What If There Were No Winners?

This year, the Pulitzer Foundation decided that there was no single book worthy of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. This is not uncommon: nine times the Pulitzer Prize Board has decided that no work of fiction is worthy of this honor. The expected response from the public came forth. Gawker said that Pulitzer Prizes are worthless. Writers everywhere linked to Ann Patchett’s commentary in the New York Times. Publisher’s Weekly detailed the numbers on what kind of boost a Pulitzer Award is for book sales: small press publishers salivated at those figures while insiders at the Big Six publishing houses considered those exact same numbers as relatively small. Many writers took a public “Who cares about a Pulitzer?” stance while privately wishing they had been the winner.

So, that got me thinking: What if a literary magazine pulled a Pulitzer and refused to declare a winner in its prize?

It isn’t uncommon for a book prize to not award a winner . This oldie but goodie from Poets & Writers details a specific decision made in 2006 by Winnow Press, but it also touches on the Yale Series in Poetry and others. Those are book prizes, however, which are  just a little bit different from the literary magazine world. You should check out the newest Poets & Writers as they dive a bit more into this subject.

Literary magazines run contests all the time. Almost every magazine, regardless of size, has a contest. Usually for a prize of around $1000, an award is given in one specific category (and often more than one, say fiction and poetry), a writer pays an entry fee (anywhere from $10 to $25) which will often get the writer a one-year subscription to the magazine. A few months later, the winner is announced, and the prize-winning manuscript is published in a forthcoming issue of the journal.

Has a literary journal ever refused to award a contest prize? I’m sure it has happened, but I couldn’t think of one. I asked Travis Kurowski, a founding editor of Luna Park Review and author of a forthcoming book on the literary magazine, and he pointed to only one example: when Zadie Smith refused to award a winner in the Willesden Herald Short Story Prize in 2008. Beyond that, I couldn’t come up with any examples of this happening with a literary magazine. Why is that?

Let’s use The Missouri Review as an example. Our 22nd Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize is now open for submissions. Our deadline is October 1st, and we have already received entries. This is the time of year when we start advertising for the contest. Our first mailing goes out this week. We review the various promotional venues, both in print and online, and decide on a budget. We consider where previous entrants said they heard of our contest (if they gave us this information) and decide if we need to find new venues, stick with the old ones, or try new ones.

During the summer, our promotional push is a little bit lighter: we don’t wish to be a nudge! But when the fall semester starts in late August, the deadline is six weeks away. Our contest editor gets cracking. Postal mailings, emails, blog post, tweets. We dedicate three of our interns to the contest. Everything that rolls in needs to be processed: all payments verified, addresses logged, type of subscription (print or digital), whether this is a newer subscriber or old. All the entries need to be recorded, marked, and set in the right location (print goes in one mail bin; online submissions get routed to reading folders). As the deadline nears, we do everything we can to contact as many people as we can to make sure that we get all those entries: we don’t want to miss out on any great writing simply because someone didn’t know about it.

Once the deadline is over, we need to read all the entries. How many do we receive? A low-end figure is 2500. We have roughly eight weeks to read all 2500 entries. We cull that down to a list of “semi-finalists” in each category: call it 50 in each of three genres.  Then we read them again. And again. And again. And argue, debate, implore, pontificate, beg, reconsider, and thoughtfully “hmmm” our way to the final choices, which then go to Speer Morgan, our editor-in-chief.

Winners are selected, notified, and then we have more work to do. There’s a tight deadline for us to proof, edit, and layout each piece, which goes along with the other pieces in our issue, and we don’t know in advance how many that will be (in the last three years, the quality of entries means we typically are publishing several finalists in each category … which means we really don’t know the content of our spring issue until early January). We also need to make travel and venue arrangements because we bring our winners into Columbia for a reading and a reception, which is one of our showcase events for our community each spring.

Our contest is really a continuous all-year event. This isn’t necessarily true of all literary magazines, of course, but the amount of administrative, marketing, and editorial time is probably at least six months for any other journal … and often they have a much smaller staff and smaller financial resources.

Now: what if went through that entire process and in early January declared there was no winner? Or, if we said there was only a winner in two categories but not a third?

A few years ago, our Audio Competition had a video category. We didn’t receive a ton of submissions for the video category, and after reviewing everything and discussing it internally, we made the hard decision to not award a winner. We wrote a letter to each entrant, explaining our decision, and that while each entrant would still receive the one-year subscription to our magazine, we would return the entry fee. Still, we received some very nasty, threatening emails and phone calls about this decision.

Imagine if we did that in poetry. Poets might have the smallest audience in the world of writers when compared to Famous Authors on the large presses. But, boy, are they fierce and pushy about their work! (The good folks at Barrelhouse say it pretty succinctly with this t-shirt) The blowback would be tremendous. One of the benefits of being in the (comparitively) small world of literary magazines and journals is that it’s a supportive community, where the connections are not casual. Telling our writers that collectively their work isn’t good enough could have some nasty consequences.

The amount of time, labor, and financial investment that goes into running a good contest gives a literary magazine a strong incentive to declare a winner, which is not necessarily true of a small press or the Pulitzer Foundation. We’re very fortunate that this isn’t really an issue. The quality of the work TMR receives is always quite high; we never look at the finalists and think “Ugh.” One can credit the Program Era for this one—MFA programs have produced terrific writers over the last thirty years, and as far as magazines go, particularly in the last decade, entries to our contest have been terrific.

Another problem with saying “No winner!” is administrative. We’re at the University of Missouri, and when it comes to mailing out checks (we are not permitted to use PayPal or similar services), there is a lot of paperwork. A lot of paperwork. We would need to collect every social security number from every entrant. We would need a permanent mailing address. We would need to type all this up, send it off to one of the, oh, seventeen departments that verifies all this information, and then it all needs to be processed, mailed, received, cashed.

On the purest level, we always have good work from which we can select a winner. But there are clearly other considerations, too: public relations, administration, human resources, time and labor, all of that good stuff. On our end, this type of decision isn’t made lightly. And incentives will always shape the planning, development, and execution of every organization.

Back to Patchett and the Pulitzer Foundation. What incentive does the Pulitzer Board have to awarding a winner? I’d say almost none. They didn’t write the books. Nominees pay $50 to submit the work. Publicity? They probably get more by saying “there is no winner” and getting a response from a Famous Author like Ann Patchett written in the New York Times about it rather than awarding the prize to a posthumous book by an author who died four years ago. Patchett wrote, “With book coverage in the media split evenly between “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “The Hunger Games,” wouldn’t it have been something to have people talking about “The Pale King,” David Foster Wallace’s posthumous masterwork about a toiling tax collector (and this year’s third Pulitzer finalist)?”

Really? Isn’t the public talking about Suzanne Collins and E.L. James for, well, every reason other than the quality of the book? Sure, all three are books, but in many ways, the comparison of James and Collins to Wallace is almost apples to oranges.

It’s one of the reasons that literary magazines thrive: we respect the audience and the work, the writer and the reader. We have an incentive to do so, and we want to do so. What  incentive does the Pulitzer Board have to declare a winner? What do they want from a reading public?

I have no idea. I’m not sure they do either.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye

Why Literary Journals Charge Online Submission Fees

Why does The Missouri Review charge $3.00 to receive online submissions? This practice is becoming more common among print journals that accept online submissions, including  Ploughshares, Massachusetts Review, American Short Fiction, Southwest Review, just to name a few. TMR has had an online submission fee in place for many years, but the latest Poets & Writers (Nov/Dec) has just been released, and there are several articles on literary magazines, small presses, and what we’re doing to build community. Included in this issue is Laura Maylene Walter’s essay “Price of Submission” about why literary magazines charge for online submissions. It’s a good article – go read it! But there are a couple additional thoughts we’d like to add, some specific to TMR and some broader about our literary community.

One of the things worth recognizing is that the cost of submitting to a magazine is a fixed prospective cost: a cost that will be incurred and cannot be recovered. Submissions have never really been free. It’s simply that the cost (paper, envelopes, postage, etc.) has been paid to the post office, not the magazine. And I’m not saying that it necessarily should have. Freed up from (some) of the costs of submitting to literary magazines, has there been an increase in subscriptions? Has there been an increase in financial support of literary journals from writers?

No. Not at all.

Because of this, supporters of online submission fees, like me, tend to take a more realistic and business-centric approach: there is a revenue stream that we need to capture. It is, however, a pretty small revenue stream; we earn significantly more through subscriptions. There isn’t a print literary magazine that can be sustainable—even in the most basic sense of covering its printing and mailing costs (let alone paying its staff)—solely through online submission fees. Opponents of submission fees feel that it’s a tremendous burden on writers, who are overwhelming described as poor, noble, honorable (and so forth)(and, yes, I’m a writer, too), and that the practice is unethical and unlike any other business model. Further, opponents believe that it is an easy system to rig – solicit work from writers that the editors know, then charge writers we don’t know to submit – and that because of a greater need for transparency in our community, we shouldn’t do this.

Fair enough. I’m a big believer in transparency. So. Here’s what editors ask fellow editors when discussing charging online submission fees: Will this mean I get fewer submissions? Editors don’t even look at as a revenue stream. Editors look at it as a way of slowing down submissions.

In fact, submissions increase significantly. This varies from magazine to magazine, but the increase in submissions is somewhere between twenty to thirty-five percent.

Maybe editors are looking at this all wrong. Maybe writers have done the mental math that I’ve done above and said You know what, I support literary journals when I submit online and pay a submission fee so I don’t need to subscribe to journals if I spend $60 a year on submissions. Now, that would be really rational, so the thought appeals to me (I’m Mr. Roboto like that) but it would make sense.

Why, then, don’t we avoid the dreaded “slush pile” and just solicit work from writers we know? Good question. And it really gets to the heart of why literary magazines exist and why writers want to publish in them. It is all about discovering a new voice from a new writer. It’s about finding that one really amazing story or poem from a writer we have never heard of before, and then delivering that writer’s work to a larger audience. We can’t do that if we solicit work because, of course, we don’t know who that new voice is. That’s what we – and I mean all literary journals, not just TMR – are most proud of. Literary magazines are all about discovery. The response to online submission fees is that we receive more work to read and consider, but also more possibilities of finding a new, unpublished writer.

So, then: are writers doing the calculations of going to the post office and deciding online submissions are fine? Is it just way too easy to click a button? Do writers view paying online submission fees as “supporting” the journal, adding to our revenue stream, and therefore, they don’t need to subscribe to us? I don’t know. What I do know is that as a magazine editor, the initial idea of online submission fees was not to increase revenue but to decrease submissions. That hasn’t happened, and since submissions have increased, it is reasonable to conclude that writers clearly have no problem with submitting work to us this way.

It is also important to recognize that TMR continues to accept paper submissions. If a writer does not believe online submissions are ethical or fair, then he/she can mail work to us. We continue to, and will continue to, receive paper submissions. I think it’s crucial that we leave that option open.

So, yes, TMR charges for online submission fees. No writer has to pay this fee if he or she chooses not to. What’s important about is two-fold: 1. To be fully transparent with our audience and 2. Remain open to new ideas as to how to strengthen our magazine, which includes our relationship with our audience and the biz-side of publishing TMR. Through a slightly different lens – communicating with an unseen readership, and being open to trying new things – writers are working on the same problems. It’s the same struggle for all of us—how do I create something true and authentic while also bringing it to the widest audience possible?

When you’re ready, send us your work, online or hard copy. Either one works for us. We want to read it. We want lots of submissions. It’s what all of us are here to do: read, discover, then, finally, publish.

Follow Michael Nye on Twitter: @mpnye 

MFA Rankings Are Useless (Could They Be Useful?)

In late August, Poets & Writers, by far the most respected and well-known magazine in the writing and publishing world, released their September/October issue, ranking all the MFA and PhD creative writing programs in the country. It’s a monster issue filled with not just the rankings, but an explanation of the rankings, compendium articles, pithy quotes, and about seventy pages of advertising for those particular programs. It is probably the most widely read issue that PW has ever published.

It also caused over 200 writers and program directors, from those very same MFA programs that the issue is promoting, to publically denounce the ratings in an open letter to The New York Observer.

How an organization responds to criticism, especially such public criticism, says a lot about its relationship with its audience. The examples are endless, but just think about a recent one. Netflix announced a change in their fee structure, then apologized not for the change but how the change was announced, followed by an announcement that they are splitting into two companies, Netflix (streaming) and the poorly named Qwikster (DVD rentals), and then announced they weren’t splitting into two companies. Neither of these changes went particularly well. And say what you will about why Netflix is doing this (or how poorly their letter was written) but they have been upfront about the changes they are making and the reasoning behind it. And Netflix listened when their audience said “Hey, we hate this!”

How did PW respond to such open criticism? Five days later, PW fired back with an open letter of their own. You can read the letter here. Well, their letter gets off to a rough start:

We are disheartened to hear to have read the open letter written on behalf of creative writing teachers and program directors protesting our publishing the 2012 rankings of MFA and PhD programs.

“Disheartened”? Doesn’t sound like they are really open to these program directors, are they? This isn’t Netflix saying “I messed up. I owe everyone an explanation.” In fact, they aren’t:

While we readily consider reasoned criticisms of our work, we cannot in good conscience make editorial decisions in response to outside pressure from those groups and individuals who disagree with our coverage, much less those that threaten to withdraw advertising as a means of influencing editorial content. Our responsibility is to our readers. And we would hope that, as writers, our critics would understand and respect this obligation.

I’d like to think that as a graduate of a MFA program and an employee of a literary journal, I am one of PW’s readers. So too are the MFA students, graduates of those programs, creative writing professors, administrators, and novelists and poets and short story writers years removed from writing programs. All of us are PW’s readers. And we all disagree with how PW is representing MFA programs. Doesn’t PW’s response seem to be missing something? It feels like they are saying they only serve writers who don’t know any better about MFA programs.

Poets & Writers cannot obstinately reject any criticism of their work. They claim that they have a responsibility to their readers. Who are their readers? Because when PW ignores the directors of two hundred creative writing programs, and by extension, all the graduates of those programs and all those students currently in those programs, then I’m not sure who their audience is anymore. Unless they are targeting only those trying to get into MFA programs. People who, one might argue, are naïve and easily persuaded?

I’m being hyperbolic: I don’t really believe that Poets & Writers assumes their readers are ignorant and that they are simply bilking young, emerging writers into buying a magazine. But the tone of their open letter is pugnacious and obstinate. And they do have a conundrum on their hands, don’t they? After all, PW does want people to pick up their magazine, and, on the surface, those are people not yet in graduate programs. I can see why they view it through such a myopic lens.

Who is the audience for Poets & Writers? It’s actually a trickier question than you might think. This point was really hammered home in Julien Smith and Chris Brogan’s book “Trust Agents” when they discussed college websites. Take the University of Missouri’s website, just as an example. Who is the website for? It’s for prospective students. It’s also for current students. It’s also for faculty. It’s also for alumni. Donors. And more. And all of those groups want the website to deliver very different things. Really think about that for a second. It is an incredible challenge to try and make all these different groups happy. The same applies for our writing community, too.

Anyone that has looked at MFA programs online has discovered that college websites are a bit of a mess. Many creative writing programs don’t have very good websites. As an outsider, a person trying to determine what program is a good fit, these poor websites are infuriating. As an insider, I realize how hard it is to get changes when the creative writing department is just a small part (very small part) of a large state university.

So what can Poets & Writers do to make things better for their entire community?

Eliminate the rankings. Rankings of MFA programs are bad for everyone involved.

The rankings are the overwhelming concern, one that has been posted on numerous websites and stated by dozens of writers. PW can’t have a whole bunch of articles and essays saying “Don’t look at rankings” placed directly next to, I don’t know, the rankings? To continue the string of mediocre analogies in this letter and other blog posts on the topic, it’s like publishing swimsuit model calendars and it’s really important to remember the models are athletes and should not be objectified. Sure. Not based in reality, is it?

I swapped a few tweets with my friend Andrew Scott about PW’s MFA issue. I tweeted that we were still waiting for a response from PW—my god, in an information age, how could they wait five days before responding at all? Not even a “Hey, we hear you!” response—and Andrew pointed out that PW benefits from all this attention, positive or negative. I wrote that they should just ditch the rankings. Andrew replied that without the rankings, who cares: all the basic info is available for online. He also suggested that it would be far more useful for them to profile a handful of MFA students’ journeys each year.

Profiling MFA students for one year, or, maybe, for the entire two (or three, or four!) years a student is in the MFA program would be a terrific read. Imagine it: five students at five different programs. A mixture of demographics. Each student gets to blog, on PW’s site, about his/her experience in the program. PW doesn’t have to create the content—the student creates it for him or her. The student, likely unknown, has a built-in audience while working on his/her stories, poems, essays, novel, whatever. The program, which everyone gets picked, gets a ton of attention. Costs? Just the hosting space on PW’s site. It would send PW a ton of traffic. It also would provide a close look at what it would be like to be in a particular writing program. Easy to do, and useful, and insightful for everyone involved.

But I don’t think PW is worthless without the rankings. PW is the authority. Being on the site or in the magazine gives the information strength. But why can’t it work as an aggregator? Isn’t that, really, what Google does? Of course, I’m greatly oversimplifying what Google does. The information PW has needs to be accessible and easy to understand, especially when program websites can be difficult to navigate. Why the website? Because PW claims that is to expensive to list all the programs in their print edition.

Online, their Directory of Poets & Writers claims 9200 authors. How many do you think went through MFA programs? Let’s safely say one third and round down. 3000 authors. If PW asked what MFA program they went to, and then link the answer to the MFA programs page on PW’s site, and even said something like “Prospective students can contact you about the program?” that writers could opt-in or out of … well, isn’t that a ton of information that could really serve a prospective student? It looks like PW has half-heartedly started doing this – there are links to some writers on some of the program pages – but it is incomplete at best.

Also, it would help if there was a really good filter. Look at PW’s MFA Database: There are two filters: degree and state. Given how much data PW has collected, this is pretty useless. Click on the first program listed. That’s Abilene Christian University. Their posting has a website and a contact name. That’s it. Couldn’t that be a much more interesting and dynamic page? Of course it could!

This seems to be left up to the programs to add this information: I noticed that American University, Bowling Green State University, and Hollins (to just name three) have better pages, but they are still aren’t all that useful. Indiana University has a Lynda Hull Fellowship in Poetry. That sounds great. But it doesn’t really tell you anything, does it?

Here’s another excellent idea from the comments section of PW’s open letter. It’s posted by “Rachael C”:

I’d also remove numerical values in other parts of the rankings and simply use general categories, just as you do with other aspects like “program size.” For example, with funding, you could have “Excellent,” Good,” “Fair” and “Poor.” Or with selectivity, you could have “Extremely,” “Very,” “Moderately,” and so on. Basically, by removing the numerical values, you’d be removing the impression that there are enormous gaps between particular programs, while at the same time still providing applicants with the exact same information.

There isn’t one simple solution about how Poets & Writers can better serve the community. These three ideas – eliminate rankings, get current students to blog, a better and more informative web listing – are ideas that, frankly, might have more holes than Swiss cheese. They do, after all, still have a print publication to sell. As an organization, Poets & Writers has been around for forty years and done remarkable work, and their commitment to us – that’s all of us, all of us writers – has always been steadfast. So maybe changes are in the works and we just don’t know it: the next MFA issue is, presumably, a year away. I don’t know. What I do know is that many of us in the writing community are feeling shut out and ignored, and the stakes here are very high: getting emerging writers in the right place to work on their writing for two to three years. Let’s hope they hear us.

Follow Michael Nye on Twitter: @mpnye 

The MFA Degree: A Bad Decision?

Last week in TMR’s first production meeting of the new semester, a first-semester intern asked about MFA programs and whether or not the University of Missouri has one (it does not). Even though the fall semester is just beginning, writers are already thinking about the January 1st deadline that most MFA programs have for receiving applications. Everyone, it seems, has MFA programs on the brain.

The latest issue of Poets & Writers is out now, and the cover image is thirty-one people of a wide-range of ages and ethnicities. Titled “MFA Nation” this special issue of PW is chock full of information about MFA programs: Seth Abramson’s yearly MFA ranking system, complete with an explanation of his methodology; articles on the social value of these programs and life as a writer post-MFA; wise quotes from program directors and working writers on what to consider when choosing a program; and probably fifty pages of ads from writing programs throughout the country. There is even a small section on writers who never pursued an MFA, a list that includes Jonathan Lethem and Elizabeth Strout, and writing workshops outside of traditional programs.

Five years ago, I earned my MFA, and have since taught undergraduate and graduate courses in creative writing. I don’t believe MFA programs are inherently evil and have destroyed contemporary American literature. The majority of people teaching and taking creative writing classes are all trying to do good things. Nonetheless, I’ve begun to wonder if the MFA is, in fact, a bad decision.

The explosion of MFA programs in the last thirty years coincides with something else from about the same time period: US News & World Report’s annual survey of “America’s Best Colleges.” This survey is one of the most popular, influential, and powerful publications that comes out of this country every year. This isn’t really a hyperbolic statement. Given how important college is now to, well, everyone, and how much parents get involved in the decisions of the lives of their eighteen-year-olds, and how much money flows into universities, and how surveys like US News “measure intangibles,” and how much is at stake for everyone involved when it comes to money, education (where do our top doctors and attorneys and engineers go?), and, consequently, our overall economy, the US News annual report on colleges might be the most important document of our generation.

(Which kinda blows your mind, if you think about it too hard …)

One of the things that the US News rankings does not consider is MFA programs in creative writing. It’s a pretty glaring omission for our world, an omission that Seth Abramson and Tom Kealey have been working to fill. Abramson, through both his blog and Poets & Writers, is the dominant name; Kealey made a name for himself by criticizing underfunded programs, Columbia’s specifically. These two, and others, have done a tremendous amount of work to peel back the layers of MFA programs and get applicants to make informed decision about their decision.

The similarity between the US News and PW is striking: collegiate ranking systems that determine which program is “best.” It certainly suggests that MFA programs are about something much more than just “time to write.”

I’m sure we all want to say that any MFA program is for those two or three years where an emerging writer gets to focus on his or her craft. The MFA program is an arts degree. Time off from the world to focus on writing. The intrinsic value beyond the page. Making better readers. Etc. Still, one of the results of all these MFA degrees are, like it or not, the creation of an army of people that are asked to teach low-levels of composition, rocking four or five or six classes per semester for adjunct pay.

 

This post is not attempting to argue, at all, the merits of the creative work or the intentions of students, teachers, and administrators. MFA programs are academic programs and are not particularly difficult to graduate from – one would have to screw up to a remarkable degree to not graduate from a MFA program once you’re accepted. The writing workshop is still the foundation of MFA programs, even if there are programs that are much more rigorous about teaching pedagogy, literature and linguistics courses, innovative publishing technology and techniques. And I’m sure there are people that pursue an MFA in order to be just straight-up writers, or work as a literary agent, or some other publishing venue.

But let’s not fool ourselves about where program graduates end up. We cannot stick our head in the sand about the reality of the post-MFA world. If programs are aiming to put their graduates at work in universities – and while there are, of course, exceptions, that is what the bulk of graduates are aiming to do and encouraged to do – then programs need to be more realistic about what exactly they are preparing their graduates for. What if programs honestly told students that if they want to teach at universities, that MFA graduates are a dime-a-dozen? If MFA graduates truly want to work in a university, what if programs stressed the importance of a rigorous education in literature and all it encompasses – critical theory, comprehensive exams, a dissertation the size of a dictionary? What if we honestly ask ourselves: what does this degree actually prepare our graduates to do?

For a writer with the goal of teaching at a university, even teaching creative writing, a MFA might be a lousy choice. Most find that what MFA programs are really good at (besides time out from the working world, of course) is providing deadlines: workshop due dates, thesis or dissertation defense dates, and so forth. And being a writer has to come from within, from a need to write, a need to finish projects, a need to revise until the work is right. People pursuing a MFA probably know both of these things already – what, then, does the degree itself provide? Creative writing is rarely lucrative, in and of itself. Advice on what to do would, as always, depend on the person I’m talking to but I’m no longer so sure of the MFA is the best answer. Nowadays there are so many newly minted MFA graduates – and more every year, growing, it seems, at an exponential rate – competing for jobs in a bad economy where one or two books (which is hard enough to do) simply isn’t enough.

If a writer feels an advanced degree is the way to go, the MA/PhD track, then, might be the wiser way to go. Does it take longer? Sure: but one shouldn’t be paying for a liberal arts degree anyway; funding should be one of, if not the most, important criteria. Further, it is terrific exposure for anyone to study literature in its entire range, rather than the narrower focus on the last forty years that MFA programs typically focus on. This is good not just as a writer, but as a scholar and thinker as well. It also prepares the writer to teach a wide-range of courses that makes one a much more attractive candidate for a tenure-track position.

There are many excellent professors, brand spankin’ new and decades old veterans, who hold only MFA degrees. One could absolutely be a terrific professor and a write a dozen wonderful books: they exist now and probably always will. But if asked, I’d suggest taking a long, hard look at pursuing a doctorate at a program like Florida State, the University of Cincinnati, or any of the other thirty departments that offer creative writing doctorates. It might be the wave the next great shift in creative writing programs, and isn’t it better to be ahead of that curve?

Correction: As my mentor Mary Troy points out in the comments section, the MFA is offered in the UM system, one at Missouri-St. Louis and one at Missouri-Kansas City. It is not offered at Missouri-Columbia, the main campus, where I work. (added Sept 1st)

Follow Michael Nye on Twitter: @mpnye

News on Paul Eggers and Jude Nutter

Poets & Writers is one of the few magazines I read cover to cover. I usually start with the classifieds and then make my way to the front. This month, in the Recent Winners section, I found two authors who have been published in The Missouri Review: fiction writer Paul Eggers and poet Jude Nutter.

Paul won The Missouri Review Peden Prize in 2006 with his longish short story, “This Way, Uncle, Into the Palace.” He recently won the 2008 Ohio State University Prize in Short Fiction for his collection, The Departure Lounge. When he came to Missouri in November, 2006, to accept the Peden Prize, Paul graciously granted me an interview, which you can listen to online here.

Jude Nutter’s poems were selected from among several hundred entries for first place in The Missouri Review 2007 Editors’ Prize Contest. According to Poets & Writers, she recently received a 2008 McKnight Artist Fellowship from the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, a $25,000 award.

Congrats to Paul and Jude, and kudos to The Missouri Review for continuing to publish excellent contemporary literature.