http://dx.doi.org/10.7577/pp.868

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

Clayton Childress, Alison Gerber

Abstract

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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