Welcome to the inaugural installment of a new weekly feature from PW, a digest of the big goings-on in the creative writing community and in the world of M.F.A. programs and university presses.
Little controversies have been bubbling up and settling down this week. A promising conclusion seems to be at hand for the future of University of Akron Press. After the University of Akron fired the staff of the press a few weeks ago as a part of a massive swath of budgets cuts, an outcry went up across the Web and in the media against the loss the press's editors and their beloved poetry series. This week, the press announced it would rehire the staff and allow the press to resume its normal activities.
The Association of Writers and Writing programs, sponsor of the annual AWP conference, came under scrutiny this week after LSU M.F.A. program director Laura Mullen tweeted a question about the diversity breakdown of panels accepted for the 2016 conference, which were recently announced. The poet and blogger Sandra Beasley summarized the ensuing back-and-forth between Mullen and AWP director David Fenza on her blog. That blog post was then mysteriously tagged as offensive on Facebook and blocked from newsfeeds, which caused further confusion and suspicion. On Wednesday, AWP published a response on its own site, and then a petition calling for increased transparency, accessibility and diversity at AWP went up at Change.org.
In less controversial news, the University of Iowa Press just announced a new book prize for nonfiction and essay writers. Joining its other book-publication contests in poetry and fiction, the new Iowa Prize in Literary Nonfiction will award book publication to an author of a nonfiction book between 40,000-90,000 words. The submissions, which will be accepted beginning in October, will be screened by U of Iowa faculty John D'Agata, and the final judge will be Richard Preston.
The Academy of American Poets also announced a new program this week, Teach This Poem, which will supply teachers who sign up with a weekly poem from the Academy's archive as well as teaching materials to create lesson plans around that poem.
Finally, the New York Times Book Review is devoting this week's "Bookends" column to the subject of M.F.A.s, pitting Siddhartha Deb and Ayana Mathis head to head on the perennial question "Why get an M.F.A.?" Except they don't really take opposite sides--at least not from each other. At one point, Deb says, " I know a great many talented writers who teach in M.F.A. programs. How could anyone not learn from them?" Mathis asserts that "[i]n the end, literature is what matters. We must write it well — as many of us as possible, by whatever means we are able." But both of their essays hover around a more-difficult-to-settle question: whether M.F.A.s help or hurt those without privilege, to whom Deb says, "you already know that you are operating in enemy territory."