In the New Yorker, Louis Menand reviews The Program Era, a book by Mark McGurl about the institutionalization of creative-writing programs. Creative writing classes are an easy target for cynics (including me) who don’t believe that “creativity” can be taught or should even be isolated and reified as a concept, yet are also skeptical of the idea of transcendent genius separating the true Wordsworthian artists from the rest of the plebes and philistines. Neither McGurl or Menand seem to be as cynical as that—McGurl argues (and Menand agrees) that creative-writing programs as an institution are the most important development in the history of American literature since World War II, and in many ways is more significant than any particular author produced by the programs. Menand writes:
As McGurl points out, the university is where most serious fiction writers have been produced since the Second World War. It has also been the place where most serious fiction readers are produced: they are taught how to read in departments of literature. McGurl’s claim is simple: given that most of the fiction that Americans write and read is processed through the higher-education system, we ought to pay some attention to the way the system affects the outcome.