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The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing
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The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  106 ratings  ·  19 reviews

In The Program Era, Mark McGurl offers a fundamental reinterpretation of postwar American fiction, asserting that it can be properly understood only in relation to the rise of mass higher education and the creative writing program. McGurl asks both how the patronage of the university has reorganized American literature and—even more important—how the increasing intimacy of

Kindle Edition, 480 pages
Published (first published April 15th 2009)
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Marco Kaye
I've never read literary theory before “The Program Era,” which I became interested in after reading Charles McGrath's article in the New York Times ( and in Louis Menand's piece in the New Yorker (

I got about a hundred pages in before someone else at the Mutlnomah County Library put it on hold. Then I put it on hold, and this unknown reader and I would volley it back and fourth over the space of a few months before I finally finished it.
Joe Amato
Mark McGurl must be from outer space.

I'll come back to that.


Mark McGurl's The Program Era might be as important for what it gets right as for what it occasionally gets wrong.


Mark McGurl's The Program Era is perhaps the most important book of The Program Era, an essential text in the newly energized field we might call "creative writing studies," after Graeme Harper and Jeri Kroll's Creative Writing Studies: Practice, Research, and Pedagogy (Multilingual Matters, 2007). And writte
Greg Brown
An awesome book if you're already interested in the premise: exploring most of 20th century American literature through the lens of the creative writing program, and how many can be easily and beneficially understood as reactions to that program. However, it's a rough ask if you aren't, since the chapters are incredibly long—up to 70 pages in length—and constitute a free-flowing narrative on the different elements of creative writing programs and how they're instantiated in up to a dozen cases e ...more
Elisabeth Stevens
After reading a belated review in The New York Review of Books of Mark McGurl’s The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing of 2009, I ordered the 466-page study, read it immediately, and found it fascinating and timely.

McGurl, an English professor at Stamford University, focuses on the Post-World-War-II rise of “creative writing” as a serious academic subject. He chronicles favorite writers such as Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor and others who were trained at the ground
As a critic, McGurl widens (and narrows, for he is an inveterate psychologizer, a modulator) our sense of the context for fifty to a hundred American fictive texts, none of which is he trying to rank. As a scholar, he travels amid the discursive formations these widely-ranging fictions have attracted, and offers a map of the field that emboldens me to read further in it. As a theorist, his maps are lovingly dialectical, they keep synthesizing and re-emerging in their differences, in their capaci ...more
very thought-provoking. argument on postwar american lit has replaced a sense of historical textuality (if there was one, that is, which is not clear, given the postwar nature of the materials) with the aura of the "encounter with the living writer." i'm not convinced that I agree with McCurl's criteria for the "best" literary fiction, but he does account for the obsession with writerliness at the expense of reading in a convincing way. i wish he had a third thing: NOT 1) the "influence" paradig ...more
A compelling argument that places the creative writing program at the center of postwar fiction. It's a premise that makes so much sense and an argument so persuasive that in retrospect I can't believe someone hasn't carried out this analysis already. It's also extremely readable. My only major complaint is that the book doesn't need to be as long as it is.
Jim O'Loughlin
The is a brilliant book that will change the way I teach about contemporary American fiction. It is a welcome corrective to the all-too-common knee jerk condemnation of all work related to creative writing programs. This book tries to take seriously what it means when academic experience comes to dominate literary fiction.

This book is authoritative and wide ranging (though the cost of that is a book that's longer than is necessary). What I liked most about it were the many moments when McGurl o
Douglas Penick
This book is far more favorable than many might be to the results of the uniform application of fairly standardized teaching methods to literature. Nonetheless, Mr. McGurl makes clear how the writing program approach has come to dominate writing, editing and general literary standards in the US.

For instance, readers may find it illuminating to discover that the trinity of nostrums: 'Write what you know' ; 'Find your voice'; and 'Show don't tell' are the watchwords of writing program tutelage.

Geoff Wyss
I wanted this one to be better. When McGurl is actually performing readings of novels and stories, he's good. (He 'reads' some of the major 20th Century American writers, and thus their work, as products of the workshop system.) But too much of the book reads like a repurposed dissertation: Larded down with critical scaffolding that is, by turns, irrelevant, show-offy, unreadably gnarled, and repetitive. The theory makes McGurl timid; its hair-splitting teaches him that the thing to be most fear ...more
Moira Russell
Mar 31, 2011 Moira Russell marked it as to-read
Shelves: ebook, on-the-kindle
The Ponzi Workshop


Show or Tell

Chronicle profile (paywall)

LRB ("McGurl appears to believe that ‘point of view’ was somehow invented by Henry James.")

Critical Flame (not sure if this is journal or website)
Lukas Evan
Man, I should've gotten my creative writing degree.
By Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Irish Examiner:
"There's much food for thought in what McGurl has to say about literary trends. Most, interesting, though, is his sensitive exploration of the interplay between individual writers and the Creative Writing programs...Opinionated and lively...He delivers a cornucopia of exciting new ideas and insights in a work which will be indispensable reading for teachers and students of creative writing, and for anyone interested in modern fiction...[A:] complex, energetic
This is a big and important (and, fortunately, very well written) book about the influence of creative writing instruction on postwar literary production. It's frankly a scandal that this book wasn't written long ago -- there have been histories of creative writing, like D.G. Myer's The Elephants Teach, but not as far as I know a literature-focused history that systematically studies how creative writing pedagogy shapes literature -- but we're lucky to have such a surefooted guide through this t ...more
Gabriel Oak
A compelling literary history, and easily the most exciting, accessible, intelligent work of literary criticism I've read in several years.
a great example of all that an academic book can be- funny, well-written, sophisticated and expansive in themes and subject matter. anyone who has a humanities degree from a college or university should read it. I will be interested to talk to some people who have read a lot of the scholarship on post-war american fiction and see what they think about it.
Much more literary analysis and theory and much less history than I expected. McGurl achieves what one should in the post-po-mo domain of literary studies and does it with clarity and flair.
Stuff on Cuckoo's Nest and Ken Kesey is great. A bit too "scholarly" for my taste. But well done. Took me almost five years to read the whole thing. Not a criticism. Just the truth.
Christopher Alessandrini
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