Thursday, July 26, 2012

Careers, Critics, and Professors

Kristine Kathryn Rusch recently published a post titled "Careers, Critics, and Professors" in her The Business Rusch series. The article left me saying: Yes! Thank you, yes. Finally someone gets it and articulates it well without being crass, mean, or inflammatory.

I sent the article to a friend getting a graduate degree in music composition. His response was that Rusch was "right on during the half about conservatories ... it sounds like we (the music world) lost out on a great composer."

And where I didn't know anything about music conservatories, I know a lot about graduate and undergraduate writing programs, and Rusch manages to articulate everything (well, almost everything) that frustrated me about my own MFA experience. Frustration that lead me to looking into programs like Clarion and Odyssey and eventually attending the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Frustration that led me to taking the one course offered in three years on publishing and ending up spending more time (because I was more interested) on that coursework than on any other course in my entire graduate career. Frustration that lead me to speak out at the Professors and Graduate Students of Writing meeting that we should offer more publishing classes, offer them more regularly, require students to take them even, not just proceed with "the option to work on the program's associated literary journal."

Oh, and in that meeting, people nodded when I spoke -- one graduate student who had a chapbook published before she started the program also begged for publishing-related coursework because until her publisher sent her a proof of her chapbook, she'd never seen a copyediting mark.

Again, people in the room nodded, then said that students who wanted to learn about publishing should edit the literary journal. I pointed out that the one publishing class they were talking about not offering again had been wonderful because it had been about more than editing. It had been about explaining how a journal works as a business, how a small press works as a business, how a larger press operates, and the course had given a sense of history of publishing and printing.

They nodded again. Then reminded me that, well, the program is an art degree.

I sighed and let it go. I was done with my own degree by that point. I'd been teaching composition for 3+ years on minimal training and lots of hands-on experience. If there's one thing my experiences in academia have taught me, it's how to teach myself by researching and reasoning, improving old skill sets to apply them to new situations. So I'd already sought out other avenues of education on what it meant to have a career and how to go about making one.

Do not mistake my meaning: I learned a great deal in my MFA program. words and line level craft are important and something I needed to be taught. But it's not a holistic approach to the act of writing. And a career cannot be focused on minutia, it has to be holistic.

I'm a work in progress -- aren't all people's careers? -- but I'm fairly certain of what I want and that what I want isn't a PhD in creative writing to perpetuate the art of writing. No, what I want isn't to be an artist, it's to be a career storyteller, whatever form that may take.

Highly Recommended