Friday, June 24, 2011

trying to pick out something cultural

I was going to post about the "life experience" criticism of MFA programs, and whether or not they make writers out of people with nothing to say, but I think I need to organize my thoughts a bit more before moving forward with that idea. But I do want to point out that not everyone in an MFA program is a 23-year-old urban hipster. Lots of working professionals go to grad school. My program (which, admittedly, is something of an outlier) has tons of them; I'm almost 30 and I'm on the younger end of the spectrum. Maybe that's because UB's program is a mixture of writing and graphic design, and the latter element draws from a wider pool of applicants than a place like, say, Iowa, where you're not even allowed to mention Twitter in class. Maybe more MFA programs should offer writing in conjunction with "practical" skills to draw more older people who want to write as much as they need to broaden their skillsets.

Or maybe companies that employ writers should actually pay them what they're worth, so more of us can learn through professional, instead of academic, experience.

Speaking of writing, I've got a novel to finish, so back to it. I'm so close I can almost feel the rejections in my hands, still warm from the printer.

Monday, June 20, 2011

after a detailed presentation

Wow. I got kinda political in that last post. I guess I had some things to get off my chest. And like any good hypocrite, I shall descend from my soapbox to point derisively at someone who just ascended to theirs - Ruth Fowler just fucking unhinges on the fact that a young MFA graduate's boring novel won the Orange Prize. It's a pretty brutal write-up. Tea Obreht might want to change her locks or something.

The basic gist of Fowler's rage is that Obreht is too young and mediocre and academic to win contests, and that this state of affairs is almost an insult to "writers like Nabokov: those who hadn't spent five years learning how to put a fucking sentence together, but instead wrote with their guts." Uh.

First of all, Nabokov's writing was boring and overly technical and all about engaging the brain, which puts him in direct conflict with the point Fowler is trying to make. Steinbeck is a better example of the gut, if she's looking for writers who probably died before she was born and are therefore permissible appeals to the Canon.

Second of all, how does she know Nabokov didn't spend five years learning how to put sentences together? I've said before that MFA programs have become a popular, if controversial, way for writers to blossom because all the other ways of learning it - advertising, journalism, publishing, etc. - aren't hiring nearly as much as they used to, and in some cases are actively declining. Blame them before you shit on an entire generation of kids who just want to get better at what they love to do. Is Fowler's own MA in English Lit. more valuable or earned because she had to strip for a while in Manhattan?

Not that everything Fowler says is invalid. "Astonishingly pretentious bullshit" and "fawning idiocy" both abound in the literary sphere, and first novels by young authors who've been in school for their entire adult lives thus far are always rocky efforts. Mine probably is too, despite all my efforts in revision to not come off like a know-it-all, and I at least spent a couple of years freelancing in the real world between college and grad school. But that's not even where the focus should be. The Great Novelists of Yesteryear didn't pluck ideas out of the aether - they had to learn through seeking out guidance just like the rest of us, and they often had better ways of doing so available to them. Fowler's either ignoring that or she's too high on her own bitterness to see it.