May 29, 2008 by Tracey S. Rosenberg
Leaving aside the fact that he’s extrapolating from one event, or maybe a few (the Virginia Tech killer had been in a creative writing class but I can’t think of other examples), I’m not really sure what his point is. I knew of Rhodes Scholars who were certified as insane, but that doesn’t mean the entire institution is a haven for the mentally unwell. So is he going back to the old ‘creativity connected to madness’ issue – which has been rehashed as much as ‘do creative writing degrees actually teach you anything’?
I completely understand his point about giving all his students the same grade. One professor I worked with made his undergraduate class pass/fail, partly in an attempt to dissuade students from clawing each other’s work to shreds because they thought that was the way to get a better grade. I just wonder what happens when his students compare notes in the pub and realize they all got a 71% (which in Britain is an A – to translate, shift the American grading scale down 25-30 points).
I spent a year in an MFA program and left for reasons mostly unconnected to the program itself – namely, I got a better offer from somewhere else and the scholarship ran out – but the gains to my writing came almost solely through the individual work I did with the actively-writing teachers, rather than the workshop experience. I still wouldn’t call MFA programs mental hospitals, though, but then, unlike Kureishi, I don’t go to my writing desk and contemplate suicide.