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The cover-letter as manifesto.

By DANIEL BOSCH [3am Magazine] — Writers who are truly honest about art and pedagogy admit that most of the time both end in failure. At the Bauhaus this fact was bedrock, not pillow-talk: the curriculum was designed around honest play with materials.

I believe a Bauhaus-type approach might help lead to needed reform in the teaching of creative writing. So in a cover letter I submitted in application for the directorship of an MFA program, I proposed a play-based curriculum focused on fundamental “materials”, mandatory cross-genre study, eschewal of contemporary readings, avoidance of cults of personality, use of the full range of grades, unplugging of the phrase “terminal” degree, and more…

THE BAUHAUS CURRICULUM demanded three years of intense coursework under different artist-teachers in such areas as presentation and design; color, composition & space; and “nature study,” (in literary training, these might be courses in Book & E-Book; Space on Stage and in Story; Prologues; Lines; Low Comedy; Images; and Writing from Life) each segment of which was conceived as necessary preliminary training and thus the basis for later workshop courses in the distinct practices associated with materials such as Glass, Metal, Wood, Stone, etc. (In a literary curriculum on this model, the penultimate inner ring might consist of seminars or workshops in specific sub-genres such as Personal Essay, Three-Act Play, Realistic Prose Narrative, Verse Monologue.) At the heart and center of this diagram, as in a literary curriculum modeled upon it, is one or two years of focused execution of minor and major projects, a hard-earned chance for the artist-in-training to use their skills and to “Build” with the full support of the arrayed cohort of instructors and fellow “journeymen.” In a literary training program, I would hope, this final and most-demanding portion of the curriculum would lead to something distinct from what is currently called a “thesis.” A better term might be borrowed from medieval and renaissance guilds — the “Meisterstuck” — with the understanding that any built object which satisfied the requirement for a “masterpiece” admitted its maker to an adult role in the family of makers. Certification following completion of such a curriculum should not be called a “terminal” degree, because everybody in the family of makers knows that to be an artist is to be humbled nearly every day with regard to one’s skill and lack of skill and the recalcitrance of one’s materials…

Continued at 3am Magazine | More Chronicle & Notices.


  1. Michelene Wandor wrote:

    Daniel Bosch floats two provocative and related issues: the first is that current Creative Writing programmes result in ‘failure’, and that a corrective would be a Bauhaus approach.

    The idea that the programmes result in ‘failure’ stems from the notion that all graduates can emerge as professional writers. We all know that that is no more the case than that all philosophy graduates will become active philosophers. The Bauhaus approach which Bosch describes is certainly varied and exciting, and would, indeed, provide a thorough grounding in literary production and its related arts. Such graduates could go into a variety of professions – just as other humanities graduates go into a variety of professions, not just those which they have studied directly.

    It’s back to a rethink of Creative Writing teaching which leaves the romantic idea of the writer to one side, though without jettisoning the importance of serious critical literary thinking, in both reading and writing. The training is for greater understanding, and that involves both serious practice and intellectual rigour, as Bosch suggests.

    But will Creative Writing programmes take this seriously?

    Who knows?

    MICHELENE WANDOR is the author of a number of books on teaching Creative Writing, including The Author Is Not Dead, Merely Somewhere Else: Creative Writing after Theory: Creative Writing Reconceived (Palgrave Macmillan) and Critical-Creative Writing: Readings and Resources (forthcoming from Continuum). Her essay, “Can Creative Writing really be taught in British universities?” appeared in The Fortnightly Review in 2012.

    Monday, 24 February 2014 at 01:44 | Permalink
  2. Daniel Bosch wrote:

    Thanks for this comment, Michelene. Let me add what I think is an important distinction: the “understanding” that is most crucial for would-be literary artists to attain is NOT an academic one–not related so much to interpretation–but has more to do with the way artworks are made, and the materials out of which they are made. I mean that much of what passes for “serious literary critical thinking” could be jettisoned, for it is of little use for those who want to make literary art.

    Monday, 24 February 2014 at 13:54 | Permalink

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