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Regardless of the role the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and the USA’s creative writing MFA programs have played in the ascendance of this model, all of the institutions I’ve studied or taught at in Australia have favoured group workshopping as their preferred pedagogy. ‘[G]raduates of MFA programs often go on to teach in other MFA programs,’ KC Trommer points out, prompting me to consider anew my own experience in this context, both in the trade and academy.I may be somewhat of an anomaly among creative writing teachers (though not among publishing lecturers) in not having undertaken such courses at an undergraduate level – I do remember enrolling in some subjects, but was always put off not by the quality of the work but by the positive response that it invariably received.Last year I was fortunate enough to have the creative component of my Ph D published as a novel.
Rather, I see the value of my Ph D in, above all else, the supervisory relationship.
This unique experience, in all its complexity and intensity, is an introduction to – an induction into – how our writing and publishing industry works.
And while these academic skills will likely have future application, and further development (and possibly a broader audience than my creative work), that’s largely because I’m already employed as a university lecturer.
(Both the creative and critical endeavours – and their interrelationship – have honed my professional research, writing and editing skills, but as Justin Stover argues in ‘There is no case for the humanities’ this is ‘a valuable by-product’ rather than the core learning outcome of a humanities degree.
such as an author whose manuscript I was project managing and collating changes on.
At the same time that universities are increasingly under pressure to work as a business themselves (enrolling more students – who wouldn’t have made the grade thirty or forty years ago, as Tegan Bennet Daylight details in ‘The difficulty is the point’ – in ever-increasing class sizes, taught by sessional and frequently still-studying staff), core but not-cost-effective relationships have also been squeezed in the writing and publishing industries.
For context, I’d already had one novel published; for further context, that too had been developed through a higher education program – a masters.
Clearly I’m in favour of formal learning, but coming to the end of our highest arts degree I’ve been reflecting on what, exactly, it’s taught me.
To connect Stover and Brabazon’s perspectives, supervisors don’t only help students navigate the university system, they must chart a path themselves that protects both their time and that of their student meetings.
In many institutions the preparatory experience for this one-on-one supervision, honours, is under threat.