What is writing?
What does it mean to be a writer?
What does the title of being a writer entail?
What does it look and feel like, to be a writer?
What are the qualifications one needs to be thought of as a writer?
What skills, lifestyle qualities, and world outlooks must one own and carry, to be validated as a writer?
Where does the writer lie in the conundrum of artistic success that is driven by the dichotomous worlds of capitalism and intellectual innovation?
These are the questions sparked from the discussion of the same titled anthology and feature essay by Chad Harback, MFA vs. NYC which for the past few months, has been getting a lot of buzz throughout the writing community. Having just learned of the debate through Sarah Selecky’s conversation of the book’s theory, I am, honoring my sacred ‘late to know everything’ tradition, by just choosing to chime in.
For starters, there is obviously no real debate here, at least not in my opinion. Or rather, there is as much of a debate as there is a true renown difference between democrats and republicans, Banana Republic and Old Navy or Coca Cola and Pepsi. I’ve read all of these articles and find nothing profound or eye opening in their writing, except the overwhelming mood and tone of willful ignorance and privilege. The privilege to choose to pretend that being a writer comes down to writing fiction, publishing books, teaching writing courses for nominal pay and struggling intellectually, financially or both in the mean time.
I mean if that’s the true tale of what the American writer looks like, what the hell am I?! Seriously?! I’m honestly a bit annoyed. Not with anyone or anything in particular. Perhaps, I am simply annoyed that my voice isn’t being heard as loud and clear as others, and they’re talking straight up bullshit!
I’m sorry, I’ve tried being cordial through my writing, in my critique of the world as we know it, particularly pertaining to other writers in our society and world. But after this mind numbing debate, where articles are literally being written and published for the New Yorker and New York Times, and thus, inherently seen by millions of people worldwide, I am done being cordial. This is bullshit!
Is this really the cream of the crop with a freaking writing discourse in 2014? Like, seriously though? Okay, so let me slow down here. There are many problems with this mind numbing debate among such privileged, willfully ignorant professionals, but I’m just going to highlight three and then move on to what I believe the conversation really should be about.
1. Every writer is not a fiction writer. Or a creative writer, for that matter. Moreover, every writer doesn’t subscribe to one genre of writing for their career or hobby choice. Thus, I find it to be beyond ridiculous to write an entire article, let alone anthologies or books, speaking to one type of writer, in an age, when nothing really subscribes to any one category
anymore, or ever really did for that matter, as all things, people and identities are fluid.
In the age of technological advancement and achievement that we live in today, anyone could be considered a writer, with such easy and unfiltered access to blogs, social media, web forums, online opinion editorials, comment sections of online articles, and let’s not forget to mention the famed New York Times and New Yorker, for that matter.
Furthermore, anyone who considers themselves a writer, whether they’re published or not, have shared their writing with anyone else in the world or even believe in their ability to write, they’re exactly that, a writer. Thus, writing articles donned as a description of the plight of the “American literary writer” to simply being a cohort of creative writers either trying to make it in the big city publishing world or through small town MFA programs is beyond silly, it’s absolutely ridiculous!
To consider, acknowledge and impenetrably know that there is so much more to being a writer, if only in relation to the socio- economic landscape of the lifestyle it comes with, and still write an article or respond to an article, within the confines of anything other than the reality of such, is RIDICULOUS! I’m so over this bubble society mentality!
2. This debate is mind numbing because the involved parties are considered willfully ignorant is for the reasons I named above. When I initially began writing this post, I was prepared to write a piece arguing that there was more to being an accomplished writer, albeit creative writer, or other, in 2014, than the debate of MFA vs. NYC has attempted to deduce it to. There are far more layers, levels and sides to what it means financially, to be a writer in a capitalistic society that overwhelmingly favors nonintellectual, robots that produce maximum labor for minimum cost, to feed a very small socio- economic oligarchy.
Anytime a writer chooses to critique anything within the very narrow scope of limited concepts and the invisible lines of facade and deceit, it confounds to me, as the only time I truly feel freest to go against the grain of the status quo, being conducive to the progression of the common man (i.e. the nature of our capitalist society which suppresses the widespread access between professional arts careers, like writing and financial stability, that no one is blatantly mentioning in this “discourse”), is when I am writing.
In all, there is far more to the discourse of what being a writer is and lives or feels like in 2014, than debating between whether you should thug out the cut throat, do or die, though, ever- exciting New York publishing scene or dote it out in graduate school, racking up loans, in effort to land an amazing, dream job as a professor of an even more amazing writing program at a super amazing university or college.
In a binary like that, uh, where do people like me fit in that? Having been born and raised in New York, as soon as I realized I was a writer and was determined to pursue my writing career, the first thing I wholeheartedly decided was, that I needed to move out of New York, asap. And I wasn’t headed to an MFA program! I decided my journey spearheading my creative writing career would be best started in Los Angeles, where the weather was beautiful and the people are not so damn mean!
And yet, there consistently seems to be very little room in the imagination of the “established” writing community, or any community for that matter, for the existence of a creative writer, budding in LA, hailing from NYC, with a Political Science and African American Studies education background, and political/ non profit working background. To people, writers alike, I either sound very confused about my focus, too abstract for others to understand or simply like I just have too much going on.
I definitely don’t fit in this binary mold of a fictional writer, or millennial writer, or American writer or any writer, as detailed in MFA vs. NYC. And while we’re on the subject, not one other writer I know, in any genre, fits this mold either, fictional or alive for that matter! Which moves me to my next point.
3. It’s time to expand your vocabulary, writers! In general, people, especially artists and universalists, need to learn the word, intersectionality, originally coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989. It specifically theorizes the significance of the interlocking mechanisms of oppression that work in perpetuity of a continuum to maintain the status quo.
In such, I believe that it can easily be applied to every aspect of life. In understanding ourselves as universal beings living a universal reality, visualizing oneself as an intersectional being, helps conceptualize the everlasting perplexities of the human existence. In essence, if we looked at ourselves as interlocking categories of humans, on a micro and macro level, until we could create a society where categories don’t exist or define the essence of man in and of itself, we might not be so bound to writing about things that we consciously know inherently and pervasively ostracize and/ or alienate significant amounts of other people!
I mean, c’mon, here! Having grown significantly in the online writer community presence, I’ve had the pleasure to learn first hand how diverse and vastly dynamic the writing community is and inherently, has to be, in order to survive in such a capitalistic system that ultimately hinders the opportunity for widespread advancement of artistic, including writing, professionals. So, when I read an article that deduces everything I’ve worked so hard to expand and transform into so small of thing, that not even I, a person living and dying for it at this very moment, can fit into it, I honestly get pissed.
The real conversation should be about the question what no one is asking. Though, the particular opinion of any one person or group, honestly doesn’t and shouldn’t matter, the glaring facts and truth in the subset of the conceptualizations that give birth and nurture such opinions, should always be heavily analyzed and critiqued. In such, if one million writers worldwide, wrote about this so called debate in such a way that reinforced the validity on some or all parts of the debate, in and of itself, it really doesn’t matter.
What matters and what needs to be questioned inconsequentially here is this; what kind of world are we living in where discourse is no longer considered the producing of new ideas and processes to challenge, reform or revolutionize the previous existence of something, like a thought, invention or career or lifestyle, but is deduced to responding to one another’s opinions. In essence, in a society where the conversations and discussions among society’s greatest leaders and intellectuals has become an enormous ‘he said, she said’ remnant of discourse, where does the reality of the real struggle, existence and transcension of the writing profession really lie?
Not one article that I’ve read has even almost challenged the entire premise of the “debate”, the theory of this new or transformed binary economic pipeline driving the success and security of a career in writing, particularly fiction writing. The real question is not about whether the reality of making money as a writer is truly a binary system or not, or which category or mix of categories any group of writers concede to. Instead, the real question here should be, what made the author want to present this debate in such a way in the first place?
There’s all this talk about MFA programs and the technicalities they hammer into its students’ mind, with some arguing that they take the shine out of new and rising writers by stripping them of the authentic rawness in their writing skills. Yet, no one has discussed perhaps, just perhaps, how they both could exist in the same body and world. There’s acknowledgement of such but no description or true detail of what that looks like. The reality of the practical writer. The realistic writer. The one that has lived life, studied a bit whether conventionally or originally, worked a lot or a bit in the so called “real world” and has decided to write, despite it all.
If there are far more, perhaps even 99% of writers that live somewhere in between this made up binary, bleeding through this facade of a debate, why in the world are the “real” writers debating about the 1% of writers that live the on the edges of the extremes of the non existent binary?
Now, can you see why I said this debate was mind numbing? I sure do hope so…
Telling Article Quotes
“This book is an elaboration, with contributions from many other writers, on Mr. Harbach’s much-discussed original essay under this title, which appeared in n +1 in 2010. It mapped the two most likely roads an aspiring writer can walk in this country, the mossy turf of a graduate-level writing program or the steaming asphalt of the big city, while trying to make it. Mr. Harbach delineates two distinct literary cultures in America, “one condensed in New York, the other spread across the diffuse network of provincial college towns”
“Bennett’s essay appears (as “The Pyramid Scheme”) in “MFA vs. NYC,” a recent anthology of essays about how “the American literary scene has split into two cultures: New York publishing versus university MFA program.”
“Batuman also condemns the program for “ethnicizing novelistic alienation” and overvaluing fiction based on its “real or invented sociopolitical grievances.” These are legitimate annoyances, and they bother lots of MFA students, too, including, and perhaps especially, minority writers”
“Luckily, it’s a lot more complicated than that. It’s not that this collection doesn’t show that—in fact, one of the purposes of the collection is to show that—but the dichotomy of the title essay and its implication hangs over everything that comes after. The book is frustrating because the things that make good fiction—things like families, relationships, and death—have very little to do with either M.F.A.s or New York City.”
– The New Yorker, ‘MFA vs. NYC’: Both Probably’