Creative Writing Change

Creative Writing Change-2
It wasn’t that I wanted to please my professor—I’d already voiced my dissatisfactions with his course.What I wanted was to master the social mores of a culture that, in some unconscious and unexamined sense, I’d entered the MFA program to join: the culture of the tastemaking class.The writer was the only Black person in what poets Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young have called the creative writing industry’s “mainly white room.” Per convention, he was silent as we debated whether the story was “too familiar” or “unbelievable,” the obviousness of the racism it portrayed resulting in a kind of cliché.

It wasn’t that I wanted to please my professor—I’d already voiced my dissatisfactions with his course.What I wanted was to master the social mores of a culture that, in some unconscious and unexamined sense, I’d entered the MFA program to join: the culture of the tastemaking class.The writer was the only Black person in what poets Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young have called the creative writing industry’s “mainly white room.” Per convention, he was silent as we debated whether the story was “too familiar” or “unbelievable,” the obviousness of the racism it portrayed resulting in a kind of cliché.

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It wasn’t despite but the shame I experienced that the first creative writing courses I taught reproduced the canon of that program almost exactly.

I wanted to shield my students from the embarrassing ignorance I’d discovered in myself; I thought they should know what “good taste” entailed.

Conventions of artistic apprenticeship demand that students be schooled to recognize, imitate, and aspire toward inherited ideals of greatness.

So maybe it’s not so shocking that a writer might publish two acclaimed books before looking down at her own work and realizing that all along, she’d been pandering to old white men.

But when I remember that workshop, I can’t help but feel that I joined in an effort, by a group of white readers, to muffle and ignore a story of anti-Black violence.

Back then, I still believed race-blindness might be a virtue, and what my criticism boiled down to was this: The racism in that story was too overt.

This is what Claire Vaye Watkins unpacks in “On Pandering”: the troubling discovery that her “hard, unflinching, unsentimental prose,” and the details she wrote—like a “nubile young girl left for dead in the desert”—reflected her teachers’ ideals, not her own.

As Tajja Isen describes in “Tiny White People Took Over My Brain,” such men had become the “imagined judge and jury”—if not also Watkins’s actual judge and jury, writing her first glowing reviews.

I didn’t to believe it—that’s what “unbelievable” meant.

Aesthetic values don’t only include “hard” syntax and imagery of “nubile girls,” but also the varied shapes of narratives that readers welcome and pursue—from the fairy tale’s arc toward happy ending, to stories like my classmate’s that progress toward an uncomfortable truth.

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