What George Saunders Says About MFAs.

20 06 2023

I took this photo.

Specificity is one of them; cause and effect is another. What I object to is the idea that there are universal principles in writing. We know there aren’t. A good MFA program is about one specific person, me, who has a very prejudicial idea of writing, meeting another person, you, who has an equally prejudicial sense of it. Then I have to find a way to tap that person lightly and help a little. Whenever I hear somebody say with confidence, “You have to show, don’t tell,” or, “Write what you know”… that’s all true to the extent it is until it isn’t.

At the beginning of the semester, I say, “I’m going to act like I really know what I’m talking about. But believe me, every day when I go to write, I have to remind myself that I don’t, because this is a particular story. It’s not every story. It’s this particular one.” I say to this incredibly talented group of people, “Look, we’re all in the same mess together, which is that we want to be writers, but it’s hard. Nobody can give you a general answer.” There’s a lot that’s wrong with the MFA model and the workshop model. What I try to do is keep undercutting it so that we’re aware of the limits of the experiment.


from “How George Saunders Is Making Sense Of The World Right Now” – Esquire.com, January 21, 2021



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