Friday, June 30, 2006

TV, Low Brows, College-Less Writers

Graymatter writes in...

Last night I read your book, and it helped clarify much about the MFA for me. Thank you for writing it.

1. How might a low-brow like me fare in a traditional MFA program?
2. What are others’ “takes” on television writing quality these days?
3. Who are some contemporary - alive and publishing, present tense - fiction writers who
did not go to college?

I grew up poor, and I flipped eggs to support my family, starting full time at age fourteen. I always had a book or a pen in my hand after a shift.

At present I’m an “over-forty” undergraduate with three semesters to go (philosophy major). My professors encourage me to pursue a graduate degree. School makes me squirm, though. Academic culture is as familiar to me as that of Uranus. A related cultural clash between the majority of Americans and me is television. I detest it. When ‘Dynasty’ premiered on t.v., my t.v. premiered at the dumpster. The fashions of thought and taste are, I think, reflected by television programming. Furthermore, television writers have college degrees and academic training, according to the bit of research I have done. That said, I begrudge no one their earned pay - including television writers.

Any suggestions or advice you care to offer would be greatly appreciated, should you find the time in your busy schedule to do so.

Those are some eclectic question, Graymatter. I'll answer them in reverse order.

3. Which famous writers never went to college? I have no idea. A lot of them I bet. Anyone have an idea?

2. I think the writing on HBO and FX is stellar. Among the best contemporary writing of any type. Overall though, you're right. TV sucks. Part of being a writer is spending time in your genre. If you want to be a TV writer, watch a lot of TV. If you want to be a novelist or a poet, stay away from excessive TV.

1. I think we've all felt like low-brows before. I remember when I arrived at UMass, and people were talking about this author or that author, or this particular book, and have you read the latest David Foster Wallace story? I was like, "Who is David Foster Wallace?"

Actually, that's not true. I didn't say that. I just nodded my head like an idiot. But somehow, no one seemed to know how little I knew about contemporary literature. Or maybe they did, but they didn't say anything. I had two thoughts after one of those nights: 1. I've got to read a lot more, and 2. These people are much better writers than me.

Well, I was right about the first at least. And I read like crazy, getting suggestions from new friends of mine. But my second worry proved unfounded. I was as good as most and better than some, and more importantly, I wrote as much as I could and began to detect the good from the bad.

This "Tom Kealey Personal Testimony" does have a point. I think. And it is: If you're accepted at a program, you have as much a right to be there as anyone. It didn't matter that I didn't know DFWallace, and it doesn't matter that you flipped eggs at 14, and it doesn't matter that this student went to public school and this other person to prep.

What matters is what you do with your time when you're there. Rock on, Graymatter.

1 comment:

KLynn said...

For what it's worth: When I get my MFA next year, it will be exactly 20 years after I got my BA. I am one of the oldest people in my program and I still feel out of place from time to time. For example, when I first came here, my classmates were spouting names of authors I'd barely heard of, much less read. I felt very undereducated literature-wise.

But then I remind myself that FOR ME, getting an MFA (and moving, leaving an established career, friends, etc.) represented my getting serious about this work I say I love. Other people I know were able to do the low-res MFA, and others are happily writing (more or less) with no MFA at all. I had to quit comparing myself with them, and do what felt right for me.

Re TV: I agree that most of the best writing these days is on cable. Fortunately for me (because I get sucked in a little too easily), I don't have cable.