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Mar 31, 2008, 11:31 AM

Post #26 of 29 (2616 views)
Re: [Clench Million] Finding a non-Realist MFA Can't Post

Of course--I think it would be silly to go anywhere, no matter what your writing style, without thoroughly checking into the program.

But again, if it is one's peers that can make it difficult to write in a different style, a low-res program might be a good answer. Low-res de-emphasizes the workshop. If you find faculty members who support experimentation in writing, that's all you need, since in low-res you work with one advisor per semester and there is no mandated peer contact at all. Also, low-res programs tend to attract all different kinds of people from all different backgrounds (i.e. people who have not necessarily been inundated with the undergrad lit dept. idea of literature you describe) which I think helps workshops be a little looser and less rigid.

Anyway, just something for experimental peeps to keep in mind while shopping for a program.


Mar 31, 2008, 2:04 PM

Post #27 of 29 (2520 views)
Re: [Clench Million] Finding a non-Realist MFA Can't Post

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.

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.


Mar 31, 2008, 2:23 PM

Post #28 of 29 (2506 views)
Re: [mpagan] Finding a non-Realist MFA Can't Post

It's true there's no hard collected data on just how many big 'R' Realists will publicly scorn your work, but to the scorned, that's little comfort. My old roomie was a student of experimental psychology; we had so many arguments that ended with, But that's just your personal experience, man. What was your sample size? One? Ha, ha, ha!

I mean, Blech.

I do think a lot of program folks aren't equipped to discuss experimental fiction. Not because they're small minded, but because it's experimental fiction. I read and love the stuff, but some of these things in You don't want to push it one way or the other. You worry you could stifle the writer's vision, or make it more box-y or conventional, even if you improve it. Or you don't know how to improve it. Or it's just too damn weird, and at some point you're forced to admit those little one-two realist pieces are better suited to an MFA: hook-y beginning, character's name in first sentence, obstacles, challenge, scene where the character grows but not too noticeably, epiphany, boom!

six five four three two one 0 ->


Mar 31, 2008, 2:43 PM

Post #29 of 29 (2486 views)
Re: [Junior Maas] Finding a non-Realist MFA Can't Post

It's also possible that bad writers who call themselves experimentalist sooth their egos by claiming that no one is willing to look outside the box.

The problem is also that a lot of experimentalists are hardly that and do very little experimenting, instead doing poor imitations of Barthelme or Saunders. (I can say this bluntly because I was like that as a young undergrad.) In the end, I don't really think that there is some secret prejudice against nontraditional fiction; if you write a good story, you write a good story, and no amount of gimmickry in the world can save bad writing.

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