The cultural transformations of the 1960s spurred the beginnings of a writing education renaissance, and, since 1975, the number of creative writing masters of fine arts programs has increased 800 percent.(By the late 1980s, so many colleges and universities were instituting graduate-level creative-writing programs, in fact, that Stanford University dumped its venerated master's degree, and threw its resources behind what is now the highly sought after Stegner Fellowship, a two-year program that awards 10 participants each year a handsome stipend to study with writers like Tobias Wolff and Eavan Boland, but confers no degree.) By 2004, there were 109 programs that conferred the master of fine arts in creative writing -- and nearly half of those started in the last 10 years.When someone writes a bad book, people complain about all those gosh-darn MFA programs." Whether good or bad for literature, culture or humanity, MFA writing programs are undeniably popular.
Real writers rent a drafty attic garret, confront their demons alone in the twilight and write.
A program that promised students they would graduate with a book-length work. Patrick forgot all about her belly button, and jumped.
Two years later, she had her masters of fine arts, and her book -- or at least half a book ("There's a difference," Patrick said she discovered, "between a 'book-length work' and a book").
Several years ago, Mary Patrick and her husband, Tom, stood side by side at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, gazing at his family's burial plot.
They shook their heads and laughed at the irony of what -- and who -- would be underfoot in the future.