Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Studio vs. Academic Programs

PiP restirs the Studio vs. Academic degree debate below. I've written often about this on the blog, though my main point is: If you feel like you have a suitable background in the study of literature (or for whatever reason, don't want one), then go the Studio route. If you want the literature background (and this all fits into our M.A. debate from a few days ago), then consider the Academic degree.

By the way, the terms Studio and Academic are generally used by the AWP Guide, and I don't often see programs themselves use these terms.

I'll leave the debate to our many visitors here who've gone through these programs or are thinking about it. I'll give the soup an additional stir by adding: Good readers make good writers. Though good theorists don't generally make good writers. Writing is practice, not theory. Find the balance in a program that is right for you.


I was wondering if you could explain the purpose of including literature classes in an MFA curriculum? Do such courses focus on the study of an author’s actual technique, or are they more of the lit-crit analysis of theme, symbol, etc. I endured as an undergraduate? Moreover, at the risk of sounding arrogant, what is the point of studying a text (story) in this manner if so much of the creative process is governed by the unconscious mind? Shouldn’t an MFA program emphasize craft over literary analysis?

Thanks to your book, I’ve noticed that not all programs make literature classes a requirement. For example, the programs at Washington University and Brown University allow students to choose from a broad range of courses listed in the college’s graduate catalog. In your opinion, is this practice an acknowledgement that including literature classes as part of an MFA curriculum is an exercise in redundancy, or is it more of an assumption on the part of faculty that the aspiring writer, much like the graduate student in physics who has mastered calculus, possesses an intimate knowledge of Western literature? Are literature classes included in a curriculum to appease the dean of the graduate school, or do they serve some actual benefit?


I know I sound like a blowhard, but, seriously, the thought of writing another lit-crit paper makes me cringe. (I’ve written quite a few working as a freelancer for a major academic publisher.) However, based upon what information I’ve gathered thus far, I think that a studio program might be a good fit. If other readers of the blog are interested, perhaps you could explain a little more about what a studio program entails?

Thanks for taking the time to read my letter and ponder my questions. Your book has been an invaluable help to me in determining the course of my education as a writer.

Best wishes,

Perplexed in Pensacola


The Poetry Princess said...

Just fyi, in my experience, both the program at the University of Florida and the one at the University of Utah proudly identify themselves as "academic" programs. They do, in fact, use the terminology, in other words--or at least, they did several years ago.

Laura said...

Although this is an old discussion, I'll pass along my experience in my own "academic" MFA program: In my first Form & Theory of Fiction class (taught that semester by the co-founder of the program, one that's been around awhile), he said before our first paper was assigned, "And no thematics allowed." This was his way of saying that for our papers, we needed to focus on the craft within the work we had read rather than on an interpretation of the work based on any of the lit-crit movements.

And thank god. The content of the lit crit courses over the past few decades provided the main reason I never majored in English.

In my experience, writers who teach in MFA programs generally differ significantly in this regard from theorists who teach in lit programs; the aims and emphasis of the two groups differ--though the pendulum might be swinging back toward sanity in literary criticism. Assuming you can access the entire content, this 1998 front-page Chronicle of Higher Education article, "Beauty is Back," might be of interest:

I hope this helps anyone else who stumbles across this page.


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