This being graduation season, let’s lift our eye from freelancing for a moment and consider the paths open to those just emerging from college. If the goal is to be a writer, where does one begin as one bursts from the starting gate?
One path winds through graduate school — either a Master’s in Fine Arts or Master’s in Journalism. All the people I know who earned an MFA claim to be glad they did so. Thomas Beller , an accomplished writer who is friend of ours in New Orleans, got an MFA at Columbia and says he genuinely learned a lot. Plus, he now has a “terminal degree” — he’s gone as far in his field academically as it’s possible to go, there being no PhD in creative writing — which let him get a tenure-track professorship at Tulane. (A similar position opened at Tulane just as Nine Lives was being published and I figured I’d have a shot, having just published a popular and well-reviewed book about the city. I didn’t qualify, though, because I didn’t have a terminal degree. “I’ve had a terminal illness,” I said. “Does that count?” — This was in my intracancer period , after my 1992 testicular cancer and before my 2015 brain cancer.– I remember wishing I’d gotten an MFA, and even took the Graduate Record Exams, at age 50, in preparation for doing so.)
My wife and writing partner, Margaret, got a Master’s in Journalism after college, which she says helped her in several ways. First, she found a really terrific mentor in the person of Wes Mauer, who not only taught her a good deal about journalistic integrity and the use of the language; he also gave her her first job at his small community newspaper on Mackinac Island, where she learned about community newspapering and wrote a lot. She also met there people who helped her get her next job, at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which is where Margaret and I met.
\Then there is the path I took, which I’ll take up tomorrow….