TRADITIONALLY artists have been the most disordered of personalities; the least likely to stay within the lines. What we get now from our writers, however, are individuals most likely to conform in order to make it through the long MFA winnowing process. They’re not living in unruly bohemia. They’re raising their hands, for years, at the head of a class. They’re taught that the process, the rules, the obedience, is more important than the art. The survivors of the endless hoop-jumping are those best able to put their personalities and their craft within a box. They could just as well be bankers or accountants.
The result is the creation of bureaucrats more than artists. To the bureaucrat, following the regulations is all. Our literary bureaucrats can produce spotlessly clean well-regulated manuscripts. What they’re not giving us is great art.
I’m proud of the fact that when I ran the Underground Literary Alliance I recruited many writers from the underside of America, underdogs who’d been otherwise ignored. Those who came from broken families and broken worlds—truly broken—who’d been kicked in the head once or twice and hadn’t known only achievement and success. Who’d viewed this mad society from the bottom up and railed against it, seen the disordered world, knew the inequities, brutalities, and tragedies so fully part of the world and wrote about them.