Sunday, May 19, 2013

MFA Writing Programs, where MFA = (M)entors (F)or (A)spiring Writers

arn Wilson, writing for Brevity, has a post ( called "Of Spinning and Writing" In Defense of MFA Programs."

She sets her piece as ruminations that occupied her mind during the a spinning class, where she reviews the often scathing and dismissive critiques of MFA programs, acknowledges those critiques have some merit, but then she considers what MFA programs do well. It's not just the feedback on writing, but on seeing how to live a life that makes room for writing. And she touches on the differences between people who can find mentors organically, perhaps because they live an already networked life, a life where they get to know and see and talk to people who think of themselves as writers first, on the one hand, from those who need help finding a mentors to learn how to live a writing life. MFA programs offer that.

Here's something else she says that's true, and not only for MFA programs, but for developmental writing courses, first year writing courses, or any other teaching of writing situation:
And those complaints that MFA programs produce too many writers and that writing can’t be taught? I agree there is a certain luminous originality in the finest writing that can never be taught. But after years of seeing students’ awe-inspiring growth over a semester’s time, no one can convince me that most writers won’t improve, dramatically, with regular practice and structure and meaningful feedback.  (I think that is also a cultural bias, an American Western, individualistic, frontier mentality: many other cultures value apprenticeship, elders and generations of accumulated wisdom.)  The typical MFA program may not birth genius, but the students improve.
Writing can be taught, it can be learned -- by writing, getting and giving feedback, revising, and learning habits of mind that foster writing. Every writing course can help any writer improve, no matter how novice the writer, how unsure, how raw, simply by offering "regular practice and structure and meaningful feedback."

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