Monday, September 26, 2005
Mailbag for September 26th, 2005
We're very, very light in the mailbag this week, and that's fine with me, as I am very sore from playing Ultimate in Golden Gate Park this weekend, and also teaching starts next week and I'm gearing up for that. If you don't care about my soreness or teaching load, or if you do care but still have a question for the mailbag, you can send any queries to my email address. You can also leave comment and questions in the comments section at the bottom of this post. Previous mailbags are best found by clicking on the August and September archives on the left of the blog.
Stuart in Brooklyn is about to start the application process for writing programs, and he is definitely interested in teaching. He asks: "What are the prospects of gaining employment as a teacher at the university level after you complete your MFA? Are they better if you have an MA in English with a focus on creative writing? Or are they both subject to the old "publish or perish" adage?"
Stuart also adds that this is a "great site" and that I am an "intelligent voice," which may be giving both entities the benefit of the doubt, but I appreciate it nonetheless.
The publish or perish adage is definitely in effect. It's very rare for a writer to gain a tenure-track creative writing position without having published a book. Many more times than not, this publication arrives a few years after the completion of an MFA program, so students should not be under the assumption that they'll gain a tenure-track position after leaving their program. To keep this all in perspective: I've been looking over the current MLA Job List, and there seem to be currently around 30 fiction and non fiction positions and 20 poetry positions. Those will expand, though only by another 10-20 in each genre. I don't know how many MFA graduates there are each year, but I'd guess around a thousand. As you can see, the numbers are not in a graduate's favor.
Though that brings up a major point from the MFA Book: An MFA degree is primarily an artistic degree, similar to a photography or sculpture degree, and not a professional degree. Students should be attending programs to improve their craft, to expand their talents, and to be part of a writing community. No one should be under any illusions that a teaching job awaits. Understand an MFA degree for what it is.
And no, Stuart, I don't think having an M.A. in English is better at all. I haven't seen "M.A." as a requirement on the job list, though there are plenty of MFA and Ph.D. requests. And that's not to say that an M.A. is not a useful degree. My colleague at the University of Massachusetts, Nick Montemarano, attended an M.A. program before the MFA, and this allowed him more more time to write. He's not alone in this respect. Also, keep in mind that a one year M.A. degree will allow individuals a chance to see the creative writing world close up for a short period of time, before committing to a two, three or longer year program.
Finally, yes, in almost all cases a writer will need an advanced degree such as the MFA or Ph.D. in order to teach in a tenure track position. But the publications are more important. Both items are essential. Other non-tenure track positions may be filled if an individual has one and not the other. Thanks for your questions Stuart.
Perplexed in Pensacola thanks us for answering his question in last week's mailbag, and he also emailed the MFA Book's publisher to ask why there isn't information about the book up on their site. My first reaction to this was "Oh no," and then, when he received a reply that said "Okay, we'll do that next week," my reaction was "Oh no. Well, okay." Thanks Perplexed.
Kathryn G. over at Innisfree is a big fan of the blog and also of The Winged Girl, and we thank her very much for that.
L. Lucas corrects me, correctly, and points out that the Lesley program is only three years old, though (my words here) it's received good reviews in that time. LL puts in a good word for the Queens University Low-Residency Program, and we thank him/her for that.
The Unreliable Narrator returns and is making wine-dark-sea grape jelly (no joke), and gives me permission to not answer every question in future mailbags, and most importantly, UR give us an inside, and not very positive, review of the Boston University program. His/her comments can be found in the comments section at the bottom of last week's page.
Tommy K writes: "I was frantically searching for help on my MFA apps when I found your blog through google. Key words I typed in were: MFA, application, help, prayer. And out you came! I culled through all of your posts and recommendations and jeez, I wish I found this earlier. Just wanted to say thanks since, it seems, you're just doing this out of good will towards other writers." Thanks TK, from TK.
All this good will is making me suspicious that I'm about to get broadsided later this week. We'll see, and I'll try to be ready. Best of luck with the researching and applications.