Saturday, August 01, 2009

The $16.99 MFA

SueLoree, if you're out there, you're the only LB&LI winner I haven't heard from, and I don't have any contact info for you. Please e-mail me at with your shipping info so I can send your goodie bag out to you.

I'm on page 73 of The Portable MFA in Creative Writing, apparently written by five members of the New York Writers Workshop. I've never read or heard of any of the authors, which probably means they're very important in the literary community. Just three pages to slog through before I finish the fiction section of the book and can donate it to the library with a clean conscience.

It's not a bad book, just one that sets out from page one to name-drop rather than inform. It plods, and you have to wade through a lot of droppings as you plod along. I know some writers respond to that, the slow sedutive invocation of the literary saints while murmuring their rule-of-thumbs rosaries and reciting the mustn't-ever-dos commandments. Hail Mary Gaitskill, full of short story grace, the published word is with thee . . . forgive us our weak transitions, and help us to forgive those who thoughtlessly reject us . . .

Nevertheless, I will say that you can pick up an occasional bright thought from the book here and there that hasn't had the life crushed out of it by the likes of Flannery O'Connor or Raymond Carver. I don't think it's worth $16.99, though, so you might want to check it out from the library before investing.

I don't know why I picked up this book. I think I was curious to see what kids are paying a hundred grand or more for. If this book is any indication of what is taught to young writers at university, I hope the privilege of learning to name-drop and amend their signature block with those three letters is worth all that money, because I doubt they're going to get much more out of it. But if you are interested in going the way of the literary rhino, save your money. You can find most of what's in this book in various forms on the internet for free.


  1. I really think the best way to learn to write is to a. read a lot and b. write a lot. Although I didn't set out to teach literature, so maybe that makes a difference in the to MFA or not to MFA question.

  2. "and you have to wade through a lot of droppings as you plod along."

    You slay me.

    I agree with Charlene. Read and Write are the best learning tools.


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