The queasiness of the MFA

Lionel Shriver did an interview with Big Think in which she slams the "indulgent middle class gestalt" of getting an MFA. While she herself has one, she says:
I sometimes feel, in retrospect, I should have gotten a proper education in something like history....If I'm going to be honest, what I really needed in my early twenties was an audience.
She finds "something unwholesome" in awarding a degree that, for most students, has a best case scenario that allows you to teach classes for others to get that same degree--an issue prevalent in most higher education humanities and art degrees.


  1. My personal theory extends beyond the MFA to most forms of graduate work. Facing the end of college and the advent of an earnest job search, many students prefer the graduate school option. School is a process they already know and are comfortable with. Corporate America, on the other hand, is mysterious and scary.

    It's easy to justify higher education. Education is always good, right? I'll worry about how I'm going to pay back $80K in student loans on a teaching salary after that. The problem isn't the MFA, it's going to school just to stay in school instead of as a logical progression on a career path. Even if it's scary, you'd be better off getting a job for a couple of years and going back to school when you have a clue what you want to be when you grow up. Sometimes having a job helps you figure it out in a way that the insulated world of education does not.

  2. True dat. I learned the hard way, but luckily I figured it out halfway through my first year of grad school and bailed before I ran up any more debt... or locked myself into a lifelong career path I didn't want, just because I had invested in it already.

  3. My husband, who has a PhD in education, stayed in school for the sake of staying in school. He did it the smart way, however: at a public institution, with in-state tuition, with assistanceships for nearly eight years (unheard of, but he made friends with the right people in administration.) By the time he finally graduated, he'd not only avoided any student loans, he'd lived so frugally he managed to sock away nearly $20,000.

    If more students going to graduate school are able to walk that path, then there's no reason at all not to keep going until you run out of education.

    (And he is a college professor, but he now teaches sophomore education students.)

  4. It's bullshit. "Indulgent middle class gestalt" is bullshit and "proper education in history" is bullshit. I don't have an MFA, and I don't want an MFA, and I make a midlist living as a hack novelist, and my degree in history isn't any more proper or wholesome than any other shit degree.

    What I needed in my twenties was pussy, and I think it's safe to say I got less of that that she got of audience, and boo hoo.

    Mr. Triple Happiness