Bigfoot Loves Dracula, and Other Crossbreeds

Rahul Kanakia is an SF writer in an MFA program at Johns Hopkins, and in a recent blogpost, he contrasts the people and attitudes he has seen in creative writing workshops in academia and in genreland (e.g., Clarion). And as is typically the case in graduate school, he observes class signifiers at work:

I’ve been to both an MFA program and to the Clarion Writer’s workshop*, and met very different types of people. At my MFA, most of us are very young–rare is the person who is over 30–and most of us didn’t have careers before coming here. And almost all of us went to an elite college: Stanford and Yale are overrepresented; most others either went to a top 10 public university or top 10 liberal arts college. Almost all of us have degrees in English.

Furthermore, despite our actual class background, everyone I’ve met in the creative writing world has had that upper-class polish. It’s something I noticed at Stanford: no matter your class, race, or country, within a few semesters we all started sounding the same and acting the same and operating according to the same values and principles. Top colleges whitewash you by teaching you how to ape the mannerisms of the managerial (note, I didn’t say ruling) class—it’s pretty much the main thing you’re buying with your $50k a year.

Additionally, the people in the creative writing world tend to be very good-looking (also a class marker!).

Whereas if you meet science fiction writers who are at the same level of their careers as us, there’s something very different about them. They always have jobs: often career-track jobs. Their degrees are generally not in English. They tend to be older. Oftentimes, they didn’t pursue writing seriously when they were in college. They’re not as polished and don’t seem to be from as affluent of a background.

And as a genre writer who lived outside of academia for a time, I have to admit a certain fondness for this bit as well:

if we gave even a moment of thought to it, we’d realize that the insurance claims adjuster who finally hits it big with their novel where Bigfoot falls in love with Dracula is a much more—one hundred times more—heroic figure than the Stegner Fellow who uses $43,000 a year from Stanford University to pen a sensitive novel about what it was like to be a sensitive kid who grew up in insensitive surroundings. For the latter person, their travails were substantially decreased once they got to college. Whereas the insurance adjuster’s struggles increased day by day—as everything in their life conspired to pull them away from their writing—and it was only through major force of will that they persevered and kept going.

But here’s the worst part!

No one is even willing to admit that the claims adjuster has it harder.

One of my closest friends during my M.A. years was (as I was) writing genre fiction. I remember the disdain our fiction prof (the one of the “stupid-people music” incident) showed for our work, and the general vibe of “Not Quite Our Class, Dear” that permeated the workshop. Because I was the kind of person I was, I faced it with a bit of punk rock/Clan Mondo stubbornness, referring to myself as the class hack. The discomfort was occasionally palpable. And I got a B, which in Grad School Creative Writing Workshops terms, is maybe a D. Maybe.

I’m glad to see someone else noticing the tension.

A tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to Court Merrigan, via Facebook.

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About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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2 Responses to Bigfoot Loves Dracula, and Other Crossbreeds

  1. The Nerd Girl says:

    This rang a bell with my experiences in another discipline. My grad school adventure started out in the M.A. history program of a fine Southern university, and although I enjoyed my time there and got to follow some pursuits, I never really connected that well with many people among classmates or faculty. The historical subjects that truly engaged me were alien to most folks, if not something they looked down their noses at, and indeed I remember one professor who all but taunted me when I didn’t seem that engaged in her pet subject. That’s on top of everything in that program being Very Serious Indeed, and sometimes I wondered if I’d get in trouble for making a wisecracking aside during a classroom presentation (I didn’t, and often the professor would laugh heartily, but the atmosphere could seem forbidding).

    I had one year of that, decided that was enough, then fell back on my professional background and switched to the same university’s M.A. program in journalism. Big difference. They took me in and I felt right at home – I was among fellow wisecrackers and professional skeptics, the J-school building was lively and fun instead of tomblike, the professors were more open-minded about academia, and they gave me the freedom to still study history in my assignments, though through a journalism context. It felt so much like home I managed to weasel my way into the doctoral program…and here I am now.

  2. Withywindle says:

    I confess I don’t like that entire genre of comment. Over the years I’ve heard an awful of lot of resentment and sneering on either side of the lit-folk/SF divide, and I don’t see the point of it any more. Even if everything Your Folks say is true about Those Folks–to hell with it. Talking about it, writing about it, doesn’t get you anywhere. Just write your stuff.

    Speaking as an MFA grad published in YA fantasy.

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