MFA VS NYC by Chad Harbach


The Two Cultures of American Fiction
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A cast of literary professionals offers an entertaining bounty of experience, opinions and advice.

Novelist Harbach’s (The Art of Fielding, 2011) 2010 opinion piece in n+1, the magazine he founded, made a splash with its critical analysis of ever-expanding MFA programs, the enduring hub of New York City publishing and the potential each of them holds for aspiring writers. The editor’s shrewd if pessimistic essay launched what he calls “a kind of jointly written novel—one whose composite hero is the fiction writer circa 2014”—in which perceptions from a wide spectrum of struggling authors, skilled teachers, students, agents, editors and publicists comingle with essays from best-selling literary luminaries. George Saunders offers a 15-point “mini-manifesto” on the challenge of creative writing programs, while Providence College English professor Eric Bennett discusses the nuances of his time spent at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Alexander Chee’s lively autobiographical entry on his life and experiences at the Workshop segues marvelously into a discussion of how New York City absorbs and transforms published authors like Sloane Crosley, who identifies the business of publishing as being “so blessed and so cursed at the same time.” Sterling Lord Literistic agent Jim Rutman contributes tales of the slush pile, while Trident Media Group agent Melissa Flashman offers her perspective on the delicate balancing act performed by agents and publishers on behalf of productive authors. From these dispatches, the outlook for beginning writers is less than sunny, but poet Darryl Lorenzo Wellington’s eye-opening confessional on judging manuscripts for Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award does hint at a “publishing revolution.” Collectively thought-provoking and provocative, this first publication in a new partnership between Faber & Faber and n+1 inches readers further toward understanding the often complex, political machine that transforms an idea into a published product. Other contributors include Elif Batuman, Caleb Crain, Keith Gessen and Lorin Stein.

Essential insights, masterfully assembled, on the precarious state of American publishing.

Pub Date: Feb. 25th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-86547-813-8
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Faber & Faber/n +1 Foundation/Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2014


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