Mar 6, 2009, 1:32 PM
Post #408 of 466
I know it's no consolation, especially coming from me (since I've got two offers already) but here goes anyway:
I think this focus on the MFA is misplaced, especially on a program like Iowa. And in case you were wondering, no, I did not get a rejection from Iowa.
I know several graduates from the Iowa Writer's Workshop. One graduated in the 1990s and he told me I didn't need to go to Iowa or any other MFA program. All I really need to do is write write write. If I really really wanted the MFA, just pick somewhere local because frankly, there are a lot of good teachers everywhere. So, he and I got into a discussion about Iowa's teachers. To tell you the truth, I told him, I've read the works of Lan Samantha Chang, Marilynne (sp?) Robinson, and Ethan Canin, and their style didn't appeal to me. And I haven't even read a single James McPherson work. The "Iowa" name is what it's all about.
Another Iowa grad told me roughly the same thing. The only new thing he told me was that even Iowa grads struggle to get published. Sure, we hear about the Michael Cunningham's, Nam Le's, Yiyun Li's, TC Boyle's, Flannery O' Connor's, and the Raymond Carver's (he did not graduate btw), but there are also the John Bergenwaller's, Jane Museendorf's, and Ivan Yeskovich's that no one has heard of and are now getting their MBA's.
A third Iowa grad is out of the writing "business" altogether and went to law school instead. He had a couple books published early in his career that went nowhere and he decided he had enough. It was more important to make money, so he said.
Another guy who got his MA from a well-known school told me that an MFA was not necessary...at all. Just write. He said, in clear and unambiguous language, that an MFA was a waste of time. Just write and read and write. From his experience, he learned nothing from professors and other students. Especially the other students.
I've taken their advice a bit. I didn't apply to just any school...just six Top 10 schools. And though I got into two, I'm not absolutely certain I might attend. I'm still weighing the pros and cons of attending. My life is pretty comfortable where I am. I mean, I write constantly and I learn more and more everyday just from the act of writing and reading other people's stories. Just yesterday, I re-read Joyce Carol Oates' "Ghost Girls" and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's "The Interview" and learned something new.
I guess if you want to teach, having an Iowa MFA in your resume/CV may be an advantage. But even that is not a slam dunk. You need to publish first and foremost. And win some stupid awards and stuff.
A professor who did one of my Letters of Recommendation said to me, "Did Charles Dickens get an MFA?" Well no, but I'm sure if he were alive today, he might actually pick a field in forensic accounting rather than publishing stories in serials. He asked me to name some Iowa alums and so, I rattled them off -- from a list I got off Wikipedia -- and he said, "Never heard of them." Anyway, he still wrote me a Letter of Recommendation. His last words to me were, "I still think you're wasting your time and talent."
So, in the end, I don't find Iowa to be a huge draw for me. But that's just me. I don't have the same "Iowa or Bust" dreams like a lot of people. I personally don't have a desire to teach as a profession. I just want to have a career like Ian McEwan or even Cormac McCarthy. Publish stuff here and there, do radio interviews, read from my work in 90%-empty auditoriums to a bunch of wide-eyed English students, maybe recite some bad poetry at bars on "Poetry Reading" nights, and develop a long friendship with my literary agent who'll constantly push me to write a vampire novel. Apparently, vampire novels are big these days.
(This post was edited by Raysen on Mar 6, 2009, 1:39 PM)