Wednesday, March 10, 2010


I just read an article from the Atlantic about MFAs, "Where Great Writers Are Made." Of all elements in the piece - the funding, the eminence of the faculty and the star power the graduates of a program possess - I am responding to what the director of Boston University's MFA program, Leslie Epstein, said. He is quoted,

Over the years, Epstein has condensed much of his teaching philosophy into what he calls his “tip sheet”—eight pages, double-­spaced, beginning with a disquisition on punctuation, with special distaste for the ellipsis: “those three dreamy dots.” The tip sheet is a compilation of the specific—“Clowns, midgets, mimes and people wearing masks should be abjured,” he writes. “Nor am I a fan of wind chimes.” He moves on to larger perceptions about the process: “One must have in mind between sixty-eight and seventy-three percent of the ending. Any more than that percentage and the writer will be in a strait-jacket … Any less and the project will meander and find itself in danger of sinking into the swamp of indecision.”

Oh great. He is against clowns, mimes and midgets. I am currently working on an edgy YA book employing all three devices. After all, the working title is CLOWN. The ending I've envisioned for the work is about that percentage. Oh, but the clown!I have the satisfaction, however, as one of his former students felt, to read from the same article:

Christopher Castellani has published two novels with Algonquin since finishing BU’s program. He says Epstein “used to read my work aloud in funny voices.” While Castellani says such treatment “can have short-term benefits for people who respond to it,” he confesses to feeling a perverse satisfaction when Epstein’s most recent book got banged around by one reviewer. Ha Jin, whom Epstein calls “the only true genius I’ve ever known,” has helped leaven the BU program.

It just goes to show that writing and its reception is subjective.

Although, in Epstein's defense, I can understand the harangue about the circus types. The images can be disturbing and low-brow i.e. genre. Clowns are almost synonymous with Stephen King,Shakes and It. Even Tim Burton the king of the grotesque was afraid of Bozo the Clown. Clown = irrational fear. Clowns hate mimes and vice versa. And don't get me started on midgets.

Then again, rules are made to be broken. So anyone breaking Mr. Epstein's cardinal rules, break them well with uneven sharp edges. Make him weep. He did say that he likes being moved.

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