WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Which are you? MFA or NYC?

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This looks like it’ll be an interesting book: a compilation of essays that look at the nature of the American literary scene. Chad Harbach (The Art of Fielding) has gotten a bunch of his pals, I’m guessing, to contribute their thoughts on the notion that you either have to get an MFA or head for NYC if you’re going to amount to more than a hill o’ beans in this business. The book comes out February 25.

Maybe I’ve talked about the MFA thing before here, but the short version is I decided many years ago not to pursue it. Financial reasons, mainly. Practical. Plus, I had a writing instructor who convinced me that — at the time, anyway — the MFA was thought of as a teaching degree. (I don’t think that was particularly true; she was probably a bit behind the times.) Now and then I second-guess myself on that front, but, as I hope this book points out, getting an MFA doesn’t come with a guarantee that you’ll succeed as a writer.

As for the NYC side of the equation, you may remember I don’t ♥ New York.

There’s a third element, however, that maybe Harbach & friends haven’t considered. You can write from wherever you live. You can march to the beat of a different drummer. Part of what makes a writer interesting is the stuff that distinguishes her from everyone else, and if everyone else has an MFA and sounds vaguely similar, then maybe she’ll stand out in the crowd.

How ’bout it? Any MFA holders out there who want to argue in favor? Any denizens of the Big Apple — center of the literary universe? Chime in!

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7 comments on “Which are you? MFA or NYC?

  1. John W. Howell
    February 4, 2014

    I used to live in the NYC area and do not have an MFA. I can say with confidence that NYC has the environment for creativity like few places.

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 4, 2014

      The best environment for creativity is in your own noodle. 😉

  2. 1WriteWay
    February 6, 2014

    I love “North” New York. I think mountains and lakes can be as creatively stimulating as a bustling city 🙂 I have a Masters in English; the concentration was supposed to be literature, but I took enough writing workshops that on my transcript, it’s listed as creative writing. While in grad school, the expectation was that you would teach, which I didn’t want to do. Of course, everyone wanted to be a writer, but it was assumed that we would need to teach to earn a living. Anyhoo, I’ve often thought about going back to school and getting an MFA, mainly because I want to be in that learning environment again. I want mentoring as well. Actually, that’s what I want more than anything. But I wouldn’t expect an MFA to “make” me into a bestselling author. If I ever pursue an MFA, it would be simply because I want to do it, without any grandiose expectations.

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 6, 2014

      It would be nice if more people had your take on the MFA. It should be both a credential and personal advancement, with the latter being a bit more important. But I think that somewhere along the way the publishing business began using it as a filter, which meant that it began to seem necessary for success, even if there was no guarantee. I remember the fiction editor of The Atlantic saying he discarded all submissions that didn’t mention an MFA in the cover letter…

      That said, there’s a good program in Gainesville, isn’t there? 😉

      • 1WriteWay
        February 6, 2014

        I think there’s a few good programs in FL. Actually, FSU in Tallahassee offers an MFA now but for years they churned out some excellent writers with their MA in Creative Writing and PhD programs. I have fond memories of my grad classes at FSU. I just didn’t “shine” while I was there 😉 And I wasn’t smart enough to grab onto the coat-tails of Jerry Stern or Wendy Bishop. Well, I could write a book on all my “what-ifs” from that period of time (1990-1992) 🙂

      • Kevin Brennan
        February 6, 2014

        I’d read that book.

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This entry was posted on February 4, 2014 by in Writing and tagged , , , .
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