Literary Scholarship ‘versus’ Creative Writing?

November 1, 2010 | No Comments

Call it serendipity but while currently enjoying Elif Batuman’s fascinating creative non-fiction collection, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, I’ve noticed that her views on the academic schism between literary scholarship and creative writing have sparked a fascinating debate in print and on-line. Batuman, a formidable literary scholar, does not condemn writing workshops outright but suggests that they don’t require students to read and study the classics of literature through the centuries, an accusation I can’t entirely disagree with. To plunge in, begin with Batuman’s dense but engaging article in the London Review of Books, “Get a Real Degree,” then follow it with Bill Morris’s response, “Does School Kill Writing” in The Millions….

The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read ThemI have allegiances to both scholarship and the workshop method when it comes to nurturing prose: my creative writing degree was productive and exhilarating and I would not have been published without it, but I also know I would be a different kind of writer had I not also studied European and American literatures. It all comes back to the same bottom line: you’ve got to read, read, read, if you want to write, write, write….¬†Furthermore, every new book is essentially joining a conversation begun by every book written before it, so it does help if the writer knows more or less what has been said regarding their particular focus of the human comedy; still I think Batuman is a little unfair to assume that many MFA students are not aware of this.