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By comparison, I find myself at a strange juncture in my own writing and professional life, and it happens to be one in which the value of conveying what I know to be true far outweighs any fear I might have about contradicting the party line in the discipline of creative writing.In my life as both an artist and a working professional, I find that the best thing to do when you’re at an unexpected pivot-point is to leverage it into something beneficial that can be shared—hence, the book I’ve just written.
That means there’s no longer any reason for applicants who can’t attend a graduate creative writing program without full funding to apply to any program without that feature.
Today’s applicants to graduate creative writing programs also benefit from the volume of hard data research on creative writing in America that’s been conducted over the past decade; whereas applicants who sought a creative writing MFA or Ph. during the first “boom” in these programs at the end of the 1980s had little information to work with other than hinky “reputation rankings” developed by a small group of creative writing professors, today’s applicants can find reliable information on program acceptance rates, funding packages, student-faculty ratios, postgraduate job and fellowship placement rates, and much more. Online applicant communities provide not only emotional support to anxious applicants but also an opportunity to get information from alumni and current students at scores of new and established programs.
While scores of new full-residency programs have been founded this century—with only two closing their doors—it’s nevertheless possible that the longstanding naysayers of full-residency writing programs will finally be proven correct, and that the nationwide turn toward distance learning, “flipped” classrooms, and hybrid pedagogical models will eventually come to creative writing to the detriment of conventional workshopping.
Or, given that even a terminal degree in creative writing is considered “nonprofessional” on the job market, we may see aspiring poets and prose-writers increasingly finding undergraduate, work, travel, romantic, and family experiences adequate to the task of informing their writing (alongside some rigorous, self-directed readings of contemporary in-genre work, of course).
Why are students ostensibly encouraged to workshop writing that is unpolished and adventurous, but implicitly pushed—by the tone, tenor, and format of conventional workshopping—to impress their classmates with already publishable work?
Are we really comfortable with the often gendered master-trainee relationships that tend to dominate contemporary creative writing instruction?Indeed, I think that’s as high a calling as imaginative writing itself. As lifelong students of creative writing, are we maximizing our potential if we do not maximize the ways we talk about and through the writing process?In my own classrooms, students do not copyedit or nitpick one’s another’s drafts—there’s plenty of time, space, and resources to do that outside the classroom—but rather engage in open-ended, far-ranging philosophical discussions of how individual artworks, whether written by peers or by others, teach us what it is that literature can be both for us personally and a public audience.These and other urgent questions lead to a far broader one: has creative writing done enough to carry itself forward into the twenty-first century—the digital age—or is it a twentieth century, pre-internet discipline profiting from under-coverage in the media of its longstanding disciplinary malaise?I wrote because today’s applicants deserve to know how good they have it and to be able to see the hard data undergirding the wealth of new opportunities they enjoy.Those with some familiarity with the world of MFA and Ph. programs in creative writing will also know that, increasingly, those who hope to teach post-graduation are having to complete the Ph.D.) even though these two very different types of programs are officially “co-terminal.” And for those for whom the prospect of seven to ten years of residential graduate study of creative writing seems like overkill, there are—as you’ve likely heard by now—scores of low-residency programs that at present lack the cachet of their full-residency peers but can inspire, educate, and credential you in your genre(s) of choice with a minimum of disruption to your personal and professional life. It’s the best of times because there are more such programs than ever before—so there’s likely a quality program nearby, wherever you live—and because more MFA and Ph. programs in creative writing are fully funded for all students than ever before. programs in creative writing, 2018 is at once the best of times and the worst of times.Only when our writing is a matrix of our complicated and unreplicable interrelationships with language, culture, self-identity, and genre can we be certain that what we are writing is a distinct achievement and contribution.That’s what the history of widely admired literature tells us, and what we see in practice every day in those books of poetry and prose that most capture the nation’s imagination.