The MFA Tournament: Help Crown the Best Writing School in the Country (Vote Early and Often)

categories: Cocktail Hour













What’s the best way to decide the top MFA creative writing program in the country? A tournament of course!  Vote on our comments page!

By almost all accounts the current system of ranking MFA programs in creative writing is a crappy one. For starters the rankings of the schools are determined by applicants who have never seen the schools and never had the teachers. That’s right (believe it or not), the rankings depend on the choices of people who are applying to schools, and basing their choices on a variety of criteria, including the ranking system from the year before.  Let me say that again so it is crystal clear: the folks who created the rankings didn’t make any attempt to survey those who have actually experienced the program.  To which we say: Yikes!

“It’s analogous to asking people who are standing outside a restaurant studying the menu how they liked the food,” says novelist Leslie Epstein, who runs the Boston University Writing Program.

Poets &Writers, the magazine that publishes the rankings, replied:

“Why didn’t we survey MFA faculty and students about the quality of MFA programs? To continue the analogy Leslie Epstein used to describe our approach in the press release, that would be like asking diners who only frequent their favorite restaurant to assess the quality of all restaurants.”

Okay, love both restaurant analogies, but can’t help but believe that the first is a little better, that is that talking to people who have tasted the food should factor in.  Right?

So are rankings useless?  Hardly!  They’re fun!  But we here at Bill and Dave’s believe that if you are going to employ a flawed system, it might as well be fully flawed.  And so we are announcing our first annual Tournament of MFA Programs. Why not crown the best in the old fashioned way?  Let them fight it out.

The Poets & Writers system, created by the great Lawyer-Poet Seth Abramson, is explained in a pithy 80 page document that you can read (for pleasure) here. Our own methods are generally considered too complex for regular humans to understand, but if you want to try and comprehend them you can read Dr. Bill Roorbach’s Rationale of Methodology (printed below).

But the short version is this: We believe the fairest way to determine the best creative writing program is by counting how many votes they get here at Bill and Dave’s Cocktail Hour. What could be simpler? Whoever gets the most votes wins! When it’s all over, shiny prizes will given and cash too.  But most important of all will be the glory of being crowned number 1 by Bill and Dave (in person at next year’s AWP in Boston).

Let the games begin!

How to play: simply cast a vote (only two per person please) for your school (and one other school if you like) in the comments page of this post.  Next week we will report the results of the first round and move on to the next.

Rationale of Methodology by Dr. William Roorbach

To help us gain scientific accuracy, we ask a representative selection of respondents to name the best restaurant in the vicinity of the program you are voting for.   If such respondents look like writers (cigarettes, darkly hooded eyes, paranoid glances) they are bought a sandwich.  (See appendix 1289.)  The best analogy really is airline food, which really isn’t bad in first class, or on Air France and Air India, and imagine the algorithms they have to use to get vegetarian meals to certain percentages of their passengers, none of whom were on the plane the night before the flight, and yet all of whom need to get somewhere.  But back to algorithms, and the sound if not spelling of rhythm in every usage.  (See table 456.)  We do not weigh for cities we like, though cities we don’t like or think we might not like must be tested for water quality by our team of Navy Seals, which are actual seals.  Does the city have a zoo?  (See pages 45, 78, 695, 2356, and 12360.) And what is the proportion of pigeons to people?  No, on second thought, best analogy would be Depends undergarments.  Ask the user what he or she thinks of the garment before and after use.  Honestly.  Clean results demand a pristine undergarment.  (Consult diagrams B19 through F78.) Comma usage, a must.  Only votes cast by those who might be reasonably assumed to find dancing germane are taken perfectly seriously, though imperfect seriousness is a tool we are never afraid to apply.  (See “The Turning Point”: it’s actually really good.)  It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. Simply put, objectivity obnubilates merely callipygian asseverance.  Body types are not taken into account, really not.  And besides, how important can money really be when most writers don’t have a lot of money.  (See bar graph, pie chart, and flow panels.)  Fellowships are all well and good, but it stinks of the 1950s lodge system, which we eschew.  Elks and Odd Fellows indeed.  That’s a point worth going back to: Elks and Odd Fellows indeed!  Percentages are acquired by reference to a chart of percentages and this accounts for nearly 40% of our dependibility quotient, though the formula used may be baby formula.  (Fully outlined in subsequent chapters.)  What’s that you say?  Faculty is weighed and those that weigh more than Bill are asked not to go to restaurants quite as often, though this is not an a priori observation but merely more of the rhythm method adopted above.  Student satisfaction can have no place in this analysis, so only unsatisfied desires get full weight.  (See addendum.)  The hypotenuse is equal to the sideburns of the chair of the program squared indefinitely.  And really, can’t we all wear better shoes?  (See   When one program gets equal votes to another, both are docked till all programs have the same vote totals in which case a tie is declared and worn to three funerals in seven years, the only time I ever touch my black jacket, which is wool and quite hot in summer, a bad time to die.  (Ibid.)  Any vote accompanied by cash is weighted in direct proportion to the side orders it can buy.  Programs in tropical areas get preference in winter.  Formulas do not apply.





  1. Charlie writes:

    Vermont College of Fine Arts!

  2. Sarah B writes:

    Vermont College of Fine Arts

  3. Sarah B writes:

    Vermont College of Fine Arts!

  4. Jessica writes:

    Vermont College of Fine Arts!

  5. DCR writes:
  6. Natalia writes:

    Vermont College of Fine Arts!!!!

  7. Suzanne writes:
  8. P.E. writes:

    Vermont College of Fine Arts.


  9. Sarah writes:

    Vermont College of Fine Arts!

  10. Shoma writes:
  11. Jean writes:
  12. Richard writes:

    1. American University
    2. Vermont College of Fine Arts

  13. Clint McCown writes:

    Virginia Commonwealth University
    Vermont College of Fine Arts

  14. Robin Behn writes:

    Vermont College of Fine Arts!

  15. Robin Behn writes:
  16. Aurelie writes:

    University of Arizona!

  17. Cat writes:
  18. Zach writes:
  19. Kristen writes:
  20. Jeremy Hawkins writes:
  21. PSG writes:

    Alabama, Alabama. RTR

  22. Mark Neely writes:

    Alabama. And, of course, Alabama.