Last year, I went to a writing conference in Boston. One of the first panel discussions was about how a writer claims authority, how it is that a writer asserts that he or she possesses the expertise to write about a topic, and how concomitantly the editor reading through the submission slush pile can determine whether the writer is someone who can claim authority as a writer.
One of the panelists, an editor, offered that the first thing he looked for when skimming through the cover letter was whether the writer possessed an MFA. He did this, he hastened to qualify, not because it guaranteed that the submitter would be a better writer, but because taking a year or two off out of one’s life to dedicate oneself to writing proved that one was serious as a writer. I came off my chair in anger—how could he assert such a thing? My friend pulled me back down, but I continued to fume. Who has more dedication: the person who has the financial wherewithal to spend time in a writing program, or the writer who writes despite having to work full-time, early in the morning, with absolutely no one but themselves for motivation? As another panel member offered their method for detecting “dedication,” I flashed back to sitting with Fred Busch as he recounted stories from his early days of working all day and spending time with his wife and son in the early evening and then taking the typewriter into the bathroom, so as not to wake his sleeping family, and writing as much as he could before fatigue demanded he go to bed. How much more dedication did one need to prove beyond that? But that’s not exactly something you can put on a resume. That panelist’s misguided assumption, that an MFA necessarily connotes greater dedication to writing, reveals an all too common blindness to the easy privilege of those with financial security.