Arts Desk

A Book I’d Read: MFA vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction


in which the author discusses a book he'd read, if time permitted.

Title: MFA vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction

Editor: Chad Harbach, n+1 editor and novelist

Notable contributors: Dead genius and writing professor David Foster Wallace; living genius and writing professor George Saunders

The Vibe: Professorial

What It Is: A book-length version of Harbach's controversial n+1 essay, which compared the bleakness of attending a graduate writing program with the bleakness of making a go of it as a scribe on the isle of Manhattan or in one of New York's other four boroughs

Quotable: "A writer can be ruined by school—by a too-great desire to emulate her peers or please her teachers. She can be ruined by the publishing industry—by trying to anticipate what the masses, or Manhattan editors, want to buy. She can be ruined by her poverty, or her parents. Or she can find her way."

Sad Truth/Extended Use of "She" as a Gender-Neutral Pronoun: The writer, in whatever media or in whatever environment she works, is doomed to a life of, at best, semi-happiness and, at worst, depression and suicide. No: She may not bear more burdens than, say, a firewoman, a barista, a felon, or Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But, to serve her readers, she is saddled with the inescapable self-consciousness necessary to translate life as it is lived into a reasonable linguistic facsimile of life as it is lived. This process of translation is, in its execution, revision, and/or reception, necessarily and often distressingly fraught. So while asking "MFA or NYC?" may help the writer on her journey to misery, it's about as relevant as asking "Coke or Pepsi?"

Disclaimer: In July, I will graduate from this MFA program.

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