Coincidentally related to the Anne Lamott post below: in my senior year of college, I wrote a collection of short stories. The English Department brought in Junot Diaz as a guest instructor, and I did a master class with him in which he and a group of folks (a large group of folks, as my anxious memory recalls it) critiqued one of my stories.
He was funny, and charming, and incisive. He also hit on my friend pretty shamelessly (which she appreciated more than I did), and vociferously discouraged me from going on to an MFA program. Not because he didn’t think I was a good writer – I honestly can’t remember if he made any kind of judgment call on the quality of my writing – but because he thought such programs were a huge waste of time and money.
I probably would have come to this conclusion myself anyway, but I definitely parrotted some of his anti-MFA lines over the years. “You want to write about fishermen? Go fishing for two years, instead of paying someone tens of thousands of dollars to talk about writing about fishermen!” He also pointed out that elite MFA programs are full of rich white kids, and that kind homogeneity of experience does not a great writer make (yes, I’m oversimplifying, this is Tumblr).
LO AND BEHOLD today the New York Times serves me up an article on folks’ love/hate relationship with MFA programs, and who should appear as such the consummate anti-MFA spokesman that he merits a photo in the article, but Mr. Diaz.
Notice, goddammit, the he himself holds an MFA, which I had not realized.
“Of course, one doesn’t need an M.F.A. to write. ‘Just ask Samuel Delany, George R.R. Martin, J.K. Rowling, Colson Whitehead, Hilton Als and Emily St. John Mandel, who is not only M.F.A.-less, she’s B.A.-less,’ says Junot Díaz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and M.F.A.-holder who has been a vocal critic of the degree.”
I just read a fantastic book by Emily St. John Mandel, so once again, I’m nodding along with Junot. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a fellow Jerseyite.