Who Really Benefits from the Growth in MFAs?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

Today’s lead story discusses the creation of Quilliant.com — a new online writing community in the UK — and asks if such communities could replace creative writing programs.

In 1990, there were perhaps a few dozen creative writing programs in the United States. Today, there are more than 300 such programs granting Masters of Fine Arts degrees. Why the growth?

For starters, there are surely more and more people aspiring to a writing career each day. Creative writing programs offer would-be writers the opportunity to find a community, be critiqued, and presumably spend a year or more concentrating on their writing. Some writers find mentors, some even get contracts, most will come out of such a program with a better sense of themselves as a writer and what direction that might take them.

Publishers and agents benefit from the existence of MFA programs as such programs offer a relatively efficient means of discovering vetted new talent.

For published and working writers who need to supplement their incomes, teaching is often a good option. The growth of creative writing in the academy has created hundreds of jobs (however low paid) for writers who might have had to seek work outside their field.

But the biggest benefactor of creative writing programs might just be the universities themselves. Creative writing programs — whether full-time, part-time or low-residency — are relatively cheap to implement. As opposed to staffing and building an new chemistry center, hiring a handful of professors, mostly adjunct, to teach a small group once per week is very affordable.  It can also offer prestige — bringing in a star author for a term or two can lend a bit of glamor to an academic community.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.