Pedagogy Disguised as Humorous (But Completely Serious) Essay
[The composition history of my essay, “The Big Thing,” now titled “The Story Problem: 10 Thoughts on Academia’s Novel Crisis,” is up at The Millions on 1.18.11.]
- In January 2010, I write an informal mini-lecture to deliver to my graduate fiction workshop.
- I adapt said lecture into a real, honest-to-goodness pedagogy article (with end notes and everything). I submit this article to the AWP Writers: Chronicle (30,000 subscribers), a magazine that should be familiar to anyone who resides in or emerged from a creative writing program.
- A few months later, I receive word that AWP is considering my article for their pedagogy forum on their member-only, password protected e-Link.
- Wow. I had no idea there was such a thing as the AWP Password-Protected Pedagogy Forum. It contains many great “exclusive” articles about teaching. In particular, I admire “Toward a Pedagogy of Process for the Creative Writing Classroom“ by Jenny Dunning and “More Than Just Mentorship and Modeling: Creative Writers and Pedagogy” by Gerry LaFemina. Here is the link. I hope you can access it.
- Unfortunately, AWP decides not to publish my essay. Not in the print Chronicle. Not in their Password-Protected Pedagogy Forum.
- Damn. [feel disappointed]
- Okay. [get over feeling disappointed]
- Make important realization. An essay about Novel Writing can be submitted to a magazine like Poets & Writers, Writer’s Ask, Fiction Writer’s Review, etc. But an essay about Teaching Novel Writing cannot, because that’s pedagogy. And nobody likes the p-word.
- But every time I post a status update on Facebook about teaching, I get beaucoup notifications. Everyone I know (granted, a particular segment of the population) wants to learn more about teaching creative writing, but nobody seems to know anything about the AWP Password-Protected Pedagogy Forum.
- Instead, everyone is still talking about Louis Menand’s New Yorker essay/review of Mark McGurl’s book, The Program Era.
- Anis Shivani publishes a provocative article on MFA programs in the Huffington Post. [dialogue/shitstorm ensues]
- What to do with my pedagogy article? A colleague suggests that I submit it to Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture. This publication would “count” as serious scholarship. But if my creative writing teacher friends can’t find the AWP Password-Protected Pedagogy Forum, will they ever find my article in Pedagogy? I mean, College English devoted its January 2009 issue to Creative Writing, and wow, didn’t THAT just rock the world. [no dialogue/silence]
- On The Rumpus, Anelise Chen publishes “On Blowing My Load: Thoughts from Inside the MFA Ponzi Scheme.” [dialogue/shitstorm ensues]
- Someone suggests that I send my pedagogy article to Creative Writing: Teaching, Theory, and Practice. Again, wow. I had no idea there was such a thing, and again, I find great essays about teaching creative writing. But no one hangs out at this journal which has been around since 2008. Its online forum contains two topics and a total of seven posts. Meanwhile, over at HTMLGiant, Roxane Gay writes an essay about teaching and receives 73 comments, a response which represents but a small fraction of the number of eyeballs that have been on that piece.
- Inspired by other writers (here and here and here and here and here and here) who occasionally blog about or share info about their teaching, I start a blog called “The Big Thing” to talk about my experiences teaching a novel writing course in which all class members (including myself) participate in National Novel Writing Month.
- Anis Shivani publishes a provocative article on the Huffington Post. [dialogue/shitstorm ensues]
- One night, a writer friend of mine posts a casual Facebook status update in which he muses about the difference between writing short stories vs. novels. Do the two forms require different kinds of training? [dialogue ensues]
- Okay. Okay. I decide to revise my pedagogy article into something more provocative so that my ideas can reach a wider audience. I hope that a dialogue will ensue. Not a shit storm. [feel nervous]
- I give a talk at a writer’s conference about my “Big Thing” ideas. Someone comes up to me afterwards, a writer who is well known as a teacher of creative writing as well. I tell her the story I’ve been telling you, and she shakes her head knowingly. “No one wants to publish essays about teaching,” she says, “but everyone I know is absolutely desperate to read them.”
- Anis Shivani publishes a provocative article on the Huffington Post. Ibid.
- I finish a draft of “The Big Thing: 10 Thoughts on Moving from ‘Story’ to ‘Book'” just in time for a reading at the University of Illinois. Perhaps the audience came expecting fiction or maybe some memoir. Instead, I give them Pedagogy Disguised as Humorous but Completely Serious Essay. Despite this, people seem to like what I am talking about. [feel jazzed]
- Slate publishes an excerpt of Chad Harbach’s n+1 essay, “MFA vs. NYC.” Harbach says, “The MFA system also nudges the writer toward the writing of short stories; of all the ambient commonplaces about MFA programs, perhaps the only accurate one is that the programs are organized around the story form.” [dialogue ensues]
- What do teachers of creative writing have to say with regard to these matters? Not a lot. Probably because we are absolutely up to our eyeballs with work to do. Classes to teach. Manuscripts to review. Manuscripts to write. When we have a free second, we chatter on Facebook about it or in the comment threads on blogs. We make xtranormal videos. We vent. We feel self-righteous. How dare anyone impugn our discipline!
- Why don’t we take the time to write something long and well-considered? Why don’t we write about our teaching? What do we call a piece that’s about teaching, about the classroom, but isn’t pedagogy and isn’t a how-to craft essay? Will it count for tenure and promotion? And who will publish it? Who will read it, for godssakes?
- I think about all this for a long, long time. And then I send the essay to The Millions. And a few days later, they say yes.
I hope you like it and will share it with others. [dialogue ensues]