(Above) The family tree of Christoph von Waldburg-Zeil-Trauchburg.
A mathematician’s “” indicates the degrees of collaborative separation between a mathematician and the prolific and influential Paul Erdös. And North Dakota State University’s “Mathematics Genealogy Project” does as its name implies—it tracks the mentors and students of mathematicians. Here, for example, is the listing for the famous German mathematician, David Hilbert, who is noted as having 75 students and 20579 descendents: . These two examples represent concretely that mathematicians are networked across time and geographic borders. They talk about these networks and live them each day. Because they matter.
What is the genealogy of creative writing? In the U.S., creative writing is officially an academic discipline (The Association of Writers & Writing Programs 15 MFA programs in 1975, 64 in 1994, 184 in 2010). As the journal n +1 (perhaps solemnly) delivers in MFA vs. NYC: “We are all MFAs now.” Regardless of whether or not we are happy with this fact, MFA programs are our lineage. But how we draw the lines between you and mewithin this new and calcifying discipline is entirely up to us.
In part because of MFA programs, we now have a larger and more invested group of knowledgeable readers; writers are offered security to write and to live as teachers; our young writers are offered time and space inside of which to finely tune their crafts and passions. While all of these are undoubtedly positive, I also find myself wondering: Why have we chosen GRE scores over creating our own folklore of the connections between writers—real, fleshy and inspirational writers? Why have we decided to follow tick mark programs of study versus traveling the world to visit (and learn from) those writers who inspire us most? Why have we chosen to wrestle with automated application procedures—and non-trivial application fees—versus just contacting writers that we admire? And making ourselves available for that same contact? Feeding the Masters Program cash cow in order to be able to list this or that school on our website or resume is a dirty and unfulfilling way to spend $15-$80K. But if we focus on program rankings and test scores, we can reduce our experiences to just that.
What would a Creative Writing Genealogy look like? Over the course of subsequent blog posts in this theme, I hope to investigate the stories of mentorship for today’s young writers. I plan to investigate how those relationships come about and flourish, to recognize that it is community and friendship that provides necessary guidance and support to writers. To help remember that it is out of unique and inspiring networks of really cool people that the most delicious poetry and prose are borne.