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The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the…

The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing

by Mark McGurl

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This book is not the book I thought it would be. I didn't like it very much as a result. I don't know if that's Mark McGurl's fault or mine. I expected a history of American creative writing programs, their tenets and philosophies, and an overview of how that had shaped American fiction post-1945. Instead I got a series of interpretations of post-1945 American novels I hadn't read, through the lens of the fact that their authors had gone to college and taken creative writing courses. I was looking for something general, but the book turned out to be too specific for me to engage with in an interesting way. I kind of think it's McGurl's fault, because at one point he says his book wants "to track a period in which institutions, not individuals, have come to the fore as the sine qua non of postwar literary production" (368). Except that his book talks about individuals a whole lot and institutions barely at all.

The book also includes a lot of goofy charts. They have a lot of arrows on them, but never illuminated a concept for me. The Venn diagrams were in particular impenetrable, and seem to have been drawn by someone who had no idea how Venn diagrams work.
  Stevil2001 | Aug 11, 2017 |
A compelling literary history, and easily the most exciting, accessible, intelligent work of literary criticism I've read in several years. ( )
  jalbacutler | Jan 10, 2017 |
An awesome book if you're already interested in the premise: exploring most of 20th century American literature through the lens of the creative writing program, and how many can be easily and beneficially understood as reactions to that program. However, it's a rough ask if you aren't, since the chapters are incredibly long—up to 70 pages in length—and constitute a free-flowing narrative on the different elements of creative writing programs and how they're instantiated in up to a dozen cases each chapter. If you think you might be interested, I'd first recommend reading the unexpectedly-large amount of reaction commentary in "mainstream" lit journals: n 1, London Review of Books, and even the New Yorker.

A pretty rad book all told, but not quite rad enough or well-constructed enough to recommend to a general audience. ( )
1 vote gregorybrown | Oct 18, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0674033191, Hardcover)

In The Program Era, Mark McGurl offers a fundamental reinterpretation of postwar American fiction, asserting that it can be properly understood only in relation to the rise of mass higher education and the creative writing program. McGurl asks both how the patronage of the university has reorganized American literature and—even more important—how the increasing intimacy of writing and schooling can be brought to bear on a reading of this literature.

McGurl argues that far from occasioning a decline in the quality or interest of American writing, the rise of the creative writing program has instead generated a complex and evolving constellation of aesthetic problems that have been explored with energy and at times brilliance by authors ranging from Flannery O’Connor to Vladimir Nabokov, Philip Roth, Raymond Carver, Joyce Carol Oates, and Toni Morrison.

Through transformative readings of these and many other writers, The Program Era becomes a meditation on systematic creativity—an idea that until recently would have seemed a contradiction in terms, but which in our time has become central to cultural production both within and beyond the university.

An engaging and stylishly written examination of an era we thought we knew, The Program Era will be at the center of debates about postwar literature and culture for years to come.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:35 -0400)

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