MFA Gobbledygook

Blogging about MFA programs is one of the stated aims of the Boolah Blog. Why? Because I teach MFA prep classes, through Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, and I also offer MFA consultations for aspiring MFA students, and so I try and keep up with news and developments within that world.

It so happens that I have a new MFA prep class starting this evening and so I diligently started searching around on the Interweb, looking for any new resources that might have sprung up since I last checked. In doing so, I came across one of those grad school aggregate sites — you know, some enterprising soul forked out large sums of cash for a sexy url (OK, it’s gradschools.com, but I’m not going to link to it) and then gathered together a bunch of half-assed information so that they can flog advertising to prospective students. And how do I know it’s half-assed? Because this is what they say about MFA programs (messed up punctuation is in the original):

Harry Potter, Gone With the Wind, The Catcher in the Rye, or The Tales & Poetry of Edgar Allen Poe – whatever the choiceof genre, creative writers have indelibly imprinted the human race throughout the ages.

Leaving the tortured syntax aside, great list guys! Harry Potter — a hugely successful series, yes, but not literary masterpieces, and not the high-minded adult fiction that most MFA students aspire to (though there are a few great programs that focus on children’s and YA book writing). Gone with the Wind? Also hugely successful, but the only novel that Mitchell published in her life time. J.D. Salinger? Famous recluse. About the most unlikely writer you’d ever expect to find either in an MFA program or endorsing one. And Poe? Hugely influential, but most of his acclaim came after death. From his Wikipage:

Poe, throughout his attempts at pursuing a successful literary career, would be forced to constantly make humiliating pleas for money and other assistance for the rest of his life.

Ah yes. Sounds like the life of a writer, sure enough, but not the shiny dream that prospective MFA students are pursuing. Is that dream possible?

Sure it is, though some more realistic — and recent — role models might help. Kiran Desai, graduate of my alma mater, Columbia, and 2006 Man-Booker Prize winner. There’s one. Joshua Ferris, author of And Then We Came To The End and recent graduate of UC Irvine might be another. Or even the legions of writers and MFA graduates who might be less celebrated but are, nonetheless, hacking out a living, somehow, in the creative world. But not the following crop — also taken from the above-named website.

Whether you wish to follow the career paths of celebrated creative writers such as Ernest Hemingway, William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, or Lewis Carroll, or pursue a more conventional writing career, a diverse assortment of opportunities await the creative writing graduate. Some of these employment opportunities include: technical writing, drama and screenplay writing, editing, administration, college teaching, and popular fiction writing.

Per-lease! We can all look forward to lucrative careers in “administration” or “popular fiction writing” post MFA? Whoever wrote this blurb obviously has no clue. Rush on over to Tom Kealey’s MFA blog for some more hands-on and practical advice

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2 responses to “MFA Gobbledygook

  1. raskolnikov

    so true! salinger?
    dickinson too? i don’t think she left her house much.
    thanks for the great links and sound interpretation.

  2. nancyrawlinson

    Yes, Dickinson was a recluse who only published a handful of poems in her lifetime, and most of those were heavily edited and/or reviewed unfavorably. And Hemmingway? Good to admire and read him, the kiss of death to attempt imitation — on the page or in life.

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