07 August 2017

Review: The Program Era by Mark McGurl

Hardcover, 466 pages
Published 2011 (originally 2009)
Borrowed from the library
Read September 2016
The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing
by Mark McGurl

This book is not the book I thought it would be. I didn't like it very much as a result. I don't know if that's Mark McGurl's fault or mine. I expected a history of American creative writing programs, their tenets and philosophies, and an overview of how that had shaped American fiction post-1945. Instead I got a series of interpretations of post-1945 American novels I hadn't read, through the lens of the fact that their authors had gone to college and taken creative writing courses. I was looking for something general, but the book turned out to be too specific for me to engage with in an interesting way. I kind of think it's McGurl's fault, because at one point he says his book wants "to track a period in which institutions, not individuals, have come to the fore as the sine qua non of postwar literary production" (368). Except that his book talks about individuals a whole lot and institutions barely at all.

The book also includes a lot of goofy charts. They have a lot of arrows on them, but never illuminated a concept for me. The Venn diagrams were in particular impenetrable, and seem to have been drawn by someone who had no idea how Venn diagrams work.

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