Po-Comm vs Po-Bizz: ALC, MFA, & a Free workshop for Emerging Writers of Color


been away from blogworld for a minute, but have been thoroughly entertained by all the discussion about seth abramson’s for-profit ALC and the MFA industrial complex in general. one friend emailed me and asked: “how can you stand to read any of the dribble that seth writes on his blog or in comment boxes defending ALC?”

now friends, let’s be fair, seth doesn’t write dribble (tho he was a defense attorney, so his defensiveness is only natural). no no, seth quite skillfully blog-comments in a style that the ancient greek rhetoricians called “dumbsiopesis”–that is, you write 10,000 words of convoluted logic to only end up saying something dumb. a rare rhetorical device, but one that seth has mastered (unlike this here blog where it only takes me a few sentences to say something dumb).

it would be fun (tho too time consuming) to take apart most of his defenses, but like silliman, i have a soft spot for defense attorneys, so i’ll go easy and just focus on one thing he wrote, which segments nicely to the main point of this post.

on the advertising-blog for the creative writing handbook, seth writes in a comment (you can read the whole rather entertaining thread here):

I know that, pre-MFA, nearly every single MFA applicant in the country takes advantage of some resource or another–some free, some for-fee–to get feedback on their work. If it was easy to get free feedback, and/or if free feedback was synonymous with high-quality feedback, ALC wouldn’t exist.

let’s be clear, ALC exists because the founders want to make money. if they didnt exist merely for profit, they would instead have fulfilled the perceived lack of for-free feedback. for example, they could’ve rounded up all the talented Iowa alum and created a non-profit called ‘IWAMN’ (‘Iowa Writers Alumni Mentorship Network’), which would provide free advice to MFA applicants and free portfolio reviews–connecting writers to possible mentors. clearly, ALC only exists because the founders werent interested in creating something based on community.

in a previous post, i asked why ALC is for-profit and ACENTOS FOUNDATION is for-free? the answer: one group is more concerned about Po-Bizz and the other is more concerned about Po-Comm. Money vs. Community.

a few of us here in the Bay Area have decided to take a first step towards expressing the spirit of community to those in the bay area who are interested in applying to an MFA or to other kinds of writing programs. here is the official announcement, from barbara jane reyes’ blog:

I’ve been in a series of emails with Oscar and Craig, especially after the latest MFA Industrial Complex round of blog posts. We’ve decided to do a joint event between PAWA and Achiote Press for emerging writers of color interested in learning about community and college writing programs.

The event will take place at SFPL on 12/06/09, from 1:00 to 4:00 pm. A formal announcement is forthcoming.

  • Part I: Panelists will speak on their experiences as writers of color in community writing programs such as VONA, KSW Intergenerational Writers’ Lab, Kundiman, Cave Canem.
  • Part II: Panelists will speak on their experiences as writers of color in their respective MFA programs, the application process, the benefits and challenges of pursuing the MFA degree.
  • Part III: An extensive Q&A.

yes, this event is free. because we know there are many writers out there (many of them being young writers of color) who can’t afford for-profit services but who desire mentoring nonetheless (mentors are different than consultants). in addition, we believe that those of us with the privilege of having gone thru either MFA or community programs should help others who desire to get into these programs–for free, for community.

everyone, let’s support efforts in the poetry world that value community over profit, mentorship over consultation, support over competition.

and let’s warn against & shame those who don’t.


7 thoughts on “Po-Comm vs Po-Bizz: ALC, MFA, & a Free workshop for Emerging Writers of Color

  1. Hi Craig. Thanks for the interesting blog. While there is an MFA industrial complex, there is definitely a PhD industrial complex too. The expansion of both MFA and PhD programs in some cases has more to do with money than education. But not all MFA programs are capitalistic and unethical, just like not all PhD programs are capitalistic and unethical. There are many PhD and MFA programs that are doing good work, but of course it’s not necessary to be part of them in order to do good work in literature or ethnic studies.

    And I don’t really think it’s called dumbsiopesis, though that’s funny. What Seth is engaged in is a bit of sophistry, but in all fairness it’s a technique you sometimes employ yourself to support some groups over others without a whole lot of knowledge about what you’re talking about. In other words, when you say organization A is good and organization B is bad you’re sometimes cherry-picking based what’s convenient for you and an extreme bias for one kind of community over another. That’s hardly community building. You’ve also been critical of some non-profits and supportive of others without a whole lot of fact based reasoning behind the discussion.

    While I admire your advocacy for po-comm, particularly the joint event between PAWA and Achiote looks amazing, there is an egocentric and self-serving tone to your discussions. The thing about ALC, as offense as this service is, is that people have the option to either hire them or not. Anyone would be foolish to waste money on such a service. While students do have the option of choosing their professor (most of the time), they do not have the option of choosing which books they have to read for a class. As the person who posted below alluded to, I’m sure some of Susan Schultz’s students are rightfully going to be suspect about how she’s teaching a book she publishes. It’s not too far removed from the ridiculousness of professors teaching their own book. In both cases the arrogance is hard to ignore. Under these kinds of models pretty soon people are going to be teaching their own self-published books. More so, it is really hard not to acknowledge that at least part of the reason Susan is teaching a book she publishes has to do with marketing, which is to say po-bizz, ie promotion, or sales, or money. While your book may be really good, I wonder if any other professors are teaching it, because having your own publisher assign the text hardly legitimizes the paper it’s printed on or the time the students will have to spend reading it.

  2. anon, do you have either an mfa or phd? if not, let's be clear: an mfa is like purgatory and a phd is pure hell. only kidding my friend…i love school and learning.

    dumbsiopesis is funnier than sophistry…sophistry just sounds way too hygienic for my taste 😉

    fact based reasoning? knowledge? are you in the social sciences? po-snooze.

    thanks for admiring my egocentric and self-serving tone!

    did you read the ALC website carefully? it says quite clearly that people do not not have the option to either hire them or not. but thanks anyways captain obvious.

    obviously, you know nothing about susan, or pacific island lit, or tinfish press. don't have time to explain everything to you.

    to take it one step further, soon people are going to teach their own self-published books to themselves at charter schools that they themselves founded!

    you wonder if other professors are teaching my book? haha–you better ask about me!


  3. Yes, dumbsiopesis is definitely funnier. So is your use of exclamation points and emoticons. And though I have degrees I’ve never found any degree in and of itself impressive whether it was conferred from purgatory or hell. So yes, I love school and learning too. I think we can agree how shameful it is when those things are manipulated for unethical reasons. More so though I love the people, regardless of their affiliation to ideologies, or presses, or academic institutions, or non-profit institutions, that make learning interesting, thoughtful, and open.

    Sorry I did not read the ALC website carefully because I determined pretty early on how much of a waste of my time it was.

    I do know a little about Susan and her press. I’ve had the privilege of meeting her actually. She’s an interesting lady who does valuable work. So I guess I don’t know much about pacific island lit though. It’s interesting you don’t have time to explain everything to me. Do you mean you don’t have the time right now or ever? It’s interesting that you dismiss the opportunity to explain something you’re clearly passionate about particularly considering you sometimes take time to talk about things you clearly know very little about. Anyway, if you do ever find the time I’d love to read more about your relationship with Susan and Tinfish and Pacific Island Lit.

    I better ask about you? Do you have any suggestions on where to go to find a straight answer? Best of luck to you Craig. Thanks for what time you do seem to have.

  4. dear

    ok ok i usually don't delete anonymous comments but i also never take them seriously–so i'll be straight now since you seem genuine–

    seems we agree on shamefulness, and thoughtful people–but i will critique their ideologies or institutions if i disagree or find offensive.

    ah you should really read the ALC website, it's amusing 😉

    susan totally rocks–agreed. here's why susan teaching my book is more about po-comm than po-bizz. if you taught a poetry class at the univ of hawaii, you would teach at least a few pacific islander writers right (along with other international writers, of course)? tinfish press has published some of the most important books by PI writers–esp if you are interested in 'experimental' pacific writing. so, if susan wanted to teach an avant-PI text, she would understandably choose a tinfish text. again, that's not about business or marketing…it's about the fact that tinfish press is the foremost publisher of this kind of work, imho. make sense?

    since you're asking about me, yes my book has been taught by other people besides susan. i know of 10 other univ classes that my book was taught (some of which i had the pleasure to visit). this ranges from univs in NY, CA, OR, HI, and Guam, to name a few.

    my book was taught twice this summer at UC berkeley…and will be taught in at least 5 classes that i know of this coming school year (including one high school in hawaii).

    there is an interesting question that you previous comment made me think about. i also taught at berkeley this summer (a reading and comp course)–and i taught six books, 3 of which were poetry.

    anyways, so i had to leave my class one day to visit one of the classes that was teaching my book–so my students knew that their peers were reading my book.

    on the last day of class, one of my students asked me why i didnt teach my own book in our class. surprised at this question, my first response was that i wanted to teach the books i taught because i really liked those book. plus, i also admitted that i wouldve felt a little uncomfortable.

    when i asked the students if they wouldve felt uncomfortable, they said no. one student even said that it makes sense for them to learn about a book from the author him/herself because they know the work better than most. what's your thoughts on this? or anyone out there following along?

  5. Boy Craig, I am in so many different places with this right now, it's hard to know which end is up. But since you mentioned Acentos Foundation by name, let me offer a little prelude to what will end up being my own post on the subject(s).

    ALC and Acentos Foundation offer very different things, indeed. But I think where we merge is in the idea of access. Access to what? For the ALC it's definitely a business concern, an investment. For us, it's definitely a community concern. So you're right on that point. But Acentos can be said to offer access, like ALC and MFA programs ostensibly do, to QUALITY time with writers. And not even necessarily residency-level manuscript critique, but definitely access to the nebulous world of writers and poets that can move hobby writers into serious craft practitioners.

    What we do, and what spaces like Cave Canem and Kundiman do, is offer real access to real writers and empower individuals to pursue writing on their own terms. Until organizations like those came along, though, that access was not FREE. Interesting times going forward, I'd say, especially as the MFA loses its luster as a job-getter.

    Scratching the surface here.

  6. I should also point out: it is not out of the realm of possibility, considering it's already happening on a smaller scale, that Acentos will run a weeklong residency for Latino/a poets next summer. We're already doing a festival in April. Why the hell not?

  7. rich, always a pleasure to hear from you.

    been admiring all that acentos does, and loving its developments & commitment to providing quality, free access.

    def why i pointed out how seth's comment about the lack of free quality feedback is merely a 'perceived lack' cuz there are many orgs that do offer free (or scholarship based) high-quality feedback. granted, these orgs dont focus specifically on mfa apps, but as you point out that doesnt mean the feedback wont improve an mfa app (just by improving a writer's confidence, knowledge, etc) if folks decide to apply.

    'access' is a really profound intersection. reveals a lot.

    excited about the idea of a residency! and about the fest! wish i could be there!

    and glad you mentioned cave canem & kundiman, achiote press is collaborating with some west coast kundiman folks on a project that will be made public in a few weeks


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