Nathalie writes about her experience as a student at Iowa:
Lately, several aspiring writers have asked me my thoughts on MFA programs and whether they should enroll in one. I don’t know, I don’t know. At Iowa, I was a depressive, unproductive recluse — not a good representative for the average workshop experience. Also, I came to Iowa from Brown, where I wrote and studied experimental fiction (with people like Carole Maso and Robert Coover); even a two year program couldn’t mitigate the culture shock. (In a NY Times piece on Frank Conroy’s retirement, Conroy depicts Iowa as a place where writing is priviliged over theory. But that, too, is a theoretical position — and the one most popular among traditionalists.)
If Iowa was useful for me, it was useful as a series of checks on my writing instincts. It made writing even more slow and painful, because I suddenly was able to acknowledge the difference between myself and my readers (i.e., the associations I take for granted almost always have to be explained, or cut). But, I think I need to wait a couple more years — watching where my writing (and “career” – ha) goes — before I can make an informed assessment of my time at Iowa.
Be sure to click through to the rest of her post, which features other people’s views (excerpted from Brown’s creative writing list serve) on programs at Warren Wilson College, the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi, the University of Denver, and Brown.