Let's put our heads together.
“Of all the ambient commonplaces about MFA programs, perhaps the only accurate one is that the programs are organized around the story form.” Chad Harbach said this in his n+1/Slate essay, “MFA or NYC?” Do you think he’s right? I want to know. I’ve created two Survey Monkey surveys, one for faculty, one for students (past and present).
Survey for Graduate Faculty
Survey for MFA Students (Past and Present)
Remember: this is about graduate creative writing programs, not undergraduate.
Because your response will be anonymous, I hope you will provide honest answers.
- True or False: It is unreasonable to expect an MFA student to complete a publishable novel during an MFA program.
- True or False: The best way to learn how to write fiction is develop some level of mastery over the short story before moving on to novels.
- True or False: It is the responsibility of MFA programs to “professionalize” students about the business of fiction writing.
- True or False: Mentoring a novelist takes more of a faculty’s limited time than mentoring students in other genres and forms.
Each survey asks 10 questions requiring a simple True or False answer. Each survey asks the same questions. And I’ll be honest here: one of the things I’m curious about is whether there’s a disconnect between what MFA faculty believe they are doing and what students perceive.
Should take just a minute or two. Please consider the questions carefully, answer, and then (this is important) please share this post widely via social media so that I can gather a range of responses.
I’m doing this in preparation for my AWP panel, “A Novel Problem: Moving from “Story” to “Book” in the MFA Program,” which is scheduled for Thursday, March 1 from 12:00-1:15 PM in the Lake Michigan Room at the Hilton Chicago. I’m moderating, and the panelists are, David Haynes, Patricia Henley, Sheila O’Connor, and Elizabeth Stuckey-French. I will share the results of the survey at the panel in Chicago.
So: help me out here. Take the survey. Share it with your friends and colleagues. And let the discussion begin.
Description of the Panel
Short stories are often our main pedagogical tools, but the book is the primary unit of literary production. When are apprentice writers “ready” to write novels, and how do we review them in a workshop setting? How can we create courses that encourage students to move toward and complete book projects? This panel will explore the challenges of accommodating the novel or the novel-in-stories within the structure of an MFA program and in the classroom.
Statement of Merit
A recent essay on this topic by the panel’s organizer prompted a good deal of response. Some claim that MFA programs are subtly (or deliberately) “anti-novel.” That theory is disproved by the faculty panelists, who have experience mentoring in MFA program settings. They will share their best practices with the audience.
Here’s a brief list of other articles that have come out in the last year or so related to the topic of our panel:
Brian Joseph Davis, “Why MFA Programs Matter.” Huffington Post.
Anelise Chen. “On Blowing My Load: Thoughts from Inside the MFA Ponzi Scheme.” The Rumpus.
John Stazinski, “A Novel Approach: Learning to Write More than Stories.” Poets & Writers, the January/February 2012 issue, print only.