The MFA in Creative Writing: The Uses of a “Useless” Credential

Clayton Childress, Alison Gerber


Over half of today’s Masters of Fine Arts programs in creative writing in the United States were founded after the year 2000. Has the MFA-CW become a necessary credential for novelists? Relying on participant observation field research in the American literary field and interviews with authors, publishers, MFA graduates, and instructors, this work focuses on a paradox: Despite widespread agreement that the credential doesn’t “teach” enrollees to be a good writers or open up a pathway to a professional writing career, many involved in the literary field hold an MFA-CW. In this paper, we look at the uses of the MFA-CW, finding that although the degree serves little if any jurisdictional or closure-related functions it is made useful in a variety of ways: for students as a symbolic resource for artistic identity, for working writers as a source of income and community, and for editors in publishing houses as a signal for possible marketing and publicity potential.

Keywords: Credentialism, Professions, Literature, Books, Publishing, MFA 


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Copyright (c) 2015 Clayon Childress

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