National Short Story Month 2014 and Junot Diaz’ MFA vs. POC

Come and celebrate all! It’s National Short Story Month!!

12 days in and I’ve been underway reading a couple stories here and there…

***

My journey started with one of my favorite writers Junot Diaz. On April 30, The New Yorker published a condensed version of Junot Diaz’ introduction to “Dismantle: An Anthology of Writing from the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop” which put a twist to the hot topic that is MFA vs. NYC turning it into MFA vs.POC (People of Color).

Junot you’ve done it again..

In his essay, Junot Diaz speaks of the tough time he had in Cornell’s MFA program and coming out feeling that it was “too white”. At a time of some sort of naivete, Diaz decision to apply for an MFA was in hopes of taking writing serious and sophisticated. His lack of idea of other options and blind application was as he recalls “pretty dumb”.

I’m hoping to be MFA bound yet when you read about one of your favorite writer’s very own naive experience, what can you do much different?

For one thing, do more research and apply more broadly.

He cites today’s age as “the Age of the Writing Program” and acknowledges the different types to be resourceful to all. He recalls applying “blindly and not very widely” so I’m going to make sure I’m aware of each choice and all the implications that each school comes with: fellowships, teachers, classes, years required to complete, city, etc…

And then there’s the questions of MFA’s being “too white”…

In my workshop there was an almost lunatic belief that race was no longer a major social force. In my workshop we never explored our racial identities or how they impacted our writing – at all…in my workshop we never talked about race except on the rare occasion someone wanted to argue that “race discussions” were exactly the discussion a serious writer should not be having.

Like damn…

I’m not sure what to expect? Should I be scared?

 I can’t tell you how often students of color seek me out during my visits or approach me after readings in order to share with me the racist nonsense they’re facing in their programs, from both their peers and their professors.

As Junot Diaz’ essay continues, he talks about the other POC in his class and how tough it was to stay away from dropping out. Not every POC made it.

Of course I tried to get her to stay. Shit, I would have gotten on my knees if I thought it would have changed her mind. Selfish shit really; I just didn’t want to be alone in that workshop but she didn’t change her mind. When push came to shove, none of us [POC] were close enough, I guess, to really make an intervention. Instead of pulling together we [POC] had all descended into our own spaces, taking the bus home every chance we got.

…Twenty years since the workshop and what I’m left with now is not bitterness or anger but an abiding sense of loss. Lost time, lost opportunities, lost people…I wonder what work might have been produced had we writers of colors been able to talk across our connections and divides, if we’d all felt safe and accounted for in the workshop, if we’d all been each other’s witnesses. What might have been…

Living in NYC, I found the MFA vs. NYC debate to be an interesting one but on a more personal level, I’m definitely giving MFA vs. POC a look as well.

 ***

In celebrating National Short Story Month, I found a neat Salon piece on an inside look at Junot Diaz’s class at MIT and what he wants his students to read. Junot is all about reading others beside the typical Alice Munro or Francine Prose and although this inside scope gave us a look at his World-Building class with an interesting list of works, I found his Advanced Fiction reading list just what this month had asked: to read short stories!

These are the ones I’ve either already read or plan to embark:

“Clara” by Roberto Bolaño

“Whites” by Julie Otsuka

“Ghosts” by Edwidge Danticat

“My Good Man” by Eric Gansworth

“Gold Boy, Emerald Girl” by Yiyun Li

“Bounty” by George Saunders

 

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