27 Writers on Whether or Not to Get Your MFA

Now that September is here and school is back in session, a writer’s thoughts turn to the eternal question: Is an MFA worth it? Ever since the publication of the Chad Harbach-edited anthology MFA vs. NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction earlier in the year, the perennial neurosis about whether or not an advanced degree in writing is worth it has become a progressively louder conversation. It’s one that we should be having, considering the explosion of the MFA in the past 40 years: from a mere 79 programs in 1979 to 854 today, according to Harbach. The MFA may even be having its moment — after all, the last shot of Girls Season 3 had Lena Dunham’s Hannah Horvath joyfully looking at her acceptance to Iowa. We checked in with some of our favorite writers from then and now to see what they think of the rise of the MFA.

Gary Shteyngart

Gary Shteyngart: Author of this year’s memoir Little Failure and several novels, including Super Sad True Love Story.

Does he have an MFA? Yes, from Hunter.

Does he teach in programs? Yes! Which is why he is a promiscuous blurb writer and has a tendency to pop up in some James Franco joints.

Does he think you should get an MFA? In The Paris Review, he responds to the question “What is your advice for young writers?” with this:

You have to get an MFA. Without an MFA nobody will look at you right, so you have to get an MFA. You have to go to the right parties (The Paris Review is great). “Don’t be pretentious” is my first advice to young writers. This is the big problem — just because you’re getting an MFA doesn’t mean you have to write for the Academy. Be true to your personality. Don’t temper your personality down with words. Don’t build defensive fortresses around yourself with words — words are your friends.