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What should MFA students demand from their programs, part 2.

So, what would I add to Niles’ list?

1. Teachers who read their students work.
This might sound like a no-brainer, but one might be suspicious of teachers who always want their students to read their work out loud to them. It might be a sign they don’t want to do too much reading beforehand, preferring the “off the cuff” method of verbal critique that not coincidentally significantly reduces their paper load and/or workload outside of class.
I’m not exaggerating about this, folks. I’ve been in sessions with teachers bluffing their way through a student’s work; occasionally it was even my own.

To wit, I once read a lengthy tribute to the beloved George Garrett in which the admirer fondly recalled listening to Garrett hold forth about a student’s work even when, well, ahem. . . uh, it became clear that Garrett hadn’t actually read it.

Apparently, it was enough just to be in the legendary writer’s presence.

Garrett’s volume of work and service to the field is also legendary and I have no intention of dimming the light that shines upon it. But it doesn’t make not reading a student’s work and then critiquing it as part of one’s employment responsibilities any more acceptable, especially when one considers that Garrett himself was an enormous influence, as a teacher, on other teachers of creative writing.

2. Programs that promote practice and purpose, not personality. Along with the star system, the cult of personality has a tendency to reign supreme in MFA programs. See #1.

I could write much more about this subject, and have, actually, here on this blog and elsewhere, but some of this is going to be in my book, currently titled Rethinking Creative Writing in Higher Education: Programs and Practices that Work. I don’t want to give it all away. Buying cows and free milk and all that.

Bye y’all,
SV

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What should MFA students demand from their programs? Part 1

Erika Dreifus, over at the esteemed Practicing Writing (seriously, writers, if you don’t read her blog regularly, you need to, she’s on my blogroll ) has drawn my attention to Robert Niles’ post, Eight things that journalism students should demand from their journalism schools. Of course, fellow MFA alum Dreifus wondered aloud “What should MFA students demand from their programs?” and then asked her readers to comment.

Well, Erika, here’s my response:

First of all, anyone seriously interested in this subject should read Niles’ post carefully and not just go by my summary because his arguments are lucid, pointed and convincing. They also demonstrate that despite the fact that MFA students ply their trade in the literary realm, their needs are really not very different from aspiring journalists:

Mentors, check.
Employment contacts, check.
A place to hack, that is, to try out emerging media such as blogging and other forms of digitial writing. Check.
Work contacts, not just internships but work outside the field ( go read what he says about this). Check.
Deep knowledge of a field other than journalism. Check. In journalism, this is known as a “beat field.” In creative writing, it’s known as a niche.

Opportunities to “get your name out there.” Check.
Passion for the field and for teaching it to the next generation. Check.

Those are all things that MFA programs should be doing for their students. And if you’re considering spending several years in such a program, you need to find one that recognizes its responsibilities to its students in the 21st century.

Of course, there are a few things I might add, which are in the next post, “What should MFA students demand from their programs, part 2.”
See y’all over there,
SV

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