in Creative Writing, MFA, Writing, Writing Expedition, writing life, your author
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“One of the functions of art is to give people the words to know their own experience. There are always areas of vast silence in any culture, and part of an artist’s job is to go into those areas and come back from the silence with something to say. It’s one reason why we read poetry, because poets can give us the words we need. When we read good poetry, we often say, ‘Yeah, that’s it. That’s how I feel.’” — Ursula K. Le Guin
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“More Than Just a Familiar Formula” – Splice Today – February 2018 (https://www.splicetoday.com/moving-pictures/more-than-just-a-familiar-formula)
“STEM, Scientism, and the Decline of the Humanities” – Splice Today – February 2018 (https://www.splicetoday.com/on-campus/stem-scientism-and-the-decline-of-the-humanities)
“The NRA Isn’t the Problem” – Splice Today – February 2018 (https://www.splicetoday.com/politics-and-media/the-nra-isn-t-the-problem)
“Altered Carbon’s Love Affair with Central Casting” – Splice Today – February 2018 (https://www.splicetoday.com/moving-pictures/altered-carbon-s-love-affair-with-central-casting)
“Cui Bono: the Latest Conspiracy Theory in the Ongoing Disintegration of the GOP” – Splice Today – January 2018 (https://www.splicetoday.com/politics-and-media/cui-bono-the-latest-conspiracy-theory-in-the-ongoing-disintegration-of-the-gop)
Cruel Stars – Thrown Free Books 2017.
“You Can Do Magic, Honey” – Splice Today – December 2017 (https://www.splicetoday.com/moving-pictures/you-can-do-magic-honey)
“As the Leopard, So the Coliseum” – Splice Today – November 2017 (https://www.splicetoday.com/politics-and-media/as-the-leopard-so-the-coliseum)
“Hurricane Dreams” – Splice Today – August 2017 (http://www.splicetoday.com/writing/hurricane-dreams)
“Burning Down the House” – Splice Today – August 2017 (http://www.splicetoday.com/politics-and-media/burning-down-the-house)
“My Friend Has Gone Nazi” – Splice Today – June 2017 (http://www.splicetoday.com/writing/my-friend-has-gone-nazi)
“Fatal Vision: The Precipitous Exile of James Comey” – Splice Today – May 2017 (http://www.splicetoday.com/politics-and-media/fatal-vision-the-precipitous-exile-of-james-comey)
“Money is Thicker Than Blood” – Splice Today – April 2017 (http://www.splicetoday.com/politics-and-media/money-is-thicker-than-blood)
“The End of the Hustle” – Splice Today – April 2017 (http://www.splicetoday.com/politics-and-media/the-end-of-the-hustle)
“The Crying of Lot 45” – Splice Today – April 2017 (http://www.splicetoday.com/politics-and-media/the-crying-of-lot-45)
“Planespotting and the Persistence of Facts” – Splice Today – March 2017 (http://www.splicetoday.com/writing/planespotting-and-the-persistence-of-facts)
“Sater, Cohen, and the Collapsing House of Cards” – Splice Today – February 2017
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“Bora Bora” – Ink & Coda – 4.1 Winter 2017 (http://www.inkandcoda.com/issues/4-1/bora-bora/)
“A Good Day to Die” – Splice Today – November 2016 (http://www.splicetoday.com/politics-and-media/a-good-day-to-die)
“When The World’s Turned Upside Down” – Splice Today – November 2016 (http://www.splicetoday.com/politics-and-media/when-the-world-s-turned-upside-down)
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“The Witch!” – ReVue – November 2016 (http://bit.ly/2fxuQw5).
“Year of the Bastard,” “October Plums,” and “Burying Terrance Jackson” – Literati Magazine – November 2016 (http://bit.ly/2frHVbC).
“The State of Emergency” – Splice Today – October 2016 (http://www.splicetoday.com/writing/the-state-of-emergency).
“The Debate Did Not Take Place” – Splice Today – September 2016 (http://www.splicetoday.com/politics-and-media/the-debate-did-not-take-place).
“Weirdo: Visions of Future Past” – The Blather – Summer 2016 (https://t.co/3NGZ0k6nTO).
“Harmful if Swallowed” – Ginosko Literary Journal – Summer 2016.
“Cruel Stars” – The Writing Disorder – Summer 2015.
“The Forbidden City” – Forge – 8.4 April 2015.
“Ex Inferis” – Small Print Magazine – Winter/Spring 2014.
Winner of Redline magazine’s 2014 Urban Fiction contest and will be featured in their “Best of the Year” annual issue.
“Far Tortuga” – Isthmus – Issue 1. (http://www.isthmusreview.com/current-issue-2/)
“Some Go Dancing” – Earlyworks Press Short Story Contest Anthology – Winter 2013, Earlyworks Press.
“Ghetto Fabulous” – Atticus Books (The Atticus Review – http://atticusreview.org/ghetto-fabulous/) (2013)
“The Catherine Wheel” – Painted Bride Quarterly Print Annual 6 (2013): 115-120.
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- More Than Just a Familiar Formula—a review of Netflix’s Mute on Splice Today February 27, 2018
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