Harbach, Chad, Ed. MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction. New York: n+1/Faber and Faber, 2014. Print.
Summary: A collection of essays where editors, writers, publicists, professors, agents, and others debate the nature of the American literary scene. Perspectives clash!
Critique: According to Harbach (author of The Art of Fielding), the writerverse is split between New York publishers and MFA programs. He formally observed this fault-line in a 2009 essay that caused quite a stir. Harbach makes clear his disapproval of the MFA world and many of the essays reflect that slant. Nonetheless, there are those who make a fair assessment of the inherent the graduate writing program while pointing out its obvious weaknesses — among which are the obsequious and sycophantic tendencies that can crop up in the teacher-student hierarchy. And, there are essays that draw appropriate parallels to the cliquish, coquettish, dilettantism of the NY publishing crowd.
If you overlook some of the more glaring typos, this is ultimately a great read. It captures a somewhat unflattering snapshot of a professional industry in flux. Some of my favorite essays came from Maria Adelmann (puts you in a contemplative-what-am-I-doing-with-my-life-and-career mood), Emily Gould (puts failure into perspective…p.s. I might have yoinked the above image from your blog, so thank you!), Keith Gessen (tells the untold Humpty Dumpty legend of publishing), and Diana Wagman (opens the student’s heart to better empathize with those poor unsung heroes, MFA teachers).
I wish this collection had been compiled before I enrolled in an MFA program. That doesn’t mean I want to climb in my time machine, go back to 2011-me, yank the acceptance letter out of my hands, and rip it to shreds. Like many of the contributors in this collection, I wanted and needed the pure creative time, space, and community that comes with an MFA program. And because it was a program for children’s authors, it came without all the awkward behind-the-scenes hanky-panky. (I guess I shouldn’t rain on anyone else’s good times. I, for one, was free of any hanky-panky.) Had I read this book before actually enrolling, I could have approached everything with more understanding, insight, and grace.