Monday, January 24, 2011

The Creative Writing PhD and the Job Market

At Ohio University we had a professional development meeting recently and I asked the panel (CW, lit and rhet-comp profs who had all sat on various hiring committees) if the CW Phd was, truthfully, any kind of factor on the university job market.

The first answer was that schools such as Iowa or Michigan only hire writers with an established presence. "A book" isn't enough, and the PhD isn't the criteria either. That NYU hired Jonathan Safran Foer, who doesn't even have an MFA, comes to mind.

But---if the goal is a job at a smaller, liberal arts school then a PhD is a plus, because it gives you flexibility in teaching. (And yes, the CW PhD counts here). OU has placed people in this kind of tenure track job. It was also noted that if quality of life is a consideration, a smaller school might be a happier landing than a shark tank program.

Interesting to me, was how the three English Department fields have different criteria for an attractive resume.

For Rhet-Comp, teaching is critical, and demonstrated ability of administrative experience (by this I mean running a conference, not typing and filing. Althooooo. How else does one run a conference?)

For Lit, an established presence as a scholar is the thing. Too many committees, etc. might even count against an applicant, because he/she might be seen as not being serious about their research.

For us, the ability to help out with the lit mag or run the reading series makes everyone perk up. Because nobody wants to do this stuff. Grant writing ability is also a plus. Because writers never have any money.

The final tip was that grads who want a university job can’t leave the ivory tower. Not after the PhD. Grads have to adjunct or post-doc or whatever to remain in the pool.

Except the rules are always different in the arts, because there aren’t rules. Write a best-selling book that’s also a critical darling---and that NYU gig is yours. And who wouldn't rather be the sexy hire than the paper slave?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Things around The Office are awkward

First, I have an admission. Admonish me if you will, but my husband and I recently bought a television. A 20somethig inch plasma HD flat screen DVD thingie that also shoots fireworks from its butt. This television is pretty glorious, beating out the old standby we used for the past 2+ years of laptop dragged over to the coffee table with auxiliary computer speakers to blast the sweet sounds of Jersey Shores: Season 1 on DVD.Oh, oops, I meant to say Ken Burns Presents The Civil War on DVD.

That totally explains why I never post to this blog.

I was on the no-television wagon for a couple of years and thought I was finding my real purpose in life in an existential sense—I was one of those I Don’t Need A Television folks!—for surely I could find satisfying amusement in knitting, mounting wall racks or lacquering an upcycled porch swing. Then I fell off that wagon. Not hard or particularly jarring, the falling. But now my television keeps me from helping starving orphans. And my dog is getting a little bit fatter.

And there is a lot of crap on television. And I hate every glassy eyed moment spent watching Million Dollar Money Drop. But I do it anyway. So here we get around to Thursday nights. The Office is on NBC in prime time perpetuity.

I don’t think I’ve seen an episode since we gorged ourselves on The Season Where Pam and Jim Get Married at the End. Around this time, I was working in a cold office under a bridge at a Big Ten University dying for some human interaction that didn’t involve hashing out the intricacies of OMB Circulars as they relate to institutional funding. (No really, it’s a riot. You should check it out. ) And when I was doing that during the day, it’s own kind of cubicle-related typical desk job, I was honestly in hysterics with the show. Loved it!

Now that I’ve been in a new position—as a certified writer! Okay, so “content producer”, but that, in large part, actually means I write things from scratch and edit it and get feedback from others—at an e-learning company for a couple of months now, I was ready to embrace the show again. It was time. I still sit at a desk. At a desk job. In a non-academia setting. This is a perfect! I’ll love The Office, because I’ll learn valuable skills about being endearingly charming when I meet someone over at the copier at my company. I can replicate something that one of the people on the show did! It’ll be great.

Instead I just squirm through the 22 minutes. It feels so awful to see the characters roboting around inside the little windowless, wall less space. Communicable disease! Awkward personal relationships exposed! Boss says something to make the company look bad! You just asked the secretary to do some menial task you were too lazy to do! You’re lying about that sick day! You can’t download that on a work computer!

Does this mean I like my new job?! As in truly satisfied with the way things are turning out? Could it be?!

Is like for The Office the perfect inverse of like for the office?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

On Solicited Submissions

One benefit of the MFA followed by the PhD, is that I am slowly but surely amassing contacts. AWP is now an event where I can meet up with old friends, who, theoretically, should all one day be directing programs and will naturally want their old crony, me, as the visiting writer. Well, maybe someday.

I did experience a little brush with schmooze payoff recently when I received the call for my first (insert coronet herald here) solicited submission from a friend who is fiction editor at a lit mag. Finally, a bit of nepotism working in my favor. Of course, when I was first starting out the idea of solicited subs appalled. But when I read for Cutbank I learned how hard it is to find work you are actually excited about. I was nonfiction editor for a year and never came across one publishable piece (aside from the contest we held). I see that the essays in the latest issue are by Montana luminaries William Kittredge and Judy Blunt.

Anyway, I sent a story I wrote while at Montana, my first story that got “the nod” from workshop, and was nominated by the faculty for Best New American Voices. Given this stamp of approval, it seemed to me some lit mag somewhere should take this story. To date I had sent this story out to 12 places. Granted, one of these rejections was from The Atlantic Monthly (among other luminaries). I had received two “almosts” as well. But as we all know “almost” is simply “no” with a “thanks” tacked on.

Then I was ASKED about this story (in particular). Dee McNamer at Montana used to call getting a finished piece published “finding it a home.” While much my work goes in the RIP file on my desktop, I also keep a file of those stories I believe deserve adoption. This poor, orphaned story had languished in a folder surrounded by twenty other versions of itself for two years.

Now, “solicited” does not mean “guaranteed publication,” although I suppose this changes from mag to mag, and depends on the writer. A new J.D. Salinger story I’m guessing = automatic yes. At NOR, solicitation does not guarantee publication. I happen to know that the editors have asked colleagues for work only to find themselves in the awkward situation of turning it down. This, apparently, has created some major AWP dagger eyes moments. Imagine fancying yourself an “established” writer only to be told 1) your work didn’t cut it and (worse) 2) you aren’t famous enough that someone would publish it anyway.

As a newbie I didn’t have huge expectations. But I hoped. So I sent off my story that has a baseline narrative about a young woman who struggles with a possible pregnancy juxtaposed by a quirky, wordplay thru line, only to find out that the editor had just accepted a story that has a baseline narrative about a young woman who struggles with a possible pregnancy juxtaposed by a quirky, wordplay thru line. Scooped.