Baffled in Bloomington writes in and says...
C.E. Poverman writes on the University of Arizona's website a rather dispiriting commentary about the shortcomings of the MFA in today's market for university teaching positions. Is the writing lecturer with only an MFA really a thing of the past, even at small universities?
And that essay includes this paragraph:
Fifteen years ago, according to the Associated Writing Programs, a writer could get an MFA, publish several stories or poems, and with the promise of a first book on the horizon, he or she might find an entry level job, sometimes at a large university or a community college, and in this way start a career. Dozens of writers have done this. But this situation has changed drastically in the last ten years. Partially through the proliferation and success of so many fine MFA programs, that same entry level job now might have over a hundred applicants; many of these applicants have published one or two books. In fact, people who receive those jobs will probably have published two books. They will be in their mid- or late-thirties, usually having spent over ten years writing after receiving an MFA, being rejected, succeeding, failing. In some instances, the MFA is not enough of a degree, and the search committee is looking for someone with two books and a Ph.D.
I really can't disagree with Poverman. On the MLA Job List this past year I noticed a significant increase in jobs preferring Ph.D candidates. And I also noticed a sharp increase in the number of jobs seeking, for lack of a better term, "swing" candidates: those who can teach both creative writing and literature classes. (And by the way, the sharp increases I'm noticing are over three years, from the last time I really looked at The List.)
I'm nitpicking with Poverman on one point though, and I do so respectfully: I don't think community colleges are looking for Ph.D candidates. However, he's right about the other isssues: If you've got two books published, plus a Ph.D in creative writing, then you're going to get a lot of interviews. If you've got an MFA and no books, you're going to get significantly fewer interviews. And the population of both groups is growing.
The fact of the matter is: most English Literature professors hold a Ph.D. For the longest time, there was no Ph.D in Creative Writing. Now there are. So it makes sense that universities will seek candidates with this particular degree.
This all brings us to to a main point: the MFA is primarily an artistic degree, not a professional degree. You're attending an MFA program to create time, community, and guidance for your writing. You can certainly have ambitions beyond that, but it's smart to be realistic and know that Poverman's outlook is overall very accurate.
I'm going to have another posting about the realistic outlook of the MFA degree soon. Thanks for the great question, BiB.