— to make you, if you’re lucky, a famous, well-paid author — strikes so many people with even the smallest literary dream as utterly irresistible,” Mr. In its strictest form, it works like this: Classmates evaluate and write detailed comments about students’ work, then sit around a table and “workshop” the piece. In the workshop, writing is deconstructed and put back together. A skilled instructor can point out flaws and suggest techniques it might otherwise take years to figure out. “We read the personal statement closely,” says Ellen Tremper, chairwoman of Brooklyn College’s English department.
They were mainly writers with material in need of guidance and derailed by career or family, says Ms. At the core of every program is the writing workshop, the so-called Iowa model because it originated there. “When 14 people tell you something isn’t working, you listen.”The workshop is so central to the experience that programs often screen out applicants who could be problematic. Last year, there were just 112 tenure-track creative writing positions.
They see a self-generating track to the literary establishment, on which the most fortunate jump to fellowships, writing colonies, agents, publishing deals and professorships, where they are indoctrinated into the status quo.
Others describe an inherently unfair system that all but requires aspiring writers to attend schools many cannot afford or otherwise access.
“I’m not even sure what I’d be writing now if I hadn’t gone.”Success stories like Ms. “Too white,” he wrote, “as in my workshop reproduced exactly the dominant culture’s blind spots and assumptions around race and racism (and sexism and heteronormativity, etc.).”Cornell’s current director, J. Díaz’s student cohort was “100 percent writers of color,” which Mr. community get impatient with the discussion of whether it’s worth taking on debt for an M. “The number of writers has increased, but the number of readers has not,” says Joseph Harrison, senior American editor for Waywiser Press. Harrison is coordinator of Waywiser’s Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize.
Most famously, Junot Díaz wrote in a New Yorker essay last year about racial and ethnic insensitivity during his time in Cornell’s program in 1992. Debt is important to consider, he says, but so is passion. It’s not so bad to make a sacrifice.”The monthly magazine Poetry receives 100,000 submissions a year and publishes 300 poems. John Mc Nally, an Iowa graduate who based a satirical novel, “After the Workshop,” on a washed-up graduate of the Iowa program, has described his own experience there as affected by “bitter jealousies, competition” and writing to please instructors and classmates. David Win-grave, a New York University student, says that at first the camaraderie, the attention on his work and the mounds of feedback were “thrilling.” But it was easy to lose focus and feel frustrated, and he learned to rely on only a few trusted readers. The writer sits silently while classmates comment first on what is working, then go back around to comment on what is not. “We try to see if a person seems rational and, frankly, unneurotic, because if you get someone with a screw loose, it can be disruptive to the group.”Achieving workshop harmony can be a challenge. He also points out that criticism is coming primarily from peers who “are people who don’t know anything about writing, which is why they are in the program.”The workshop can take getting used to. tells us about our era’s myths, she says, is that “the arts are more inculcated than they were before. Lands, a professor at the University of Tennessee Graduate School of Medicine in Knoxville. It was peak reading season, and Lan Samantha Chang, director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, was gamely juggling a call from a reporter, interruptions from her 7-year-old as well as a 10 percent surge in applications to the University of Iowa’s Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing. Chang was in the thick of decisions about who would fill 50 spots evenly divided between the fall fiction and poetry workshops.“I’m deluged,” she said, surprised by the number of applications she was sorting through — 1,380 — especially in a year with a stronger economy, a condition that typically causes graduate school applications, never mind those to fine arts programs, to drop. More likely, the swell in applications is not so weird.“Explosive” is the word routinely used to describe the growth of M. ”Perhaps, she speculates, the surge is a result of the juggernaut HBO series called “Girls,” the one where the neurotic aspiring novelist Hannah Horvath, played by Lena Dunham, takes off to the Iowa cornfields and shines a bright light on the venerated program. Sample manifestoes from blogs and chat rooms: “Why you should hate the creative writing establishment (…as if you needed any more reasons)” and “14 Reasons (Not) to Get an M. Mc Gurl, a Stanford English professor, describes the M. Harbach, who earned his from the University of Virginia, have “imbibed the general idea and aesthetic. But it seems to trouble many others, especially aspiring novelists and poets. programs and that a volatile publishing industry — now evolved around program graduates and sensibilities — has come to look for and expect? A.s now.”That’s not necessarily a negative notion, according to Dr. Harbach (who received a 0,000 advance for his first novel, “The Art of Fielding”). Rowling, Colson Whitehead, Hilton Als and Emily St. But there is another argument, and another list — prominent literary writers and poets with M. With so much seemingly working against it, it is astounding the degree has gained traction at all.