Joshua Henkin's new novel Matrimony has just been published by Pantheon, and is an ABA October Book Sense pick. His first novel, Swimming Across the Hudson, was selected by the Los Angeles Times as a notable book of the year. His short stories, essays, and reviews have been published in many journals and newspapers. He teaches in the MFA programs at Sarah Lawrence College and Brooklyn College. He lives in Brooklyn; visit him online at www.joshuahenkin.com.
By Josh Henkin
Like many fiction writers, I spend a lot of time in the classroom. I received my MFA in the early 1990s, and since then I have been teaching in MFA programs, trying to help aspiring writers improve their craft. What gives me pause, however, is the degree to which young writers view an MFA the way law students view law school: as a professional degree, a way to advance their career. Although many MFA graduates do get published, enrolling in an MFA program in order to get published strikes me as unwise.
Iím not arguing that itís simply a matter of being good and that publishing will take care of itself. Itís just that the question of what gets published seems so arbitrary that the best thing I can do is focus on the writing and hope that sets my students on the right path. What a New Yorker reader wants to read, what a Harperís reader wants to read, shouldnít be on the mind of a writer, certainly not as she sits down to write.
But my students continue to worry about publishing, and though I canít entirely blame them (what writer doesnít worry about publishing?), thereís an irony to their concern. The same students who want to publish their work are often curiously unconcerned with entertaining their readers, with doing what a friend of mine, a Pulitzer-Prize-winning novelist, calls the writerís principal obligation: to get the reader to dance with you. In short, more
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