Mar 31, 2008, 2:04 PM
Post #27 of 29
I partly agree with this post. I think it’s always a good idea to seek feedback from current or past students at any MFA program you are considering applying to.
Re: [Clench Million] Finding a non-Realist MFA
But I don’t agree that students at many programs are not equipped to talk about and give thoughtful feedback about so called “experimental” or “non-traditional” fiction.
I only say “so called” because I believe the distinctions between “realist” and “experimental” are in many ways quite silly and almost always reveal a good deal of small minded biases about “quality” fiction in modern times. I think folks who champion one style over the other are both guilty of this.
That said I don’t believe one style is being promoted over another in many English Lit and Creative Writing programs. The previously mentioned “horror” stories and personal anecdotes of PW posters about suffering at the hands of domineering “realist” does not as we know constitute a universe of quantifiable facts.
In fact I think many styles are well represented through out the Lit program and CW worlds. Mentioning Robert Coover and Donald Barthelme as examples of “experimental” writing, or Thomas Pynchon and John Barth, dates this discussion about 30 or 40 year, meaning in that time, many programs have reliably “caught up” with the times. If you’re encountering students who don’t know how to talk about a Barthelme story then chances are they don’t know how to discuss someone like Grace Paley or Tobias Wolf with any depth or critical acumen.
Most Lit programs began offering courses in postmodernism and any other ism you can think about in the 80’s and from what I can tell have never stopped. So I don’t buy the idea that most students are ignorant or incapable of dealing with this kind of material.
It is true that most programs heavily lean towards more traditional narratives with more identifiable prose styles, but that is mostly because there are more writers working in that tradition. Even in that tradition there are writers who push the boundaries of prose and story structure beyond the norm; Hempl, Carver, Ford, Moody, Frazen and Proulx to name a few, but they are never in my experience taught to the exclusion of folks like DF Wallace, Saunders, Bender, Lutz or Dixon. Those authors are not exactly locked up in some literary attic somewhere. Many of them are teaching in most of the best Creative programs around. If they suffer from not being as popular as the others, it’s because they haven’t really had time to settle into the literary landscape. But their location is not unknown to those who would seek them out and they are not being shunted into some ghetto by overzealous “realists.”
Realism, postmodernism, surrealism, those words can be useful sometimes when understanding literary movements, but I find they have limited value when discerning what makes a work of fiction great. Great writers transcend their times. So even though this is cold comfort to the aspiring writer who attends workshops and find their work mercilessly critiqued, or worse, critically ignored, make sure your writing at the highest level you can, that it wholly announces itself in the room and reveals the hard work you put into it. This is true for any writer no matter the style or camp she’s decided to enlist in. Better yet, stop saying you work in this or that style. The best don’t have to say this, the work just speaks for itself.