Guest contributor: Vince Passaro

Guy at the Bar: AWP and Diversity. Does No One Out There Have Any Sense?

categories: Cocktail Hour / Guest Columns / Guy at the Bar


Bill and Dave at AWP Boston

Bill and Dave at AWP Boston

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 PhotoVince 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…


  1. Jincy Willett writes:

    Well, I have a blog (my website), but it’s mostly silly stuff. I tried starting one called Mean Writers (.com), but it went over like a fart in church. Thought it might be fun and instructive for writers who hate/fear their critics to review those reviews. The reviews could be paid or unpaid–wouldn’t matter. (Not at all the same thing as that “anti-bullying review” site.) I was inspired to do this because a lot of writers (on FB, anyway) get really emotional about criticism. Also I know of at least one ridiculously successful writer who never reads reviews because he’s afraid of them. This kind of sensitivity is foolish, because (1) it disproportionately empowers critics, and (2) once in a while you might learn something from them. So I thought writers could slap those offending reviews up online and decide what they amount to, where and if they go off the rails, that sort of thing. No soap. This is one of the many reasons why I refuse to market my own books. Basically I just don’t get it. This site’s fun, though!

  2. Jincy Willett writes:

    Huzzah. I don’t know why these programs are flourishing. I made some good friends at one of them, but it didn’t cost me anything (I was a faculty wife), and I certainly never “networked.” One of the professors there was Verlin Cassill, who famously helped start the AWP and later (and pretty quixotically) campaigned for abolishing it. Good for him.

    I’ve written a few books and teach the occasional extension workshop, and I always tell people that if they can get an MFA for free, they might as well go for it; otherwise, a well-run workshop will give them deadlines and quasi-disinterested peer feedback (and my feedback, for what it’s worth), all for pennies. Beyond that, they just need to write, submit, toughen up, and get a day job.

    • Tommy writes:

      Hey Jincy, this is as good as any of the bad advice I’ve read on this website over the years, maybe you should start a blog! (yes, sadly – years! I’ve been here that long. Since the BP Horizon.)