Guest contributor: Vince Passaro
categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Guy at the Bar
AWP — who gives a fuck? (There’s a little so-med shitstorm about Kate Gale’s not altogether sensitive piece in The Huffington Puffington I’llBlowYourHouseDownington Post about AWP “diversity” — about which I guess I give enough of a fuck to write this.) Here’s some news: AWP–the Association of Writing Programs–is an association of MFA programs. It looks like an MFA program, it walks like an MFA program, it talks like an MFA program, what’s the issue here? It’s bureaucratic and uninteresting and being twice removed from the actual task and demand of creative writing, it is in every way an “organization”, handing out tote bags and missing the point. In any case, further news for the uninitiated: MFA programs charge a lot of money and keep two thousand writers employed with 403Bs and good medical plans and good cars and nice refrigerators. (As the familiarly-initialed WPA briefly tried to do, but way less intrusively.) In all but a handful of cases the programs are designed as not-great-but-steady profit centers for universities who have to spend money on students in other (liberal arts, non-professional) programs. Therefore students face high tuition costs. So what do people expect its representative organization to look like? A social services agency? Many MFA students are cash poor and go into hock up to their necks to study writing with teachers and fellow students whom they admire and hope to be enlightened by; I did this once, though it wasn’t so expensive then. (That’s how I met Bill Roorbach!) But if you come from a place that is poor, if everything and everyone you’ve ever known is poor, it takes a particularly rare kind of cognitive and cultural leap to go $20-40,000 in debt, or more, to get into a profession that doesn’t pay and never will. As such a poor person, you would have had to have done this already for your BA in most cases, so the odds are really low. Does no one out there have any sense? AWP stands for All White People, because as Kate Gale put it, so amusingly cluelessly, that is us.
Vince Passaro is the author of Violence, Nudity, Adult Content: A Novel (Simon and Schuster, 2002 and S&S Paperbacks, 2003), as well as numerous short stories and essays published over the last 25 years in such magazines and journals as The New York Times Sunday Magazine, The Times (London) Sunday Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, The Nation, The Village Voice, The New York Observer, Esquire, GQ, and Harper’s Magazine, where he is a contributing editor. He’s also the guy sitting alone at the end of the bar, plenty to say to those who will listen…