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.
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.I’ve studied in one of the largest and one of the smallest graduate creative writing programs in the country; I’ve taught undergraduate creative writers at three public research universities and expect to shortly begin teaching low-residency graduate creative writers; and what I’ve believed in every creative writing classroom I’ve ever entered as a student, and what I’ve said in every creative writing classroom I’ve ever entered as a professor, is that a writing pedagogy is only as good as its ability to encourage deeply reflexive, idiosyncratic writing that only its author could or would produce.There are simply too many poetry collections and novels and memoirs and short stories floating about the American literary landscape for any of us to spend our precious time recreating the work others have already done.Or writers may begin to find that immersion in the theory, literature, and practice of other disciplines besides creative writing is—perhaps paradoxically—more conducive to becoming an idiosyncratic creative writer than any standardized writing pedagogy.I know I often tell my students that the best way to become successful as a creative writer is to develop an idiosyncratic personal poetics, and that the best way to develop an idiosyncratic personal poetics is to bring into your writing as many facets of your experience, knowledge, training, hobbies, and personality that seem to have nothing to do with creative writing as you possibly can.And because in 2018 there are sizeable applicant communities congregating on Facebook and elsewhere, more than ever before a graduate-school creative writing applicant needn’t go through the arduous process of applying to creative writing MFA or Ph. Finally, because innovative multi-genre low-residency programs and “specialized” full-residency programs—programs with a theme or curricular emphasis—are now rapidly growing in number, applicants unable to leave their jobs or who have either a very broad or very narrow focus as writers are better able than before to find a program that meets their idiosyncratic needs.Yet for all the good news above, there’s also a dark cloud over creative writing in 2018—and it’s not clear yet whether it will be temporary or permanent.And any institution that instills in its students anything but an abiding commitment to profoundly considered, bravely wrought, imaginatively conceived, doggedly innovative writing is doing a disservice.While none of us must or even should contend with the question of posterity as we write, it is no failure of commitment to writing to ask whether we are contributing something only we could ever or would ever contribute to American letters.Why do we approach writing pedagogy deductively, via the study of aesthetics, rather than inductively, via the study of poetics?Why do most workshops offer no formalized training in how to perform a literary artwork as well as compose it?