I haven’t seen the whole piece, though this might be one I will actually track down through the library or through the paper version we get in the English department: see “U. of Iowa Writing Students Revolt Against a Plan They Say Would Give Away Their Work on the Web” in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The gist of it (at least I think) is in these two sentences: “Graduate students in the University of Iowa’s writing programs are up in arms. A new university procedure, they fear, will make their novels, plays, and other creative works—done as dissertations—freely available on the Web.”
Thus the title of this entry.
I was an undergraduate and English major at the University of Iowa way back when, and the creative writing program was of course as legendary then as it is now. In fact, I am sure that the whole vibe was what inspired me to pursue an MFA in creative writing. I applied to the Iowa program and of course did not get in– probably because my submission just simply did not rank, but I like to think that they also didn’t want folks from Iowa because they could draw from anywhere. At the end of the day, I went to VCU, I had a great experience there, and, in hindsight, I’m kind of glad I didn’t get into Iowa. Going to a lesser-known program gave me a chance to actually think about writing and not think about the “big contract,” which, rumor had it, was the problem with the Iowa program: too many of the students were looking too far ahead.
Anyway, the path to hell is paved with completely unpublishable MFA
dissertations theses, and while I realize that the Iowa students are (arguably) the cream of the crop, I don’t really know where these folks are coming from here. Newsflash: if your goal of going to graduate school is to make money, go to medical school or business school or law school or something. And if you want to make a bunch of money and/or be famous as a writer, well, who knows the formula for that? I know it’s not getting an MFA just by itself. The two people I studied with the most at VCU didn’t have MFAs. Didn’t J.K. Rowling get her start as an unwed mother living on the UK’s equivalent of welfare? Didn’t Stephen King write his first novel while working in a laundromat? Didn’t Faulkner write As I Lay Dying while he was a night watchman at a power plant or something?
I do know two things though. First, an MFA and its thesis, regardless of how excellent it might be, is a long way away from a meal ticket in itself. Yes, there are these stories and legends about folks who were able to take their theses and turn them into publishing deals, but those stories are very few and far between. Second, it seems to me that if you did have this MFA thesis that publishers were clamoring to buy, having it up online for all to see could only be a good thing. A really really good thing.
So think that the one thing that is going to stop some MFA at Iowa from getting that sweetheart deal is electronic publishing of their theses is silly. Or, as I said to begin with, wishful thinking.