Thursday, December 16, 2010

MFA or NYC? Teaching the Short Story

The question is finally case you were wondering.

Universities Gain Power in a Literary World

Jess raised the original article in her earlier post. Harbach's article looks at the NYC writing world vs academia and the prolific rise of MFA programs. In Sunday's NPR interview, Harbach contends that the MFA will eventually win out because it is "probably the more durable model."

I'm curious what everyone thinks about Harbach's point that academia focuses on the short story? My two cents: "Academia" doesn't prevent anyone from writing a novel if they choose. I think a lot of writers (including myself) set out to write the Great American Novel without having the preciseness of prose that a short story requires. Is a short story focus a short sighted approach to teaching creative writing?


Claire said...

I think there is definitely much to be learned from writing and reading short stories, but how much of the MFA's focus on short stories is because of their convenience? They're quick to read, you can plow through more of them during a semester than you could with novels, and they are much easier to workshop. I know some MFA teachers much prefer working with short stories for those reasons. While obviously no MFA program would prevent a student from working on a novel, I think there's a slight pressure to hone your craft by working on shorter pieces while you're in the academic/workshop environment. If the problems I'm really struggling with are novel-type problems (like tackling the sheer scope of novel, or ushering it through its many drafts, or trying to use multiple points of view), I'm not sure how helpful it is for me to be reading and focusing on story writing.

Sheila Lamb said...

I've been working on a new manuscript of short stories partly in preparation for my January residency. Just doing that has helped me (I think - we'll see what the workshop says!)become more precise, and more detailed/specific in my writing.

I have novel manuscripts (not bringing to workshop) which are probably long-winded and rambling. I'm hoping I can apply the short-story principles to novel chapters.

Unknown said...

Sheila wrote:

I think a lot of writers (including myself) set out to write the Great American Novel without have the preciseness of prose that a short story requires.

I'm laughing with you, not at you, right?

Sheila Lamb said...

@Luke - Ha! ;-)

Christian said...

Are you commenting about the grammatical error, or is there some other point you are trying to make? The meaning of your statement is not quite clear.

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