University writing programs have been going full-steam for over forty years. Every year hundreds of millions of dollars are invested in the hundreds of them and the many related seminars, retreats, symposiums, and related ass-kissing bullshit.
By contrast, the investment in the ULA and its writers in its four-year history has been in the thousands of bucks, scraped up catch-as-catch-can. YET, there is already more edge, energy, and relevance in our writings than in that of the combined millions of sheep who've received their MFA degrees-- their proper blue-ribbon certification. At worst, we're competitive with our poetry and prose. (College poetry is so bad that any streetcorner bard beats it.) When it comes to performance and the presentation of exciting lit personalities, there are no MFAers who can even come close to us. We wipe the lot of them off any stage.
To say that MFA programs produce some or a few decent writers, given the investment made in them (the greatest investment made in writers in any society at any time of human history) is, given the context, no argument at all. There's a few "okay" ones out there. Well, I would hope so!
The simple fact is that the body of work over the years doesn't justify the massive investment. Since literature began relying on schools to produce its writers, American literature has steadily declined. The failure speaks for itself.
MFA writers insist they haven't been harmed by the programs. A steady parade of grads leave the factory, walking in straight lines, neatly attired, expressions bland if not blank; pod person eyes devoid of spark of intelligent life. They look the same and sound alike. "Affected? We were not affected at all," a few insist, then hurriedly get back in line. There they go, marching forward, marching, marching! onward ho! Where they're headed they do not know.
Pick up one of the many hundreds of "literary" journals out there and the sameness of poetry and fiction is instantly familiar. Conformist lit-- practically generic.
The purpose of the ULA-- an outgrowth of the D-I-Y "zine" movement-- is to provide an alternative way of producing writers; writers gaining a feel for their art through the production and distribution of zeens. We don't say we're the only way to produce writers. We do offer a sound alternative. For the ULA to suddenly begin to absorb some of the huge mass of MFAers who are out there would be to soon destroy the integrity and existence of this alternative.
The ULA at its outset was like a band of anarchist pirates. Our first presentations were outrageous. We weren't out to "get along" with anyone. (We couldn't even get along with ourselves.) That was our nature. While I'm sure we'll bring in some MFA writers at some point-- those who show they understand what D-I-Y is about-- if we open our doors too wide our little pirate ship will be swamped by bureaucratic conformists-- by demi-puppets. Our Manifesto is still relevant. To understand the ULA, that remains the starting point.
I've spent over twelve years, beginning with New Philistine, pointing out the many problems of writing programs, in too many words to post here. I've exchanged views on such with program advocates such as Madison Bell-- who having written a textbook is kind of an authority on the subject, giving the best defense possible from an establishment viewpoint. On-line outlets such as Salon and Ironminds (now defunct), have in the past pointed to me as a leading opponent of such production factories. (I haven't been the only critic of them.) I sincerely believe that they, and the entire system, and the accommodations demanded by it of writers, is harmful to the art. As proof I can point to the best MFA story writer of them all, Mary Gaitskill, whose strongest work yet seems confined in a kind of straitjacket of craft-- wanting to burst out of its limitations but not doing so; and whose more recent work, for The New Yorker and such, shows a noticeable falling-off. Our goal is to produce writers who surpass Ms. Gaitskill in the very things she does best; the strength and reality of her vision and prose. We're on the way toward doing this, and will do so, if we stay the course and not fall into institutional confinements.
In short, to ask me, of all people, to accommodate the MFA process, when I've made opposition to it a focal point of my noise, is ridiculous. It'd be like asking Lenin to become a capitalist, St. Peter to accommodate Nero about to crucify him upside down, or James Brown to start singing bland show tunes. Such accommodation will have to wait for some future stage in the ULA's history.