In The Faster Times, Chloé Cooper Jones holds a discussion with her former fiction professor, Deb Olin Unferth, and Unferth’s former professor, George Saunders. The results: a rational, practical and, in the end, laudatory discussion of MFA programs – a counterpoint to the voices raised against the model. The piece, You Are Not the Only One Writing About Moldavian Zookeepers: George Saunders and Deb Olin Unferth Discuss the State of the Creative Writing Degree, left me feeling hopeful and refreshed – mostly because, as good writers can, Saunders and Unferth reminded me that the world is not made up of monolithic structures, and things that can be easily categorized through blanket statement. Heck, isn’t that why we read and write – to see something new, different, to be surprised by some far flung corner of the planet? I found Saunders thoughts on writing workshops particularly encouraging:
One of the things I try to do is to constantly be lobbing out thoughts on the potential dangers of the thing we are doing, i.e., the perils of the workshop model. There are many. But if you admit them and call them out on the table, I think they lose a lot of their power. So, I try, pretty often, to say: How are we doing here? Is there something in the way we’re looking at these stories that might be forbidding certain possibilities? Are we actually taking crap here? Being reductive? And to ask: what, of all this stuff I’m saying, might actually be helping you? What’s just obnoxious? What do you want more of, what do you want less of? I think this is important, in the same way that you’d want your doctor to have a proper level of skepticism about the scientific method.
Anyhow, the whole piece is a great read, especially if you’ve been considering an M.F.A. It gives a framework to think about what kind of a program you might be looking for, things to be wary of – like artistic insecurity putting a check on creativity, and a view into the benefits of a writing community.