It's my turn to give the departmental talk on jobs in creative writing, in a couple weeks. The graduate students in writing will be the main audience--we have masters students and Ph.D.'s in creative writing at the University of Tennessee. The Associated Writing Program website online is the best source I have access to, with its job lists, career articles, and graphs. The link is http://awpwriter.org/m/awpjobs/careerServices/links. From the graphs, one would think that the job situation is pretty lively in creative writing, more so than in some of the other English specializations.
The problem is that none of the statistics are recent. This past two years have solidified the recession in many parts of the country; there have been state cutbacks for education, if Tennessee is any example. So there are hiring freezes. But some schools are still hiring, with the permission of the administrations. Even so, creative writing programs continue to proliferate, writers are seeking M.F.A's and Ph.D's. In 1975, there were 80 programs granting graduate degrees. Now there are more than 720, and the number grows. There are thousands of newly-minted M.F.A's each year who will be applying for less than 200 tenure-track jobs. The rest of them may get hired as temporary instructors, full or part-time. The pay is low, the hours are strenuous. The potential for being exploited is vast.
According to AWP, non-academic jobs for creative writers have increased, in publishing, editing, and in advertising. Here, too, the numbers are not current. They don't reflect what has happened to the economy this past year. But I do see that my former students who are not in academia now hold jobs with newspapers and magazines (Whitney Matheson is the fiction editor for USA Today online; Eric Dawson is the arts and culture editor for the Knoxville Voice; Michael Mayes heads up the marketing section of a major advertising firm in Dallas; Paige Travis does public relations for the entertainment firm that sponsors Bonnaroo.) Three of my recent grads teach at good private high schools; one is teaching English in Japan.
So what will I tell the eager but worried students. They will need to write and publish poems, stories, articles, and books. Eight of our former poetry students have published books or chapbooks in the last two years. They will need to be versatile, to have expertise in another area besides creative (composition, literature, translation, etc). They will need to be patient and give themselves at least a five-year window at least in the job application process. My colleague Allen Wier says ten years, to finish the novel.
They will need to cultivate their personal contacts, and network well. That may mean sending personal notes from time to time to former profs. Chocolate works, too. I hear from my former students all the time, and some are more skillful than others in keeping up, then asking for recommendations.
I would advise the grads to take the non-perfect job for now, if they want to stay in academia. Non-perfect means non-tenure-track. I started that way; so did at least one of my colleagues, Allen Wier. Michael Knight started out in advertising. He heads our creative writing program now. George Garrett was his mentor, and was also mentor to Allen Wier. Find a mentor, within your school, or elsewhere.
If the passionate motivation is not there to stay in teaching, then they would be well-advised to begin applying for editing jobs upon graduation. Technical editors make about twice as much as general editors, from the looks of the AWP statistics. So taking courses in technical editing while in grad school is a great idea.
Last week, one of the undergraduate women poets said, "I want your job. I want to be you when I grow up." I'll mentor her as well as I can. What I didn't say to her was that it took me ten years to get my degree in Comparative Literature; that I had two books out when I got this job, and a third at press. I spent five years working at a non-tenure-track job before I came to UT. Affirmative action was a factor, I believe, since the department was composed largely of male profs when I was hired on. And luck always plays a role.
I'd love to hear from others out there about your experiences in the job market; how you are making a living at writing, or how your employment keeps your writing, body and being aloft. Many thanks, Marilyn
Causes Marilyn Kallet Supports
Southern Poverty Law Center, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, ACLU, Amnesty International, Save Darfur.