27 abr. 2008

One problem with book awards and prizes is that their proliferation deflates the meaning of awards and prizes. I see this in Spain as well as in the U.S. In Spain almost every other book of poetry, it seems, is a prize-winner. The publication itself is the prize: that's what you get for winning. (In some cruel cases there are prizes that don't come with publication rights at all.) So to say of a book that it's won this or that prize or award is little more than to say that this book was published. Everyone is a prize winner--so effectively nobody is. In this case the book that is published despite having won no prize at all is actually more distinguished: the implication being that the book is worth publishing because someone actually wants to read it.

Nobody picks up Tony Tost's book The Invisible Bride and says, "It must be good, it won the Walt Whitman!." Rather, you say to yourself, wow, lucky for him he won the Walt Whitman and got his book published. This book is certainly good and deserved to be published, but the prize itself doesn't confer high expectations in the inflationary/deflationary market of prizes and awards.

The same goes for degrees in writing. If the MFA degree confers no status, no prestige, given that 100,000 other poets also have the same degree, then you would stand out more without it, I would think. Certainly a degree from a second or third tier place would be worse than nothing--since anyone looking at it would presume the student would need to unlearn quite a bit. I would assume that even about a "good" MFA program, but that's just me.

2 comentarios:

Joseph Duemer dijo...

And PhDs? The MFA thing is sooo tired, let's give it a rest. Full disclosure: I have an MFA from Iowa & while I'm far from famous, I've done all right. Your recent emphasis on academic status concerns me, Jonathan -- are you thinking of going up for promotion to full?

Jonathan dijo...

There are about 50 universities that give PhDs in Spanish. Our graduates (from my department) get academic jobs--exactly what they are trained to do.

There is an oversupply of English PhDs. I definitely would not advise getting a PhD in that field from a second tier program, if the expectation is a good tenure-track job.

But with an MFA there is actually no realistic expectation that someone will get an academic teaching job. The numbers are overwhelming. I think with an MFA from Iowa (top rated program) in a different generation, things would have been different. I'm not trying to condemn people with MFA's, but to think through the implication of the fact the degree is cheapened to such an extent. I went to the AWP website and I couldn't believe how many universities offered this degree.