Back To Schedule
Saturday, March 14 • 11:00am - 12:50pm
Doctoring the Syllabus: Racialized Narratives of "Professionalization" in Creative Writing PhD Curricula

Sign up or log in to save this to your schedule, view media, leave feedback and see who's attending!

This past year, a Junot Diaz article in The New Yorker ("MFA vs POC") and a subsequent NPR article ("In Elite MFA Programs, the Struggle of Writing While 'Other'") helped give new life to an ongoing conversation about race, representation, and access to the resources and opportunities the MFA often provides. The latter piece tracked the experiences of several Iowa Writers Workshop alumna from skeptical-acceptees-and-frustrated-students to successful-authors-and-now-faculty-at-their-alma-mater, expressing determination to change the program's racial landscape, from the bodies in the room to the undertones of career advice and workshop discussion. The piece did not, however, acknowledge the rise of the Creative Writing PhD as a prerequisite for such faculty positions, especially for job candidates of color, who are systematically required to be "twice as good to get half as much" in every professional field. In light of this--and foregrounding our agreement that it is imperative that student and faculty demographics in doctoral programs reflect the growing diversity of many higher education institutions--this panel specifically interrogates the curricular experience that attends the PhD's "professionalization" of writers for academic careers.

In other words: How, and to what degree, do doctoral course offerings support the writers of color that these programs claim to value? Furthermore: If doctoral programs that do recruit underrepresented students also require/offer courses that reinforce the notion of Eurocentric Whiteness as the voice and locus of literary authority, what implicit message does this send to writers of color about the market, field, and institutions that await them? This panel presents for discussion the results of a crowdsourced survey of more than 20 Creative Writing PhD programs' course syllabi, privileging the following qualitative and quantitative concerns:


  • Does the coursework reflect the need for competency when teaching not only diverse groups of students, but also diverse literatures?
  • How present are people of color in assigned texts? Do syllabi reflect a fairly typical tokenism when it comes to writers of color and/or texts that engage race and raced experiences?
  • If departments do not have the staffing to offer courses in more diverse literatures, how open are the programs of study to pursuit of these literatures in other departments?

We propose to look at the Fall 2014 semester in particular, a small but relevant sample size that is meant as a starting point for a broader, deeper, and more direct conversation with Creative Writing PhD programs than we’ve seen before.


avatar for Adam Atkinson

Adam Atkinson

PhD student, Literature and Creative Writing; Graduate Instructor, Gender Studies, University of Utah


Sarah Vap

Sarah Vap is the author of five collections of poetry. The most recent are Arco Iris (Saturnalia Books), which was named a Library Journal Book Best Book of 2012 and End of the Sentimental Journey (Noemi Press, 2013). She is a recipient of a 2013 National Endowment of the Arts... Read More →

Saturday March 14, 2015 11:00am - 12:50pm MDT
UC 330

Attendees (0)