In a widely read essay entitled “MFA vs NYC,” bestselling novelist Chad Harbach (The Art of Fielding) argued that the American literary scene has split into two cultures: New York publishing versus university MFA programs. His book brings together established writers, MFA professors and students, and New York editors, publicists, and agents to talk about these overlapping worlds, and the ways writers make (or fail to make) a living within them. Should you seek an advanced degree, or will workshops smother your style? Do you need to move to New York, or will the high cost of living undo you? What’s worse―having a day job or not having health insurance? How do agents decide what to represent?
I too feel that the literary scene is split into two cultures, but not in the way Harbach posited back in 2014. When I began to write creatively, the debate swirling around in my mind was whether to pursue an MFA or stick with writing workshops. I spent years considering pursuing an MFA in creative writing. I can’t tell you how many years I pored over the trade magazines researching the country’s low residency programs. But I continued to sign up for writing workshops at Grub Street writing center in Boston, Boston Center for Adult Education, Cambridge Center for Adult Education and Creative Nonfiction based in Pittsburgh. I was stretching myself creatively but staying within my comfort level.
I was intimidated by the idea of committing to the years it would take to complete an MFA and plunking down the thousands of dollars in tuition. I was also afraid that I didn’t have the talent and skill to produce a full-length manuscript. But I found that the workshops—while of high quality—gave me a patchwork experience.
It wasn’t until I committed to the MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University that I positioned myself on the road to writing The Talking Drum. For me, the workshops offered me the “training wheels” I needed to get the confidence to eventually make the leap to an MFA program.
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