This past spring I took a position as a visiting writer at a well-respected MFA program. My students were by and large intelligent and serious, but there were a few moments when I found them—what’s the word I’m looking for here—exasperating.
One day before the fiction workshop, for instance, we got into a discussion about the Best American Short Stories series, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. To my astonishment, a number of students made comments indicating their disdain for the annual anthology.
“Wait a second,” I said. “The stories in those collections are always great.”
There was an awkward pause. Then one of them said, “You’re being ironic, right?”
At this point, I sort of lost it. I told my students that they had every right to dislike particular stories, but that dismissing them entirely was foolish. Then I added something along the lines of, “Why don’t you guys publish a story in Best American and then you can sit in judgment of them.”
It was not my finest moment as a teacher. (And, for the record, I later apologized to the entire class.) It was an impulsive reaction to what I’ve come to think of over the years as the Problem of Entitlement.
I mean by this that a significant number of the students I’ve encountered in creative writing programs display a curious arrogance toward published authors, as well as an inflated sense of their own talents and importance. The same attitudes often prevail in those online precincts where new and emerging writers congregate.