Yes, no kidding. Poet school is a thing. Law school is nothing…imagine going to a school where they are literally making it up as they going along?
Why I Read All Is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost
I ran across this book recently on a list of short novels. A book we can read in less than five hours is a good thing. Not that I don’t like longer reads…I really do…but shorter reads are nice too.
The thing that caught my attention about this particular book is its subject matter: Creative writing school.
If you don’t read a lot of literary fiction, you may not know that many “serious” writers earn their MFA (Master of Fine Arts). Usually they go on to seek funding…basically buy time…to pursue their writing. Eventually, they often go on to permanently support their writing by teaching in MFA programs at other schools.
Now the reason I’m getting into this is to point out the irony of the fact that is while many if not most “serious” writers earn MFA’s, you don’t, that often, see writing about getting your MFA.
So that got my attention.
Why You Should Read “All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost”
First of all, this book is short. Complicated story, but short.
Now, for my second point, I don’t really know how many people wonder about these things, but for someone who has taken A LOT of English classes…a lot…I’ve always wondered about people who do the creative writing.
If you are willing to concede that the creative writing department is the most esoteric part of the English department…and the poetry the most esoteric specialty in the most esoteric section, I’m at the other end. I think most folks in the English department would categorized those of us from the education department as a necessary evil. We filled seats which in turn justified classes which in turn created jobs for English professors but without the attendant danger of creating young, hungry English PhD’s who will by necessity (read: need to eat) take tenure track positions and do the work on no-benefit contracts.
Yup. That’s what happens. Meanwhile, high schools have to teach English to every student every day of every year. Do the math.
Ok, so I would see all of the regular literature majors struggle to get jobs after completing their master’s. I kept my advisor’s extension number handy so they could bug HIM about “alternative teacher licensing” (I wasn’t going to help them compete with me for jobs; I’ve been continuously licensed since I was 22). So if this is the case for LITERATURE majors, what could the MFA folks expect?
What colossal nerve they had, I thought. What ability to take on debt!
So frankly, I was kind of curious about this life, one that I sort of flitted on the edge of.
And I’ll be honest: while I was impressed by these folk, and admire them, at the same time, in person I found them kind of annoying. Very full of themselves, usually grungy. Superior acting. Eh, I was a sorority girl. To them, I was automatically dumb. Whatever. Sometimes I would amuse myself by baiting them.
At any rate, for some reason the idea of reading about life within a program like this appealed to me.
Definitely it’s a book written by, I’m betting (haven’t looked it up yet) a poet because it is an intricate story. But don’t panic. It’s not hard to read. It’s just shows the kind of relationships you end up with when you are in such a closed group.
What you have basically are two men, three women, and ambition. And a certain amount of power.
And the question is, what is success? And what sacrifice to achieve it?
Who is Lan Samantha Chang?
Chang is the director of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Iowa, so she know whereof she speaks.
Her earlier work focuses on China and the Chinese-American experience.
I would recommend starting with Hunger.
This novel opens in 1986, and this recently found shelf in an abandoned library reminds me of the living arrangements and bookshelves of my more artsy classmates.
We never drank wine, smoked cigarettes, and burned candles right in class, the way the students (and professor do) in this novel, but some of my classmates and professors would smoke in the common areas of the classroom buildings during breaks, in night classes, in defiance of something. I don’t know what.
I didn’t like smoking myself.
In the particular class I remembering, we did hold a couple of classes in student’s apartments, particularly the one of a student who I assumed had a crush on the professor. Smoking, wine, and candlelight all happened there.
I also know I had higher grades in the class than the most artsy-fartsy pair in the class because I overheard a conversation between the two where they assumed they had they two highest grades.
As a sorority girl/English education major, obviously I wasn’t in the running.
You may take from this anecdote what you will.
I still liked this book and admire anyone who can take the lifestyle enough to produce meaningful literature. Or take it and produce meaningful literature.