(2008, Coffee House Press), which was a finalist for the Minnesota Book award, the John Gardner Fiction Prize, and the Virginia Commonwealth University Cabell First Novelist Award, is a poet, novelist, performance artist, and teacher.
He has also written the memoir, Note: In this essay, I am obviously generalizing about MFA programs, and readers no doubt will argue against such generalizing or bring up exceptions; e.g, witness the responses to the New Yorker blog post by Junot Diaz, “POC vs.
Over and over, our students of color come to VONA and find a very different learning experience than have undergone in white dominated institutions.
It’s not just that they and their writing and the experiences that undergird that writing receive a level of understanding that they do not get in a class with a white professor and white students; it’s also that our students receive a level of critique that they cannot receive in white institutions.
On a larger level, the student of color in a VONA class doesn’t have to spend time arguing with her classmates about whether racism exists or whether institutions and individuals in our society subscribe to and practice various forms of racial supremacy.
Nor does the student have to spend time arguing about the validity of a connection between creative writing and social justice.Racism and racial bias can be found in the country, yes, but presumably that would be in the Republican Party or the Tea Party, not in a population of liberal white artists.Unfortunately, that is not the experience of many MFA students of color.Instead, it is symptomatic and revelatory of the ways the voices and consciousness of people of color are suppressed in our society.The essay below was originally written specifically for student writers of color.But by its nature, writing is subjective and personal; so is the judgment of writing.This makes it a far different course of study than say math or science where, for the most part, the correct answers are objective and have been objectively proved.Personally, I have heard dozens of stories from individual MFA students of color that would indicate otherwise. Every year I teach at the VONA (Voices of the Nation Association) writers’ conference; it’s a conference for writers of color taught by writers of color.It was founded in part because of the negative experiences writers of color have gone through in undergraduate and MFA programs.MFA.” But like Diaz, I’ve talked to hundreds of MFA students of color who have experienced scenarios like the ones I outline below, many of them with writer instructors with considerable literary reputations.As I note below, questions of race always involve an argument over the description of reality.