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MFA vs NYC: The Two Cultures of American Fiction Paperback – February 25, 2014

3.5 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“We should first speak about how excellent this book's title is, as compact and mighty in its way as ‘Godzilla vs. King Kong.' It promises that someone's block will be knocked off, as they used to say on the playground about toy robot bouts. If neither side is, in the end, definitively clouted, some useful blows are landed . . . ‘MFA vs NYC' will appeal to many young writers, not merely for its insider perspective but also for its gossip and confessional essays . . . A serious, helpful and wily book.” ―Dwight Garner, The New York Times

“A cast of literary professionals offers an entertaining bounty of experience, opinions and advice . . . Essential insights, masterfully assembled, on the precarious state of American publishing.” ―Kirkus

“Remarkably provocative.” ―Leslie Jamison, The New Republic

“The best goddamn literary magazine in America.” ―Mary Karr, author of Lit: A Memoir on N+1 Magazine

“Just when you're thinking you're intellectually alone in the world, something like n+1 falls into your hands.” ―Jonathan Franzen, author of Freedom on n+1 Magazine

About the Author

Chad Harbach grew up in Wisconsin and was educated at Harvard and the University of Virginia. He is the author of the bestselling novel The Art of Fielding (2011), as well as a founder and editor of n+1 magazine.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: n + 1 (February 25, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865478139
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865478138
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #106,547 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Roy Lisker on April 4, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The only essay that really says something in this book is the obne by Chad Harbachy himself. The title of the anthology suggests a false dichotomy, namely that the writing that really counts nowadays is largely divided between the NYC agents and publishing houses, and the MFA degree programs in colleges and universities. It is hard to believe that an advanced nation with a population of over 300 million should have so narrow a range of choices.
For example: What about the very thriving poetry scene in and around the Bay area of San Francisco, with its dozens of literary bookstores and coffee shops, and as many readings per week?
What about the hundreds of small presses around the country, many of them of very high quality?
What about all the new options for self-publishing? I myself have a website on which dozens of my articles, essays, works of fiction appear. Two of my novels are Kindle E-Mail books. Otherwise I have published in Europe. I dont consider either NYC or the MFA as viable options.
I, also, was "educated" in this false notion, in college, that the only "scenes" in American literature were in NYC or the universities. It's taken me years to realize how wrong this is.
In addition, apart from Mr. Hudson's essay, the writing in this anthology is, by and large, mediocre.
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This is a very interesting book for anyone seeking to write. The writer's world has changed dramatically over the past decade, and this book outlines those changes. The creative lifestyle is not what you might imagine, esp. in the digital age. Poverty, disrespect and struggle are not to be romanticized. Yet... One can still have a vibrant & interesting life as a writer. Get a degree, or certificate, that pays decently but doesn't deplete your creativity. Reconsider the move to NYC, as it's not necessary to publish. Write at night, or on weekends. Discipline, as well as the speed of the computer, makes this possible. Besides, a decent job with a fun scene will inspire the writer to write better stories. An MFA is fine, but is the debt worth it? Do you really want to work in the underpaid/disrespected world of academia? This books allows you to answer these questions as you move forward. It makes me grateful for my science degree, even as I pen words late at night in the garret.
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Format: Paperback
I read Harbach's "The Art of Fielding" and then saw that he authored this book. Since I liked the Fielding book, I read this one. It is focused on the literary world: the process of spending time in workshops, the tuition, and the opportunity cost of getting a degree in writing (the "MFA" part of the title) versus practicing the craft in an expensive, competitive city which is the undisputed center of publishing (the "NYC" part of the title).

I am not a professional writer, but I do read a lot and enjoy the process of reading. Harbach's alternating chapters of MFA and NYC illuminated for me the great struggle that student writers and professional writers are engaged in to get their work to an audience, and to make a living from their craft. There are several industries undergoing immense change - newspaper publishing, music recording, hotel/spare room reservations, etc. After reading this book, it seems to me that the literary world should undergo a similar revolution. Both of the current choices, either masters degree or trail by fire in New York City, involve a huge amount of cost, both financial and personal. I read many of the personal vignettes with empathy and compassion - literary artists reduced to concerns of the bottom line as opposed to creating the highest possible merit in contemporary literature.

Although this book is very very different from Harbach's first novel, I found it interesting and a relatively quick read. I am not currently in the publishing industry or in the academic world, but I can nonetheless recommend "MFA v. NYC" as an engaging exploration of the struggles young writers face as they navigate their professional literary journeys.

Rob.
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Format: Paperback
Useful if you are considering an MFA and spans the gamut of MFA vs professional NYC writing experiences, but after reading this I instead wished for a book on how working writers -- people who get paid for their writing-- make a living, showing us all their tricks, sacrifices, and victories. I also think the NYC writing/ editorial experience is highly specific to an east coast educated white strata, which seems obvious while reading the book.
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I bought this book because so many other writers are reading it. I found it interesting in parts, redundant in other places, and sometimes a bit out of touch, depending on the piece and the author. My favorite essay was about teaching at a Low Res program by Diana Wagman. I felt there was less a "vs" than MFA *and* NYC.
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Great book that compares the two cultures of writing. It did lack a perspective on nonfiction and poetry, but the title states that fiction will be the focus, so my bias is only personal. Only two problems that: 1.) the book needs more depth, more examples; and, 2.) it needs clearer connections between the chapters. All in all it was a wonderful book.
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