Via Racialicious, I just stumbled upon the blog of writer Danielle Evans, who attended the Writers’ Workshop and is currently teaching in the MFA program at American University, my alama mater. Danielle has written two excellent posts–Stupid Conversations About MFA Programs, and Smart Conversations About MFA Programs–where she discusses both lazy, unfounded criticisms of MFA programs (e.g., writers should be “living” instead of being sheltered by MFA programs) , and legitimate criticisms of MFA programs, including this one:
We should be able to talk about both privilege within MFA programs and privilege that MFA programs grant attendants in the world at large. In workshop, I have seen women get talked over by men with louder voices, people of color pegged as militant for fairly pointing out a racist element in a story, even if they are echoing a critique made by white students, men praised for their empathy and ability to channel women’s voices in stories that would be dismissed as chick lit if they were turned in by female writers. More often though, I’ve seen a sort of benign neglect of work that gets pegged as “exotic,” – because of the author or characters’ class or ethnic background. I’ve seen people be very hands off on stories that needed a lot of work, because they weren’t quite sure what to do with them. It can be hard to get critical feedback from people who lack familiarity with the world you’re writing about.
I’m not in a place, obviously, to talk about MFA programs in this way–give me a few months, after I’ve, you know, started mine. But the discussion of privilege in workshops is something that has interested me since undergrad–something to which my roommates who observed me coming home from fiction workshops seething with anger/breathing fire* can attest–and I can’t help but be (morbidly) curious about how privilege plays out in my classes at Iowa, and talking with others about it. Look my own observations on this same topic, starting in September.