By Sofia Rasmussen
There has been an explosion in the number of graduate creative writing programs in the past twenty years; there are now over three hundred, including MA and MFA programs, and PhD programs. Many schools have even expanded to distance learning programs that allow students who don’t live near a campus to earn the best online PhD degree.
GradSchools.com lists 457 graduate literature programs, including 362 Masters programs and 177 doctoral programs. The percentage of graduates who find academic jobs is down, and most graduates of writing programs do not go on to become either bestselling or critically acclaimed authors. Many literature PhDs only find academic jobs as adjunct with low wages and few benefits, not to mention lacking professional esteem. Still, with the proliferation of the blogosphere, the possibility of publishing online, and the rise of social media, it may be argued that there is a place for literary people, even when their literary pursuits do not earn them a paycheck.
The picture was less bleak before the 2008 economic crisis. Then,collegesurfing.com reported the following: “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job opportunities for teachers at the postsecondary level is expected to grow by 23 percent between 2006 and 2016, which is considerably larger than the average growth of occupations. More than 380,000 new jobs are anticipated for teachers at that level.” Now, more than 50% of university and college teaching jobs are given to low-pay adjuncts. A creative writing PhD gives a better chance of a tenure-track job than an MFA; creative writing PhDs are trained to teach both writing and literature. But each position is highly competitive, and many with advanced creative writing degrees wind up as adjuncts, teaching mostly composition.
Academia gives degrees but rejects many who have them. According to Fanzine, “At the risk of being reductive, there are two categories of contemporary poets: those who receive laurels, tenure, grants, fellowships and publication in perfect bound journals and those who publish on websites and tiny, obscure presses and promote their books primarily through Facebook, Twitter and blogs.” Poets and other writers who publish in the latter way may well hold MFAs or other writing degrees. Many find the literary world online to be stimulating and satisfying, as they are more interested in writing for its own sake and the exchange of ideas than in prestige.
Even “vampire writer” Anne Rice promotes her books in part on Facebook, and enjoys an ongoing social media dialogue with her fans. Though commercially successful, she is not coddled by academia, and she does not teach in conventional ways, though she has made teaching videos and uses Skype with students.
The future of literature is concerning. Publishing has changed, and reading habits have changed. As Anna Leahy says on Fiction Writers Review, “The novel could disappear as we lose the ability to pay attention to a sequence of events over hundreds of pages.” Graduates of writing and literature programs could only help to validate the importance of literature, and even save it, by writing books, by reading books, and by blogging and posting in social media about the importance of books.