The archetypal anti-workshop argument was made by David Foster Wallace in “The Fictional Future,” a section of a 1988 essay that is reprinted in “MFA vs NYC.” In his telling, creative-writing programs are filled with teachers who would rather be writing than teaching, and who resent their students for the lost time.
Two years spent in an MFA program, in other words, constitute a tiny and often ineffectual part of the American writer's lifelong engagement with the university. And yet critics continue to bemoan the mechanizing effects of the programs, and to draw links between a writer's degree-holding status and her degree of aesthetic freedom. Get out of the schools and live! they urge, forgetting on the one hand how much of contemporary life is lived in the shadow of the university, even if beyond its walls; and on the other hand how much free living an adult can do while attending two classes per week.