Tuesday, January 18, 2011

MFA Programs Overly Focused on Short Fiction? Food for thought. . .

Author Cathy Day has a great essay over at The Millions about MFA (and undergraduate) programs tendency to favor short fiction over the novel.

For added bonus, she blogs about what she went through to get the essay published here.

If you're currently in an MFA program or an alum of one, what do you think of her perspective?

I have to say, one thing I know from my research and experience is that UK creative writing programs tend to focus more on the novel because there is even less of the market for short fiction in the UK than there is here (far fewer literary magazines, for example). The novel is the currency of fiction publishing in the UK, period.

There are a few programs, UNC Wilmington is one of them, that focus on longer works. What about others?

10 comments:

N. Melcher said...

Fix the HTML in your links. You're doubling up on http tags and they aren't working. Thanks for the info.

Bri Spicer said...

I know Virginia Commonwealth University has a year-long, two semester class focused on writing a novel, but I was only allowed into that class in my last year of their three year program. The previous four semesters were focused solely on short fiction. While I do believe I learned quite a bit about character and the nitty-gritty aspects of fiction, I would have preferred to focus on creating a novel length piece earlier in the program.

Also, this is my first time commenting on this blog and I have to say that I wish I had known about this resource. Your posts are insightful and helpful. Looking forward to the next post.

malcontent said...

I think the criticism is valid. The workshop format is not conducive to examining longer works of fiction. However, I'm far more interested in writing novels than short stories, so just go blithely on my way and get what I can out of workshop.

Many of my fellow MFA students are working on novels, but many also choose to keep them out of the workshop. That's probably wise, but I am a slow perfectionistic writer and do not have time to write a good short story every month or so while developing a novel and moving it through several drafts.

Sarena said...

University of Missouri, St Louis, offers a class called "Graduate Workshop in the Novel," and the description of their normal fiction workshop indicates they are open to chapters of a longer work instead of short stories. I can't speak first-hand, but it seems that the UMSL MFA is novelist-friendly.

zee boy who kicked zee mfa's nest said...

wow... i probably did not need to read this. this is the thing: i just finished applying to a nice little group of mfa programs; i did a bit of research, but it might be that i got it all wrong. the only reason why i applied in the first place was so i can learn a thing or two about novel writing. most of the teachers anywhere are novelists (check); the workshops are what they are, yet you can workshops fragments of a novel (i have issues with the character development, so it could work, maybe); in any case, in my statement i specified that novel writing is what i am interested in exploring and particualar aspects of it to be precise. so, thta's going to look bad now, right?

Scaryrobot said...

I think my experience may have been atypical, but I didn’t feel any pressure to write short stories in my MFA program. My instructors encouraged us to challenge ourselves, and whether that meant in terms of content or form was our decision. As a result, some of us showed up to workshop with prose poems, and some of us showed up with novel sections. I think it all depends on the teacher because helpful criticism of a novel is going to be different from what’s helpful for a short story, and we needed to be shown how best to respond to a novel in progress.

I also think that the classroom atmosphere has to be congenial for the novelist to thrive because those novel sections tended to be much less polished than the typical short story. If the classroom atmosphere is vitriolic, then most would-be novelists are not going to risk showing their soft underbellies – something that is often necessary when workshopping a novel in progress.

The Hoot said...

Currently in the U.K., and couldn't agree more with your characterization. Every week, I submit short fiction, and every week, my tutor tries to find an angle that could turn it into a novel: "Maybe this guy lives in the same apartment building as a bunch of other people, and you could write about each one!" or something like that.

Alyss said...

@scaryrobot what school are you at? thanks.

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