Michael Cunningham Running the MFA show at CUNY Brooklyn

Came across this surprising interview with Michael Cunningham through Maud Newton's Blog.

Surprising that he's taken on the administrative duties of an MFA program, and that in many ways he's trying to fix what he sees as the deficiencies of other programs, including Iowa's. I don't know if I buy everything he has to say. Something about the diversity and income issues seems a little too... I don't know... politically correct to me. But he has some interesting ideas. Class size is small. And I'm curious how he's running his novel workshops, something that seemed to be a real concern in the IWW Director's search. Also interesting how everyone is always saying the atmosphere at the Iowa Writers Workshop has changed over the decades. Was it really that different, I wonder, or do the war stories of alumni across the years just make it out to be so?


Pete said...

His thing about MFAs in publishing is a bit of a reductio ad absurdum. The question (how much difference does an MFA make) doesn't seem to have a sexy or definite answer: it just depends, right?

Grendel said...

In general, I like what he says about what he's trying to do with his MFA program. But he loses me in his attempts to contrast it with the "competitiveness" he apparently saw at Iowa.

He says: "The more you produce an atmosphere in which everyone in the room is perceived as a hack and a loser-—barring the occasional writer who breaks through and does something good-—the more you crush some developing writers whose work we’ll really need at some point."

I have to say this atmosphere does not sound familiar to me. Maybe Iowa has changed, as he suggests, because never once did it appear that anyone in any of my workshops was even remotely being portrayed or perceived as a "hack and a loser." If that's what he means by "competitiveness," then I think he's barking up the wrong tree in criticizing Iowa. Maybe that was Iowa in 78-80, but it's an irrelevant critique of the current atmosphere here -- which makes much of the contrast he draws with his program beside the point. It strokes me he's tilting at an old windmill.

Grendel said...

That would be "strikes me"

kclou said...

Granted, I'm not the biggest fan of Cunningham (the last time I saw him read he sounded pretty pretentious) or his work, but that interview annoyed me. The Iowa he described doesn't sound like the Iowa I attended, and as an institution, the IWW is relatively affordable (if not egalitarian), given the in-state tuition, different funding/teaching opportunities, and lower cost of living.

I mean, I think it's cool that he's trying to create an affordable program with what he considers talented faculty--those are important things--but this program at CUNY doesn't sound any better than many programs already out there. I guess I feel like he's exaggerating differences in a careful way that ultimately strikes me as self-aggrandizing.