This issue features a “micro-interview” with Mark McGurl, conducted by Lee Konstantinou. Mark McGurl is a professor at UCLA, where he teaches classes on American literature and culture. His new book, The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing, locates an unlikely cast of writers—Flannery O’Connor, Toni Morrison, Thomas Pynchon, Raymond Carver, and Philip Roth, among others—squarely in the context of the growth of creative-writing programs in the U.S. after World War II.
THE BELIEVER: Let me ask a few traitorous questions: Aren’t we supposed to decry the state of literary art? Aren’t readers, according to our big public critics, dumber than ever? Aren’t our writers perpetual nonreaders, illiterate licentious slobs corrupted by movies, television, the Internet, and other fashionable nonsense?
MARK McGURL: If you want to get a sense of how much interesting fiction has been created in the postwar period, try to write a book with pretensions of saying something about postwar fiction as a whole! You will immediately be brought up against the sheer magnitude and variety of the field, and you will constantly be discovering not great individual works, but entire careers that one must take very seriously. I know that the usual argument is that the passage of time will separate the literary wheat from the chaff, and that someday we will all agree who the few important writers of this time really were and be allowed to forget the rest. But part of me rebels against this notion. Partly owing to the expansion of higher education and the rise of creative-writing instruction, the talent pool from which contemporary fiction draws is substantially larger than it ever was before, and the result has been an explosion of strong writing.
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