Recently I was looking through Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists 2 and noticing a lot of MFA graduates represented. Although it is frequently discussed on this blog, I don’t believe there has been any raking of fiction alumni outside of The Atlantic’s short list. I know that this is a tricky area to measure, but it feels like an important factor for applicants. So I decided to augment Granta’s list to see which programs were producing acclaimed writers and also to give future applicants a sense of what type of writers come out what programs. For the establishment opinion I picked the New York Times 100 Notable Books list and for the voice of the people I used The Believer Book Awards Reader Survey. Hopefully this gives a nice balance between the mainstream and more indie literary scenes. I went back through the last five years. After doing some Googling, here is what I found:
MFA Fiction Alumni (gathered from Granta 2007, The Believer Book Awards 2005-2008, NYT Notable Books 2004-2008)
1) Iowa, 18 (Chris Adrian, Daniel Alarcón, Emily Barton, T. C. Boyle, Kevin Brockmeier, Charles D'Ambrosio, Nathan Englander, Sesshu Foster, Colin Harrison, Kathryn Harrison, Ehud Havazelet, Denis Johnson*, Nam Le, Yiyun Li, ZZ Packer, Curtis Sittenfeld, John Edgar Wideman, Stephen Wright)
2) Columbia, 12 (Jonathan Ames, Jesse Ball*, T. Cooper, Kiran Desai, Rivka Galchen, Heidi Julavits, Rachel Kushner, Benjamin Kunkel, Dinaw Mengestu, Richard Price, Karen Russell, Vendela Vida)
3) UCI, 5 (Aimee Bender, Michael Chabon, Joshua Ferris, Richard Ford, Maile Meloy)
T4) Cornell, 3 (Junot Díaz, Jennifer Gilmore, David Vann)
T4) Hollins**, 3 (Madison Smartt Bell, Kiran Desai, Annie Dillard)
T4) JHU**, 3 (Chimamanda Adichie, Louise Erdrich, ZZ Packer)
T4) Michigan, 3 (Joshua Henkin, Rattawut Lapcharoensap, Jess Row)
T4) NYU, 3 (Judy Budnitz, Nell Freudenberger, Hannah Tinti**)
T9) Arizona, 2 (Richard Russo, David Foster Wallace)
T9) Bennington, 2 (Charles Bock, Trinie Dalton)
T9) Brown, 2 (Gabe Hudson, Jim Shepard)
T9) OSU, 2 (Rebecca Barry, Christopher Coake)
The following schools had one name represented: Alabama (Tony Earley), Arkansas (Tom Franklin), Bowling Green State University (Anthony Doerr), BU** (Jhumpa Lahiri), Columbia College (Joe Meno), Goddard (Selah Saterstrom), Hunter (Gary Shteyngart), Oregon (Chang-rae Lee), Sarah Lawrence (Dalia Sofer), Syracuse, 2 (Rebecca Curtis), University of Florida (Chris Bachelder), U. Mass (Nancy Reisman), UVA (Edward P. Jones) Vermont (Alicia Erian), Warren Wilson (Michael Thomas), Washington (David Guterson), Wisconsin (Dean Bakopoulos)
* Ball and Johnson made this list for novels, but both received MFAs in poetry.
** Hollins, BU and JHU were MA programs when these writers obtained their degrees. Packer and Desai went on to get MFAs from Iowa and Columbia respectively. Tinti received an MA from NYU.
A couple quick notes:
- I wouldn’t consider this a full ranking as I have not adjusted any variables, such as school size or time of graduation, and the number of data points is low. On both points, if you have any thoughts please suggest away. Should the list stay current by cutting off writers who graduated over 20 years ago? 10? 5? Are there other awards or rankings that could be included to flesh out the list? I’d love community input to make this a more helpful list!
- For its first two years, The Believer Book Awards did not include a reader survey. I included the editors’ lists for those years, which added three names: One each for Iowa, UCI and Goddard.
- It is entirely possible that I missed a few people since not everyone lists their MFA program and it is hard to Google a negative. If you notice an omission please comment and I’ll make the correction!
Hopefully this was interesting or helpful to some of you!