Do writing programs help or stifle creativity, asks the Village Voice:

Of course, graduate writing programs have produced top-shelf writers: Michael Chabon, Matthew Klam, Rick Moody, Junot Diaz, Nathan Englander, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Lorrie Moore. The appeal is clear: the master of fine arts degree offers a protected two-year gestation in a supportive, creative community and credentials to cite in getting that first book published. (…)
While the University of Iowa awarded its first M.F.A. degree in 1941, the past 30 years have seen a blossoming of their prominence and popularity: It is now harder to get into the Iowa program than into Harvard Medical School. At the same time, skepticism over their usefulness and backlash against so-called “workshop fiction” have dogged the M.F.A. since the late ’80s. (…)
Publishers and booksellers, of course, also promulgate fads and define genres, which promise familiarity of structure and aesthetic. One expects literary fiction to defy such familiarities. And yet “debut fiction” has become its own category, a mini-genre packaged and presented by Barnes & Noble’s “Discover Great New Writers” series, awards like the Hemingway Foundation/PEN, or the annual debut fiction issue of The New Yorker (or the Voice’s own Writers on the Verge list). Troll through a selection of recent books and it’s hard not to notice categories: the ubiquitous urban single woman novel (Melissa Bank and her offspring Melissa Senate, Lisa Jewell, etc.), the well-researched historical fiction (Heather Parkinson, Charles Frazier), the prizewinning Indians (Akhil Sharma, Jhumpa Lahiri), queer lit (David Ebershoff, JT Leroy).

Taylor Antrim goes on to examine debut fiction by three writers (Meera Nair, Steve Almond, and Raul Correa) and finds that “they share an underlying contrivance, a received and overly strict notion of what constitutes a story and how best to tell it.”
Young, Gifted, and Workshopped


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