Also see: The Best of the Best A guide to graduate programs in creative writing.Interviews: "Writers in Training" (July 16, 2007) Edward J.Tags: Business Plan Pro MacSexual Transmitted EssayStart Wedding Planning BusinessDissertation ConsultantsEssay Writing FormatsLegalize Marijuana EssayUtopia Essays Thomas More
For all those reasons, the question of which programs are “best” has value beyond just “writer talk,” and the answers—there are many—aren’t always easy to determine.
One prominent consideration in rating these programs is, of course, reputation itself.
Almost exclusively from that sample of 10 to 50 pages or so, the selectors must try to divine talent, ambition, teachability, and collegiality—the four critical elements of the ideal apprentice writer’s makeup.
Ha Jin says, “Looking at the writing samples allows you to get to a list of 30 to 40 out of the 300.
In writing, more than in almost any other academic discipline, “the content walks through your door,” says the novelist Christopher Tilghman, who teaches at Virginia.
There and at Irvine and Michigan and Texas, to name a few, the numbers of applicants are staggering—often 500 or more.The eventual notoriety or prominence of one’s program can be made or broken in that first step.At Virginia, the fiction faculty meets in Tilghman’s living room to hash out the choices.Across the continent, Boston University’s program director, Leslie Epstein, speaks of a particular group that has cemented BU’s reputation. One shorter-term measure might be the annual Best New American Voices anthology, which publishes student work from graduate writing programs as well as from a host of non-degree-granting conferences and fellowships.It includes Ha Jin, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Peter Ho Davies, all of whom were quickly and resoundingly acclaimed after graduation. Each program nominates two stories a year, and each entry is read blind by the final editor. program at Columbia; her win was duly celebrated by proud announcements from both programs. In the simplest matrix for judging creative-writing programs, the first question is: Which well-known authors attended?Boston University has the estimable Ha Jin, along with Robert Pinsky and Derek Walcott in poetry. Many of the top writers at the top programs teach infrequently (one class in a year or year and a half seems typical), because their published works are believed to do more than their teaching for the program’s image.This is because writing programs must contend with the authorial “star system.” While the stars in most other disciplines are known chiefly to specialists, many of the big names in writing are cultural celebrities; having written The Book They Made Into That Movie, a famous author might even have currency with high-school seniors or alumni donors. program admitted only two fiction writers out of 260 applicants.In the series, published by Harcourt, the submissions of Iowa students have been selected more times than those from any other degree program, though both Virginia and Florida State have consistently had strong showings. “Program hoppers,” who might study briefly at two or more programs, or even get multiple M. The other question must be: Which well-known authors teach there?(Oddly, Columbia, always considered a top program, has placed none.) A seemingly accelerating trend is that of students graduating from two or more programs. This particular scorecard celebrates the kind of fame that attends a writer who has achieved that rarest of feats: name recognition derived from writing literary fiction. Doctorow and the poets Philip Levine and Sharon Olds. “You’ll find a lot of people who run programs desperately trying to eliminate the attitude that nothing is really possible in these classes.” At Iowa, some of the faculty members work in large offices where their classes and workshops also meet, like one-room schoolhouses.The Workshop’s brand-new and clean-lined Glenn Schaeffer Library adjoins the house in the rear, as a fashionable offspring might flank a more elegantly dressed parent.In the library’s Frank Conroy Reading Room, which overlooks the gray waters of the Iowa River, are tall, glassed bookcases containing some 3,000 volumes published by graduates of the Workshop since it began, in 1936.