Michael Cunningham, Iowa grad and new Brooklyn College MFA head, discounts importance of MFA hierarchy

Michael Cunningham, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and author of The Hours, recently took the helm at the Brooklyn College fiction program, which he hopes to transform “into the MFA program I wish I’d gone to.”

In a recent interview with Philip Kadish for The Brooklyn Rail, Cunningham heralded the diversity of the CUNY program and called “the perceived hierarchy among MFA programs” into question:

as far as I know, not one publisher of any kind gives one shit where a writer in question got their MFA, or if they did at all. I can just about guarantee you that there has never been an editorial meeting in any publishing house in which the question of where the writer got his MFA came up as a significant issue. It’s about the work. I suspect that the more competitive programs are the way they are because they attract more competitive students. I think the more expensive ones tend to attract students who are determined to leave there with six-figure book deals, which doesn’t always make them the most interesting students. It is not so much fun to talk with a student who is interested in learning the formula for a best-selling book so that they can reproduce it; that’s not what I’m here to do. And when you’ve mortgaged your house to attend an MFA program, you are naturally worried about the big book deal and naturally worried that the person sitting next to you is going to get it and you are not. No one cares about the status of your MFA program. It may matter to you when you are in an MFA program, but it certainly doesn’t matter in the larger world.

On the other hand, there’s some strong anecdotal evidence that an Iowa degree could get your slush pile submission a more serious reading from The New Yorker or The Paris Review.


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