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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Creative Writing Programs: What Can Be Taught?

Creative writing programs as we know them today did not exist until after World War II. And you find such programs only in America. Europeans I've spoken with find such classes to be baffling, like an oxymoron, insofar as the general notion across Europe is that literary creativity--such things as imagination, vision, and so on--cannot be taught. And I agree with that judgment. We can't teach imagination and vision. What creative-writing programs do teach when they are at their best is technique and aspects of craft. Also they place apprentice writers in direct contact with established ones, who can serve as their mentors. In those programs, many often have the chance to serve as editors on a literary journal, and to teach beginning poetry and fiction workshops. For their thesis, they must, ideally, produce a publishable work--a novel, collection of short stories, or volume of poetry. Again, in terms of the ideal, these theses would be sufficiently professional to secure the young writer an agent and hopefully his or her first book contract. Unfortunately, in too many cases that I've seen, what many MFA [Master of Fine Arts] students mostly want after graduation is to get a tenured job teaching creative writing themselves, like their professors, rather than devoting their energies to writing and publishing prolifically.

Charles Johnson, Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling, 2016

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