Monday, March 15, 2010

More Makers Than Takers - Pt II

Continued from Part I

The writer said, and I paraphrase:

The percentage of adult fiction readership has been in steady decline every year for the past decade(s?), and yet there are more creative writing masters programs in the United States now than at any other time, and the number grows every year.

Here is where, in my irrepressibly curious and chutzpadik way, I butted in on my neighbours' conversation. Who was this all-but-the-pipe, bespectacled man (M.T. Anderson, a Bostonian, he writes children's literature; Wikipedia says he's won awards; graduated from Harvard)? But equally importantly, to me, why was what he said so?

We got into a lovely conversation - I'm guessing it was my my line of questioning that had him guessing right off that I too wrote; it couldn't possibly have been the glasses and receding hairline that tipped him off, could it? - but he never did manage to solve the conundrum he'd brought up, nor did he ask me for a sweet potato fry.

So I ask you, why is everyone writing but no one is reading?
And maybe you do read. But what do you read? You read blogs? Magazines? Novels? What about short stories, though? Who is reading those? And poetry? How many people are reading poetry that don't also write poetry? How many non-writers can even name three literary magazines? According to Wikipedia there are 29 literary magazines. That begin with the letter C.

I've written for one, guest edited for them too. I read some of these magazines sometimes, and not just ones that start with the letter C. I even subscribe to a few (though not, sadly, to Mom Writer's). But I, of course, have a vested interest. This is precisely the problem. Would I have even heard of "Cha" or "The Missouri Review" if I didn't write?

I just wonder, who's reading all this stuff we're writing and what does it mean when you have more makers than takers.


  1. "though not, sadly, to Mom Writer's" -- hahaha.

    I also want answers to those (very good) questions you raised.

    I read poetry (constantly), get sent poetry books (constantly -- yeah, people are generous to me), I read novels (I have to, I want to, I love to), I read blogs (divine distraction), I read literary magazines/journals (I have to, I want to, I love to). But then.... I also write.

    There are too many MFA programmes out there. I think some are really good and helpful. But are they all good? I don't know. Every university wants to run an MFA now, it seems.

    But did the great writers of time past study for an "MFA"? No. Some didn't even receive formal education. I wonder what that says about the contemporary writing 'institution' (including universities, the book industry, the media...).

    T.S. Eliot: "it must be the small and obscure papers and reviews, those which are hardly read by anyone but their own contributors, that will keep critical thought alive and encourage authors of individual talent." (qtd. in SOFTBLOW: this give us some consolation?

    (Thank you for mentioning Cha and being part of us. Jeff and I are so glad you stumbled upon the journal that day, that moment.)

  2. But like you admitted, you are exactly the kind of person that would read poems and short stories and blogs, because you write and edit and write about all these forms of lit.

    Also, I am not convinced that MFA programs are always a good thing. That said, while Hemingway and Salinger never did do Masters' in Creative Writing, Hem had the great Gertrude Stein and the anti-semitic Ezra Pound to help edit his stuff and Salinger had the legendary William Shawn, the once editor of the New Yorker, for advice, critique. These are, on to themselves, rather remarkable schools to attend. Wish I could have gone to either. (Though would have likely stayed clear of Pound for fear of wanting to spit in his eye.)


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