Over at Lit Hub, Lorraine Berry writes about “How the literary class system is impoverishing literature“:
One of the panelists, an editor, offered that the first thing he looked for when skimming through the cover letter was whether the writer possessed an MFA. He did this, he hastened to qualify, not because it guaranteed that the submitter would be a better writer, but because taking a year or two off out of one’s life to dedicate oneself to writing proved that one was serious as a writer. I came off my chair in anger—how could he assert such a thing? My friend pulled me back down, but I continued to fume. Who has more dedication: the person who has the financial wherewithal to spend time in a writing program, or the writer who writes despite having to work full-time, early in the morning, with absolutely no one but themselves for motivation?
Working class novelists: who ever heard of such a thing?!
The recently deceased Jim Harrison, a truly great writer, slipped the point into one of his novellas that the same sort of elite arts program networking that has steadily diminished the visual arts is having the same effect on fiction writing via the MFA. The taste-makers select from their narrow social world those “talents” with a similar background to their own. One can see this sort of wagon-circling in academia and likely in the political world as well. It’s not that anyone is consciously elitist- it’s just exceedingly difficult for people from outside that world to break in. In fact, one starts to notice how the professions that traditionally attract liberals are one by one becoming these cloistered and airless sinecures that are shut off to people who don’t come from a narrowly privileged background. They still define what is “serious” and “culturally significant”, at least to NPR. And yet, their importance in the eyes of the larger society is less and less evident.
(Note: When educated progressives ask themselves why so many working class Americans vote Republican “against their economic interests”, they assume it must be attributable to racism or a lack of education.)