Several weeks ago, I got an email from an NYT education writer who was writing an article about MFAs. And I was like, whoah, exciting, it’d be good publicity to have my name in the Times. Anyway, while talking to her, it became clear that the reason she’d contacted me was because of this blog post I’d read.
Now, I sort of stand by the things in that article. As a general principle, the structure of the MFA system is very classist, because it discriminates against people who don’t have time to take two years off from life. And I am fine saying that kind of thing when I control the message. However, I also went to an MFA program where the professors were really good to me. For one thing, they admitted me, even though I wrote science fiction. And they critiqued my work seriously. It was a very good place! And ever since reading The Journalist and the Murderer I’ve become uncomfortably aware that the principal role of journalists is to use a sense of camraderie in order to get people to say things that are against their self-interest. So I knew that if I said anything in the interview like what I’d said in the post, then my name would forever be linked to a quote wherein I slammed the MFA system for being classist, which would be: a) kind of rude to my program, since it’d be seen as an indictment of Hopkins more than anywhere else; and b) a little bit of a strange thing for me to complain about, since I come from an extremely upper-class background.
(The things I could say, without sounding ridiculous, would be that the MFA system is racist and homophobic, but those things aren’t really true. Or, at least, MFA programs are certainly much less racist and homophobic than the sci-fi/fantasy world.)
So anyway, I was extremely cagey during this interview and in fact I asked the reporter to send me any quotes from me before she used them, on the principle that she’d be embarrassed to print anything too detrimental to my interest if she actually had to own up, to me, that she was doing it. (However, even though she promised to do that, she didn’t actually send me the quotes.)
Anyway, for these reasons I was fairly certain that they wouldn’t use any quotes from me, since it can’t be hard to find an MFA student or graduate who’s willing to publicly say things that are much more provocative than I will. But whatever, they did end up putting in a quote by me and that makes me happy. The quote they used came from a bit where I talked about how I kind of feel like life in the MFA is too easy and you get too much instant gratification (via people saying nice things about your writing) and that it’s not really a good preparation for the real thing that makes or breaks a writing career, which is the ability to work and work and work even though no one in the world cares whether you produce a story or not.
(What also makes me happy: they extensively quoted my favorite Hopkins professor–Jean McGarry. I love her. What she said was actually pretty incendiary, which is that writers expect more hand-holding nowadays than they used to, and that that’s a reflection of a change in the times. And I have no idea whether that’s true, but that’s at least an interesting thing to say, right? Anyway, that also made me really happy I didn’t provide a more incendiary quote, since I’d have been really unhappy to have it featured right under the one from McGarry.)