‘MFA vs NYC’: Is a Degree in Creative Writing Necessary?

9780865478138The best answer I’ve seen might be:

“It was what you needed at the time.”

The essay collection MFA vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction edited by Chad Harbach and published by the literary magazine n+1, discusses whether getting a master of fine arts degree in creative writing is a good idea. Or is living in New York just as helpful?

“MFA vs NYC,” according to the back cover, “brings together established writers, MFA professors and students, and New York editors, publicists, and agents” to explore the “two cultures of American fiction.”

In the introduction that Harbach writes, he seems to look at MFA and NYC these two systems as different economic arrangements. In the MFA system, writers get a degree so that they can teach in the program to support their writing. In the NYC publishing system, writers need to write more readable pieces so that they can survive in the market.

Nothing is ideal. So people build institutions or systems to serve different needs, which also can lead to many problems. Then people compromise.

Many readers find this book frustrating because for most of the time writing life is frustrating. There’s no one single book that can tell you what you should do so that you can be a good writer. “The things that make good fiction—things like families, relationships, and death—have very little to do with either M.F.A.s or New York City.

The attitude for a writer should be counterproductive. If you’re thinking about publishing all the time, when the heck will you write?


The Two Cultures of American Fiction

Edited by Chad Harbach
Faber and Faber/n+1: 320 pp., $16 paper