On the new BYU MFA

6.25.09 | | 37 comments

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So I hear tell that BYU is starting an MFA in Creative Writing. My only real wonderment is why it took so long. It’s a trendy program to have and BYU, one would think, should have a vested interest in flooding the earth with good writers. This is self-evident.

Furthermore, I am hopeful that this will result in writers being treated with the same slavish love and devotion that lawyers and MBAs receive. I’m wondering if the economic crisis and Tim Flanigan might be making them rethink their institutional preference for those professions and start giving writers a shot. Surely this is the underlying message behind the new MFA program: Perhaps artists aren’t that dangerous after all. (Comparatively.)

Given this likelihood, I expect that we will see BYU’s famous networking flip into overdrive in order to give studying and graduating writers the same sort of advantages that studying and graduating lawyers and MBAs have long recieved.

For instance, adapting slightly from the Marriott School’s internship rules, we should look forward to these kinds of policies for MFA interns:

The [Card] School Internship Office provides academic credit for [writing] internships that meet the following requirements:

  1. The internship must be a good [writing-]related work experience;
  2. The intern must be given [writing] projects that require higher level [creative] skills;
  3. Interns must have an [editor] supervisor to train, mentor, and evaluate them;
  4. Interns must [write] at least 45 hours for every credit hour they are taking, i.e., 90 work hours for two credit hours, 135 work hours for three credit hours.

I’m getting pretty excited now, actually. Just as the Marriott School is getting highly ranked and having great luck selling their gazillions of MBA candidates, the MFA program should be able to place its much fewer students quite easily in novel-writing positions. And upon graduation, I imagine they can match Marriott’s numbers as well (note that I couldn’t find these numbers for MBAs, so I’m substituting MAccs):

Percent placed at Graduation 97%
Percent placed within 3 months of Graduation 99%
Average Salary $51,900

So 97% of BYU MFAs with novel contracts at graduation and 99% within three months. With an average advance on royalties of–let’s be realistic–$50,000 even. Not bad at all. Must be all those internships paying off.

But let’s stop travelling down this road now, pleasant as the view may be, and admit that the real reason to get an MFA is to teach in an MFA program. As far as internships go, no problem, have them teach 218R, but will BYU be able to match those MAcc numbers with the teaching goal in mind?

Now, BYU is my alma mater and I love it dearly. But when I get my BYU Magazine in the mail, there is always part of me that remembers poor little Thundergraduate visiting the English department’s advisory office to figure out the appropriate courses to take in order that he might be prepared for grad school and being told instead to take woodshop or that basic auto care class that’s so very useful. So when I peruse the articles about all the wonderful stuff BYU’s undergrads are doing these days, I can never quite believe that the Great Byucky Dream is for people like me and not just for budding lawyers and salarymen and chemists and broadcasters and German majors (Sophie is awesome).

But all the same. I would love for BYU’s MFA program to do what MFA programs are supposed to do, and to do it well.

Just . . . what is that again?

(Note: One thing I am NOT worried about is whether or not BYU MFAs will be able to follow their muses without getting shot down by the suits. I suppose there will be the occasional candidate who really really wants that to happen but come on. They wouldn’t be starting the program with the goal to excommunicate budding Evensons before they get dangerous. Be serious.)

37 comments: “On the new BYU MFA

  1. Luisa Perkins

    Th., you are funny.

    Mark Helprin is my favorite writer of all time (though I find his politics shocking). When I was in my early twenties, I read an essay of his called “The Canon Under Siege,” in which he posited that a would-be writer should not invest in a college writing program of any kind, especially not graduate work. In his opinion, a writer’s money would be much better spent on a six-month stay in a good hotel in Florence.

    Lemming-like, I adopted Helprin’s view as my own, obeying his edict to learn writing by reading and writing as much as possible on my own. (Unfortunately, life circumstances dictated that I forgo the long trip to Italy.)

    Twenty years later, I am rethinking this whole thing. I recently attended a week-long novel-writing workshop with David Farland, and I learned a great deal in the process. I now imagine that a good MFA program might be even more instructive. I hope the curriculum of BYU’s new program includes emphasis on genres other than literary fiction.

  2. MoJo

    Luisa, genre fiction’s the rotten-toothed, cross-eyed, red-headed stepchild of any MFA program. IMO/IME, lit fic is raison d’être, so training outside of that arena might be a bit sparse.

  3. Th.

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    That might not be fair MoJo. I know of two MFAs with an emphasis in kid/YA lit and where there’s that, there must be genre. You would think.

  4. Jonathan Langford

    I would think that much will depend on the experiences and experience of the instructors.

    I’m not a great believer in either (a) the idea that either writing teachers are generally very good at teaching outside their areas of experience, or (b) the idea writing skills transfer well from one genre of writing to another.

    I know BYU has had sf&f writers (including Brandon Sanderson, who is currently on the faculty, and Dave Wolverton/Farland) teach creative writing classes. However, they’ve both done it as adjuncts. I suspect this means that while they (or those like them) might occasionally teach a class for the MFA program, they wouldn’t be able to advise a student (for example).

    Does anyone have any more information about what the program will be like and who its faculty will be?

  5. MoJo

    Th., the view from over here in Romancelandia is that kid/YA is a Noble Endeavor and thus, not labeled as *koffgenrekoff*.

  6. S. P. Bailey

    Funny post. Especially the part that implies some kind of usefulness equivalence between JD/MBAs and MFAs!

    Here’s something to chew on: a major draw to MFA programs is the prestige and connections they can bestow on their graduates. For example, Iowa Writer’s Workshop grads may not be better writers than any other MFAs. But they come out with all kinds of prestige and connections. Can’t hurt when it comes to getting published.

    My question: will the BYU MFA program confer prestige and connections on its grads? Or is it possible that a BYU MFA will close more publishing doors than it will open? (Because, let’s face it, lots of literary types don’t like Mormons and their squeaky clean, traditional-family-values, etc., etc., ways).

  7. Th.

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    Funny post. Especially the part that implies some kind of usefulness equivalence between JD/MBAs and MFAs!

    I know, I know. It cracks me up too. I mean: the only reason we need more lawyers is to take care of the work generated by the lawyers we already have. And I have no idea what the purpose of MBAs is. Can someone explain them to me?

  8. William Morris

    The purpose of lawyers is to go after people who are stealing the work MFAs create; the purpose of MBAs is to make sure the work MFAs create makes a lot of money for the lawyers and the MBAs.

  9. Angela

    The purpose of MBAs is to marry people who want MFAs and then pay for them.

    At least in my case. :-)

    Funny post, though. Also, wondering if the fact that my children are being raised by an MBA and an MFA spells unavoidable calamity for their futures? Or at least a lifelong sense of aimlessness?

    Is there another degree that inserts a letter between the M and the A we can now call into question?? Masters in Public Administration maybe? (Those losers.)

  10. Luisa Perkins

    Yes, lawyers exist to support writers. At least, that’s how it works at our house.

    The bonus is being married to a lawyer who specializes in copyright work.

  11. S. P. Bailey

    Nobody bit on my question (see No. 7). Sad.

    The answer is: yes.

  12. S. P. Bailey

    Re: lawyers as “endowments for the arts”:

    Sigh. Ask my wife about her MFA in Piano Performance.

  13. Th.

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    Spb said:

    Nobody bit on my question (see No. 7). Sad.

    The answer is: yes.

    I’m not so sure. I don’t want a BYU MFA because of my strict no-two-degrees-from-the-same-school policy, but beyond a few schools (like Iowa), I think all other MFAs are more or less created equal. I think a BYU MFA would be disadvantage in most of Utah (although probably an advantage for, say, DB, because of faculty connections) but outside Utah a rough equivalent to other MFAs of equal age. I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the reaction the world generally offers me for being a BYU grad.

  14. nosurfgirl

    Hilarious, and depressingly accurate :)

    I’d be tempted to enroll, but only so I have an excuse to work toward a degree with earning potential and take lots of amazing classes doing it :) I LOVED the creative writing classes I took at BYU. (all 2 of them). But then, one of them was taught by Lance Larsen. I suppose not all the teachers are that amazing. But it would still be fun, don’t you think?

  15. Mel Leilani Larson

    My MFA is from Iowa, though from the Playwrights’ Workshop and not the Writers’ Workshop. There have been some very nice connections and introductions that have come of it, but a big part of things is still getting the right thing read by the right person at the right time. I mean, who strikes up a conversation with an agent/manager/publisher by saying “I went to Iowa, you should read this”? My education, while it does come up, rarely comes up first. The best part of the MFA for me was the conservatory feeling: three years of non-stop writing and producing plays. Meeting people is a huge bonus, but it is a bonus. Being able to spend ALL of your time writing: that’s what grad school was all about for me. Now that school is over, I’ve had to get a day job and go back to writing late into the night. Which I don’t mind at all, because it’s the way things are — the work needs to get done, right?

  16. S. P. Bailey

    If it were true, I would start all of my conversations with “I went to Iowa …” Does that make me a bad person?

  17. Theric Jepson Post author

    .

    YOU WENT TO IOWA???

    See, until #20 I had no idea. Now I respect you as an artist and as a human being which, frankly, I hadn’t been doing to this point. I feel like a heel.

  18. Doug Talley

    The purpose of an MBA or law degree is to make yourself your own patron. Now that I have accumulated the wealth of Lorenzo de’ Medici with my law degree, I can lavish lucrative commissions on my artist soul . . . .

  19. Tyler

    Shawn:

    I guess I could just have an “I went to Iowa” medallion made. Something along these lines.

    Only if you get the jumpsuit to go with it….

  20. MoJo

    I don’t believe “white truffles” are an accepted Paypal currency. What is the exchange rate?

  21. Doug Talley

    Wm – I’m happy to offer lire. Will 10,000 do? Last time I was in Rome that would have bought an aqua minerale and a salami panino.

  22. Th.

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    It started in the Fall. Has anyone heard anything about it?

    I’m considering going back for an MFA now (which thing I was not when I wrote this), but mostly for the connections. Yes, the writing time, but ultimately, if I don’t get foot-in-door I’m not sure it’s worth stalling my families’ continually stalled wealth.

    The connections thing means BYU right off my list. I’m afraid East Coast (which a few exceptions like Iowa and Austin) is where I had better go.

    If I do go that route. I ain’t making any promises.

  23. William Morris

    Iowa or Austin both highly increase the possibility of us hanging out. And really, everyone should plan vacations, business travel and major life plans around hanging out with me.

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