Tag Archives: mfa

Wall words

When I was a kid I had an anthology of Cyril Kornbluth stories and one detail in the introduction made a big impression on me:  Kornbluth had lots of random notes among his papers, ideas, words, and phrases, and the editor of the anthology found it kind of poignant to look at these and wonder what stories they would have been.  Especially — and this phrase has stuck with me all these years — “ghosts in a Martian department store.”

Anyway:  while cleaning up the basement, I came across a pile of Post-its, which were on my wall when I was a creative writing grad student at Johns Hopkins in 1994.  Each of these, I guess, was something I meant to use for something.  I have no memory of what any of these mean.  But here they are.  Maybe you can use them.  None of them is as good as “ghosts in a Martian department store.”

  • “every third person in the world”
  • The Admonitionist
  • assapanic
  • “Bald men, a lot of them — yeah, that might work!”
  • Rick Ziggurat
  • The First Church of Christ Plaintiff
  • Community Reaction to a Horrifying Event – Arndt
  • out of the fishy-smelling steam
  • reckless use of a highway
  • THE UNDERTAKER’S BIRTHDAY (Did the stripper shoot the corpse?)
  • The grandfatherly crook gives a motivational lecture to fifth-graders
  • “you slug in a ditch!”
  • Solomon “Duck-Duck” Goos
  • A first line:  “Here’s something you might not know.”
  • “luz” — “an unidentified bone…”
  • The hobo community, waiting /expecting (esperar) for rich couples to pick them up.
  • The apocalypse counselor “If the sun went supernova, we wouldn’t know for eight minutes.”
  • “Of course, there is some element of risk involved in building a house out of oily rags.”
  • steeped in regret
  • Chief Louis Anemone NYPD (red)
  • “This guy’s been shot.”  “No kidding — you think he’ll make it?”
  • HIDALGO – hijo de algo
  • fetus/treatise
  • fuckadelphia
  • abacinate
  • “Victory without a whimper…the only sound:  excellence.”
  • “The ghost of Knute Rockne is living and he is smiling.”
  • “That’s a big number, but it’s a heck of a lot better than infinity.”
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There is no such Albanian as Jiri Kajane

The Guardian covers a literary hoax, in which several prominent literary magazines published short fiction by “Jiri Kajane,” purportedly a middle-aged Albanian emigre, actually a couple of twenty-something American MFA students.  One of them was a classmate of mine in the fiction program at Johns Hopkins.  Among the students he made no secret of the fact that he was writing stories set in Albania, putting the name “Jiri Kajane” on them, and getting them published in literary magazines.  At the time it seemed like some kind of grandiose participatory performance art and I never thought of spilling the beans.  But every so often I wondered, will this ever get revealed, or will Jiri Kajane become an accepted minor figure in the history of Albanian literature?  Now I know.

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Online education and creative writing workshops

More about on-line education.  One hesitation people have, of course, is that it’s easier to dephysicalize some forms of education than others; and that if higher education gets redefined as something that happens online, the parts of higher education that don’t survive that transition get redefined as “not part of higher education.”

But what about creative writing workshops?  Right now, these sit somewhat uncomfortably inside English departments in universities.  What are you paying for when you pay tuition to attend a fiction workshop?  (I was lucky enough to go to a program with funding, but I think most MFAs don’t work this way.)  I think you’re paying to  have a known novelist read and think carefully about what you’re writing, and you’re paying to create some official sense that This Is The Year I Write My Novel.  (This last part might be the most important.  Of course, you could write your novel any time!  But having paid a great deal of money with the intent of doing a thing focuses the mind on the task extremely well.  Freud always said this was why he charged so much; he didn’t need the money, but the patients needed to spend it.)

What happens if a novelist decides to offer a writing workshop via Google Hangout, to 12 people, charging them much less than university tuition but enough to meet his expenses?  Like, say, $3K a person?  Does that work?  Or, since most novelists probably don’t care to run their own small business, what happens if a startup company collectes well-known but poorly paid novelists and runs the marketing/payment processing side of things, in exchange for a cut?

It’s not clear this is interestingly different from existing distance MFAs like Warren Wilson.  Certainly I don’t think you can scale up the offering of “serious and admired writer X read my work closely” to hundreds of thousands of people, which I suppose is a reason it might continue being possible to charge serious money for the service.

An online workshop wouldn’t reproduce what I got out of my MFA program at Johns Hopkins, but I was a special case.  I was on break between college and graduate school, I was pretty sure I was going to be a mathematician my whole life, and I really needed to be something else for a year.  The people I saw every day that year were writers, the professors whose opinions I valued were writers, the people I drank beer with and argued with and dated were writers.  And by the end of the year I was able to call myself a writer without feeling like I was half-kidding; not because I’d written a draft of my novel but because I’d lived in Writerworld for a year.

 

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