30/04/2013, by CLAS

Postwar American Fiction and the State of the Novel: Reflections on the Rise of Creative Writing

Creative writing programmes have been part of the higher education system in the US and beyond for more than 60 years. Arguments about whether one can be taught to write are of equally longstanding. Are writers romantic figures with intuitive skills whose work thrives with exposure to worldly experience? Or can people be trained to be writers in institutions, just like artists and musicians?

The American critic Mark McGurl changed the tenor of this debate with his 2009 book, The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing. McGurl’s book examines the rise and spread of the creative writing programme in the US as a fact in need of historical interpretation. McGurl asks us to think about how writing programmes reorganized American literary production after the Second World War and how knowledge of this can be brought to bear on a reading of the literature produced during this period. His conclusion is that we “bear daily witness to a surfeit of literary excellence, an embarrassment of riches” and that “there is more excellent fiction being produced in the US that anyone has time to read.” For this he holds the rise of the creative programme responsible.

McGurl’s book has received  a good deal of praise, from figures such as Fredric Jameson and Louis Menand, and its fresh perspective promises to have a major impact on the way that people think about and study postwar US fiction.  

On Wednesday 8 May, four members of staff in the Department of American & Canadian Studies who have written about American postwar fiction will hold a roundtable discussion on the merits and shortcomings of McGurl’s book and talk about the state of postwar American fiction more generally. Panel members are Nick Heffernan, Tony Hutchison, Ruth Maxey and Graham Thompson and the discussion will take place in Clive Granger A42 from 5pm.

Graham Thompson, Department of American & Canadian Studies

Posted in American and Canadian Studies