We called, you answered: inspired by Lena Dunham’s nightmare vision of a University of Iowa workshop, we’ve collected real-life stories of what happens when MFAs melt down. Readers didn’t disappoint — if there’s anything a workshop’s good for, it’s a lifetime’s worth of cringe comedy. (Good writing is also possible, but by no means a given.) Click through for bitchy blog posts, unsolicited nudity, and of course, a few healthy doses of racism, all helpfully illustrated with canonical examples of side-eye.
I moved to New York in 2004 and didn’t really know anyone when I got here. Since I was a writer, I thought that a good way to start meeting some people would be to join a writers group. I joined one that would hold regular workshops/meetings, and a fun thing about it was that the meetings were always at a different group member’s apartment — so I was meeting people and learning my way around NYC. For awhile it was great — the people were nice, the writing was diverse, and the critique I would get was really useful. But then one week, I got the regular email from the group leader that said when and where the next meeting would be. Only this email very seriously declared that for this meeting, we would do “naked writers group.” And not “emotionally naked,” just… naked. People would come to the group, strip down to nothing and write — for reasons that were not explained in the email and still remain a mystery to me. The email ended with “I can’t wait to see the look on the delivery guy’s face when he brings our food!”
I didn’t go to that meeting. Or any other meetings after that.
“There Must Be Some Plantation-Owning Ancestors There…”
During my first year of college, I took an “Intro to Fiction Writing” class. I was such a young, naive freshman that I was starstruck by our professor because she was supposedly a professional writer even though a) I had never heard of her before in my life and b) she didn’t even have a fucking Wikipedia page. My hopes were shattered, though, during one of the first weeks of class when our professor turned to one of the students in our class, a black woman, and said “Oh, I know your father. You know, you’re much lighter than he is.” While we all started freaking out internally, it got worse: “There must be some plantation-owning ancestors somewhere there.” We were all scared first years too wimpy and terrified to speak up, and it was horrible.
Also, later during the semester, a (not black) classmate wrote a story from the perspective of a black man living in Harlem entirely in Ebonics that involved a character dying by choking on a piece of fried chicken. My professor said she really liked the voice.
“I Love Transgendered Stories!”
I had this professor for an intermediate nonfiction workshop my sophomore spring. I got some bad vibes from her pretty early on (despite the fact that she was white, she’d say she was “honorarily Chinese” because of her husband), but tried convincing myself to like her to make the rest of the semester bearable.
Because upper level workshops require an application, the professor knew that I was trans from reading my writing sample — I remember submitting an old piece of mine that was explicitly about the subject.
A few weeks into the semester she’s going through and reading out who is submitting when. She accidentally misreads one of my (female-identified) classmates’ name as Dave and then quickly corrects, which would have been fine, had she not then proceeded to pause and say, “You know, I love transgendered stories.” Looking directly at me (the only trans person in the room), she continues, “You should totally write transgendered stories.”
She also, among other things, told me that I should keep writing about trans things because it was just a “more extreme” version of “a classic coming of age story.” Ooof.