The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing

Fredric Jameson writes:

The secret Mark McGurl discloses is the degree to which the richness of postwar American culture (we will here stick to the novel, for reasons to be explained) is the product of the university system, and worse than that, of the creative writing programme as an institutional and institutionalised part of that system.[*] This is not simply a matter of historical research and documentation, although one finds a solid dose of that in The Programme Era: it is a matter of shame, and modern American writers have always wanted to think of themselves as being innocent of that artificial supplement to real life which is college education, to begin with, but above all the creative writing course. Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach. Think of the encomia of European intellectuals like Sartre and Beauvoir to the great American writers who didn’t teach, didn’t go to school, but worked as truck drivers, bartenders, nightwatchmen, stevedores, anything but intellectuals, as they recorded ‘the constant flow of men across a whole continent, the exodus of an entire village to the orchards of California’, and so on.

(LRB 22 November 2012)