Creative writing programs have left a dominant stamp on American literature in recent decades. The Harvard professor is glad they’re around.
Question: Have you seenrnAmerican literature develop a style influenced by MFA programs?rnrn
Louis Menand: Yes,rn I was reviewing a book by a guyrnnamed Mark McGurl, who teaches at UCLA, and which I think is a terrific rnbook,rncalled, The Program Era, and the argument of the book is that American rnfiction,rnsince 1945 or 1950 has been highly influenced by the fact that so manyrnnovelists and so many people who teach novelists, have gone through rnwritingrnprograms. And it’s not a take-downrnin any way. His book, his book basically says that writing programs rnprovide arncertain environment where a particular kind of fiction gets produced andrn thesernkinds of fiction are very interesting, they’re often very experimental, rntheyrntake fiction in directions that otherwise wouldn’t go. It doesn’t mean rnthatrneverything is being dumbed-down or cookie-cuttered. Andrn I thought that was very provocative and he gave somernpretty good readings of contemporary fiction to back up his claim about rnit. SornI would tend to agree with him. Irnmean, it is different. It’s a factrnof life since 1950 or so, that wasn’t true before that. Writersrn had different ways ofrnorganizing themselves and different sort of social groupings in which tornperform their work. But the factrnthat many of them go through the university now does affect what they rnwrite,rnbut doesn’t mean that they write it, what they’re writing isn’t rninteresting.rnrn
As I said in that piece, I, myself, was a creativernwriting major in college and I look back on those experiences with greatrnfondness and I think they were very good for me, too. Sorn I think it’s a, it’s a totally appropriate thing to haverninside the academy.rnrn
Question: Did studyingrncreative writing shape your own style?rnrn
Louis Menand: Irn wish I could say it made itrnbetter, but it certainly gave me lots of models to bounce off of and rnlearnrnfrom. And then part of it is justrnthat I wrote poetry, and you know, not that many people are into rncontemporaryrnpoetry, but if you can hang out with the people who are in your college,rn it’srnreally a wonderful thing to share and I really value that a lot. So I’m glad I had the opportunity to dornit and I think it’s a good thing to, a good opportunity for students to rnhave.