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.
Among them: the pervasiveness of digital media and celebrity culture, where anyone with a blog feels like a best-selling novelist-in-waiting; the rise of memoirs, a natural extension of the online selfie writing culture; the popularity of magical realism and noir fiction novels, which have turned many 20-somethings on to literature; and changes in generational attitudes, aspirations and culture.“The younger generation is making career choices determined by quality of life,” says Jeannine Blackwell, dean-in-residence at the Council of Graduate Schools and a professor at the University of Kentucky. Barth, a National Book Award winner in 1973, called his students “advanced apprentices.”M. Students have come to expect education to be prescriptive, she says. They allow students to test their stamina (and talent) for what Timothy Donnelly, chairman of the Writing Program at Columbia, calls a “radical lifestyle choice.”The best also hone technique and train students to read analytically. Donnelly puts it, students develop an appreciation for the “sensuous aspect of language” and the ability to translate their experience of life onto the page. “And then I think, ‘Well, let’s roll up our sleeves.’ ”Creative writing programs are designed as studio or academic models. They typically offer fiction and poetry tracks, though “creative nonfiction” is gaining ground, as are screenwriting and playwriting. programs are low-residency — they meet for about two weeks on campus or some other on-ground spot (New York University, for example, gathers low-residency students in Paris); the rest of the semester is conducted online. and is contemplating pursuing the degree, says: “What writers don’t understand is that there is little pragmatic about the M. A.” Of a dozen writer friends who went on to earn M. A.s, most, he says, are now doing “whatever they might have done before getting the degree,” including restaurant management, real estate and writing Web content.
She sees that as a reflection of undergraduate education that emphasizes specialization and pre-professionalism, with little room for the arts, reading or writing. A., adding a year because students needed more time to develop.“Our understanding of what it takes to be an artist is geared to an era’s myths,” Ms. The best provide a temporary respite from a fast-paced culture unsympathetic to the pursuit of art for art’s sake, and an opportunity to find a community of like-minded people who validate your work and motivations.
A.-less,” says Junot Díaz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and M. A.-holder who has been a vocal critic of the degree.
NYC,” George Saunders, a professor in Syracuse’s program, writes that there are so many negative myths about the M.
A graduate writing degree, unsurprisingly, turns out a lot of opinionated writing. in Creative Writing (and Two Reasons It Might Actually Be Worth It).” In scholarly circles, the boom and its implications have been a subject of heated debate since at least 2009, with the publication of Mark Mc Gurl’s “The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing.” In it, Dr. as the single biggest influence on American literature since World War II, noting that most serious writers since then have come out of graduate-school incubators.
Between 3,000 and 4,000 students a year graduate with the degree; this year, about 20,000 applications were sent out. Last year, he edited a book of essays, with the same title, on the credential’s influence. Harbach describes two centers of American fiction: New York City, the traditional hub, and M. A., the encroaching university writing program, or “the M.
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.