MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction

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Overview

Writers write?but what do they do for money?

In a widely read essay entitled ?MFA vs NYC,? bestselling novelist Chad Harbach (The Art of Fielding) argued that the American literary scene has split into two cultures: New York publishing versus university MFA programs. This book brings together established writers, MFA professors and students, and New York editors, publicists, and agents to talk about these overlapping worlds, and the ways writers make (or fail to make) a ...

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MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction

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Overview

Writers write—but what do they do for money?

In a widely read essay entitled “MFA vs NYC,” bestselling novelist Chad Harbach (The Art of Fielding) argued that the American literary scene has split into two cultures: New York publishing versus university MFA programs. This book brings together established writers, MFA professors and students, and New York editors, publicists, and agents to talk about these overlapping worlds, and the ways writers make (or fail to make) a living within them. Should you seek an advanced degree, or will workshops smother your style? Do you need to move to New York, or will the high cost of living undo you? What’s worse—having a day job or not having health insurance? How do agents decide what to represent? Will Big Publishing survive? How has the rise of MFA programs affected American fiction? The expert contributors, including George Saunders, Elif Batuman, and Fredric Jameson, consider all these questions and more, with humor and rigor. MFA vs NYC is a must-read for aspiring writers, and for anyone interested in the present and future of American letters.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Dwight Garner
We should first speak about how excellent this book's title is, as compact and mighty in its way as "Godzilla vs. King Kong." It promises that someone's block will be knocked off…If neither side is, in the end, definitively clouted, some useful blows are landed…MFA vs NYC will appeal to many young writers, not merely for its insider perspective but also for its gossip and confessional essays…it's a serious, helpful and wily book…
Publishers Weekly
01/20/2014
Stemming from a similarly named essay previously published in n+1, this collection of essays and interviews edited by n+1 founder Harbach (The Art of Fielding) explores the “social and literary consequences” of a “two-headed system” in American fiction, with M.F.A. programs “dispersed through our university towns” and the Manhattan-situated trade publishing industry. Compiling the advice and experiences of multitudes of industry professionals, from agents, editors, and publicists, to practicing writers, professors and students, the collection serves as an informative discourse on the phenomenon and provides insight into oft-debated questions about the M.F.A. system and survival as a writer in New York. In “A Mini-Manifesto,” writer George Saunders warns that “saying ‘Creative writing programs are bad’ is like saying ‘college football teams are bad’ or ‘book clubs are bad’ or ‘emergency rooms are bad’. All it takes is one good example to disprove the generality.” In “The Disappointment Business,” agent Jim Rutman describes various setbacks that a writer encounters during the publication process, and how we “live in hope of being, or representing, the celebrated exception.” In “Money (2006),” Keith Gessen covers the urgent question of how much money does a writer need. Educational with a humor added to the sincere distress of writers nationwide, this collection is an invaluable read to aspiring writers or those interested in the future of American fiction. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
“We should first speak about how excellent this book’s title is, as compact and mighty in its way as ‘Godzilla vs. King Kong.’ It promises that someone’s block will be knocked off, as they used to say on the playground about toy robot bouts. If neither side is, in the end, definitively clouted, some useful blows are landed . . . ‘MFA vs NYC’ will appeal to many young writers, not merely for its insider perspective but also for its gossip and confessional essays . . . A serious, helpful and wily book.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“A cast of literary professionals offers an entertaining bounty of experience, opinions and advice . . . Essential insights, masterfully assembled, on the precarious state of American publishing.” —Kirkus

“Remarkably provocative.” — Leslie Jamison, The New Republic

Praise for n+1 magazine

“The best goddamn literary magazine in America.” —Mary Karr, author of Lit: A Memoir

“Just when you’re thinking you’re intellectually alone in the world, something like n+1 falls into your hands.” —Jonathan Franzen, author of Freedom

From the Publisher
Praise for n+1 magazine

“The best goddamn literary magazine in America.” —Mary Karr, author of Lit: A Memoir

“Just when you’re thinking you’re intellectually alone in the world, something like n+1 falls into your hands.” —Jonathan Franzen, author of Freedom

Library Journal
03/15/2014
The internecine skirmish between "the two cultures of American fiction," writers who learn their craft in university settings—the MFAs—and those who daily deal with "real-world" issues in an increasingly competitive publishing industry—the NYCs—has raged for decades (and, to be fair, the two are inextricable). Drawing on his eponymous 2010 essay for the journal n+1, editor Harbach (The Art of Fielding) examines "some of the social and literary consequences of this two-headed system—albeit one in which the two heads are always chatting and bickering and buying each other drinks." An acclaimed novelist, Harbach is no stranger to the pitfalls and rewards of both writing and publishing, and he collects some of the biggest names on both sides of the debate to weigh in: George Saunders, Diana Wagman, David Foster Wallace, and others, as well as agents, editors, publicists, and students. The book's contributors neatly articulate the opposing viewpoints in practical and quite creative ways, with each essay separated by a brief commentary on some aspect of the profession. VERDICT Any reader who aspires to make a living as an author would do well to devour this collection. Also, general readers wanting to discover more about the ins and outs of both writing and publishing will find much here to enjoy.—Patrick A. Smith, Bainbridge Coll., GA
Kirkus Reviews
2014-01-16
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780865478138
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber
  • Publication date: 2/25/2014
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 138,486
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Chad Harbach

Chad Harbach grew up in Wisconsin and was educated at Harvard and the University of Virginia. He is the author of the bestselling novel The Art of Fielding (2011), as well as a founder and editor of n+1 magazine.

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Table of Contents

Introduction

MFA vs NYC Chad Harbach

MFA

A Mini-Manifesto George Saunders

Basket Weaving 101 Maria Adelmann

The Pyramid Scheme Eric Bennett

The Fictional Future David Foster Wallace

My Parade Alexander Chee

NYC

How To Be Popular Melissa Flashman

Into the Woods Emily Gould

The Disappointment Business Jim Rutman

People Wear Khakis Lorin Stein with Astri von Arbin Ahlander

Nine Lives Jynne Martin

Money (2006) Keith Gessen

The Teaching Game

Money (2014) Keith Gessen

Seduce the Whole World Carla Blumenkranz

Application Diana Wagman

Two Views On The Program Era

The Invisible Vocation Elif Batuman

Dirty Little Secret Fredric Jameson

The Great Beyond

Reality Publishing Darryl Lorenzo Wellington

A Partial List of the Books I’ve Written Eli S. Evans

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