Anxiety + Community = AWP

CW Programs Teaching Writing

"Are you somebody?"

[Note: This post has nothing to do with snow. ]

AWP is like my Facebook feed.

It’s where I go to feel connected to and learn from other writer-teachers. So many panel topics! So many great discussions! Sometimes I just show up to listen and learn, taking notes. Sometimes I propose a panel and start a conversation. It’s often energizing and enriching. I’m part of a community, a profession, a discipline. If this is what it feels like to have “a calling,” to be doing the thing(s) you’re supposed to be doing in life, then that is what I feel like when I’m there at AWP, on Facebook.

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Who says that nobody cares about creative writing pedagogy?

Who says that nobody cares about creative writing pedagogy?


I’m still trying to process the response to my essay in The Millions, and all I can think to say is: holy shit.

Thanks to analytics and Google Alert and trackbacks, I’ve been able to follow much of the unfolding conversation. A dialogue has begun. This makes me happy.

I learned a lot this week. It was sort of like going to AWP without having to go to AWP. It was a standing-room only panel in an enormous hotel ballroom, the inspiring kind of panel that recharges your soul-weary batteries. Continue reading

MFA vs. NYC = Team Short Story vs. Team Novel

MFA vs. NYC = Team Short Story vs. Team Novel

CW Programs

In his book, The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing, Mark McGurl says that it’s time we paid attention to the “increasingly intimate relation between literary production and the practices of higher education.”

So. This is me. Twenty years as a writer-teacher. Finally paying attention.

Apparently, I’m not the only one wondering whether the creative writing classroom can accommodate Big Things.

Here’s Michael Nye at The Missouri Review blog, where even Peter Turchi weighed in with a comment.

Here’s another response.

HTMLGiant noticed.

And today I read this fantastic essay on Slate, “MFA vs. NYC: America now has two distinct literary cultures. Which one will last?”

Novelist and n+1 editor Chad 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. This begins in workshops, both MFA and undergraduate, where the minute, scrupulous attentions of one’s instructor and peers are best suited to the consideration of short pieces, which can be marked up, cut down, rewritten and reorganized, and brought back for further review. The short story, like the 10-page college term paper, or the 25-page graduate paper, has become a primary pedagogical genre form. It’s not just that MFA students are encouraged to write stories in workshop, though this is true; it’s that the entire culture is steeped in the form.

I highly recommend that you read this piece, an excerpt from n+1. For one thing, Harbach suggests (rightfully so) that without “MFA program culture” to offset “NYC publishing culture,” the short story might cease to exist at all. For another thing, it’s a useful paradigm. MFA vs. NYC might seem reductive, but it expertly frames the difficulties of making a literary life in the late 20th but especially the late 21st century.

As I think about my cohort, the “second generation” of writers-teachers who will one day take the leadership reins of AWP and academic writing programs, I wonder (perhaps more than I should) about the future of creative writing instruction. Forty years after the first generation of writer-teachers established our curriculums and classroom practices, what have we learned? Where are we going? Where have we been?

Harbach wonders this, too.

It will be interesting to see what happens when this group of older writers dies (they are unlikely to give up their jobs beforehand); whether the MFA canon will leap forward, or back, or switch tracks entirely, to accommodate the interests, private and aesthetic, of a younger group of writer-teachers. Perhaps (among other possibilities) the MFA culture will take a turn toward the novel.

And now, back to my novel…

The Gamification of Novel Writing

The Gamification of Novel Writing

For twenty years, my writing practice had no structure. I wrote when inspired and I would keep writing until I wasn’t inspired. If I didn’t have a big block of time, I wouldn’t write. I waited until I did have a big block of time–which happened…oh…never.

I was 25 years old, two years into an MFA program, and I still acted (without really realizing it) as if writing was something I did “for school.” And then one fall, the buzz among all students in my program was that Inman Majors had returned from summer break with a 200-page manuscript, a rough draft of a novel. Of course, we all hated him immediately.

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