Books Mar 4, 2015 at 4:00 am

A Response to the Insensitive, Shit-Stirring Rant That Made a Lot of People—Including Me—So Mad

He disparaged people whom I love, respect, and admire. James Yamasaki


Thank you for publishing a response by a thinking human being. The quality far outdoes the piece of crap it responds to.

I'm pretty unhappy with the quality of writing coming from The Stranger lately. Between Boudinot and the absolutely shitty "How to Order Wine" piece, it's starting to read like BuzzFeed.
@1 - this is a result of what happens when you cater to your advertisers.

If nothing else, this non-event offers a little peep into the world of the MFA-industrial complex. Writing for writers writing about writing. Next month, April is National Poetry Month, when we'll be flooded with thinkpieces questioning why there isn't a large readership of poetry, literary magazines, etc.
I now fully understand why the original piece was written.
Damn you are long winded. Sorry, I lost interest about a third of the way through. Perhaps you should invest in the services of a good editor.

Are you sure you were in an MFA Writing program?
"...the general consensus seemed to be that he was being an asshole about it."

I think you mean "the general consensus among those that he is writing about."

The rest of us thought it was spot-on.
Ah, academia. Such strong navel-gazing. Such violent disputes over such trivial matters. The more trivial, the bitterer.
What @3 said.

Also, It reminded me of a favorite exchange from The Office in which a character told another who'd been using an outrageous southern affectation, "you don't have to keep saying 'I do declare.' Any time you say something it means you are declaring."
Good grief! You cannot be serious. A literal diatribe to a literal diatribe. Please, please control yourselves. Ursula and I are clutching our pearls and weeping! Weeping, I tell you!!!
The best I can do is to not give a shit about Mr. Boudinot or the City of Literature idea (as opposed to giving a shit in an outraged, annoyed way). Not that I gave a shit before his piece came out, but it at least seemed like a nice idea when I heard about it on the radio. Now, the bad taste is in MY mouth, and wouldn't go out of my way to support or donate to a project run by someone who writes like an asshole, then doubles down on his assholery in an interview a week later. I guess if he apologized, I might reconsider. But so far it just reminds me too much of the dysfunctional management I've worked under. He might be a good novelist and a good critique but perhaps shouldn't be a representative and spokesperson for writing, writers, readers, and reading in the region.
oops, "good critic". Me bad writer, I guess.
This is the best thing I have ever read in The Stranger.
Refreshing change of pace from the recent rash of aggro-bro jerk-off articles that seem to have plagued The Stranger lately. I'd much rather read something that invokes thought and the sharing of ideas than something that exists merely to create polarity. On that note, if I see more articles by J.C. (and others like it), I might actually pick up a hard copy of The Stranger for once.
Wow, look at all the comments by people who resent the fact that they consider themselves to be superior writers, and are confused as to why the Stranger hasn't hired them. Admittedly the paper has been falling off for some time, but this is a pretty cogent assessment.

I too found Boudinot's comments to be disheartening and discouraging, and I'm not even applying a masters, I'm applying to UBC's creative writing BFA program. They have about a 30 percent acceptance rate, and they're top ranked. So yeah, I didn't really need all that shit about The Great Gatsby or other literary masterpieces I've failed to read. But I also came out of the hardest film program in Seattle and I learned more from the teachers that showed no mercy than I ever did from the ones that chivvied us along. They were few and far between. But at the same time, the boot-camp style instructors always gave us something to chew on, a direction to go. They threw us a fucking bone, in other words.

I think the problem here is not the quality of the writing students, but the fact that a Creative Writing MFA is pointless for anyone who wants to learn how to write. It's for people who can write already, and who are interested in furthering an academic career. So maybe if Boudinot is so fucking concerned about that, he should, I don't know, have a portfolio requirement. I'm only at BFA level, and I only have 30 pages or so to prove that I've got enough talent to fully take advantage of the workshops I'll hopefully be taking. I'm already fucking terrified about not getting in, so reading MFA teacher's rant about how most writing students are useless is not what I need.

So thanks for taking him to task on that. The only way that writing is going to remain a viable skillset in today's attention-deficit world is for education to be more open, not less. MFA programs need to be more than a club for the professor's favourites. In that scenario, they should be paying the goddamn students.
"Doesn't capitalism and a free-market economy mean people can "waste" their money on an education if they want and educators can profit by selling a service that's in demand?"

Except that we have a system set up whereby people at a rather impulsive stage in life can borrow vast sums of money which is not subject to normal debtor protection laws. That's bad enough when the degree can at least get them decent work, but it's downright criminal when the degree in question won't even get them an interview.

This kind of shit is a problem for the same reason payday loans and other nefarious lending practices are a problem. They take advantage of people.

Writing and arts are important and we should make it easier for people to do them, but that doesn't mean it's a great idea for 22 year olds to borrow 100k+ for a couple percent chance of doing it professionally. At least not without some legal protection if they wind up without much income.
@6&7 exactly!
For those of us who did not have our special, special snowflake egos coddled by our professors throughout our post secondary educations, Ryan's piece seemed cogent and frankly restrained. You don't like what he has to say? You think he's wrong? Then don't fucking listen to him. He's just some guy who is entitled to be as off the mark as anyone else. But quit boo-hooing about it. You think you're owed an apology? For realz? Get the fuck over yourself. Shit. You wouldn't have made through the first day of medicine or engineering, I'll tell you that.
Boudinot's article was tame obviousness. The whining it summoned bore him out. I think MFA CW programs are harmless and unfortunately, so are most graduates. If med schools had their record, the decibels would be too high to record. Tell you what... Read DFW's essay "Fictional Futures and the Conspicuously Young" and then come back and tell me what a boogie man Ryan Boudinot is.
This paragraph rules:
"Why does the value of your arts education depend on excluding others? Why can't everyone be invited to the party? Don't we want as many people as possible reading literature and learning to communicate well? Doesn't capitalism and a free-market economy mean people can "waste" their money on an education if they want and educators can profit by selling a service that's in demand? Does the existence of someone else who's not as good a writer as you are in your MFA program devalue your degree or threaten your identity? Won't the real world sort out which people have the talent, commitment, and discipline to produce quality work?"
Yes. Infinitely better that people spend their money on education than on sports cars or watches or other junk.
@15 for the win. Sure, everyone who wants to should be allowed to take recreational writing classes. That should be clearly distinct from professional training.

That 50 year old newly minted ballerina isn't going to be a professional dancer, and no serious conservatory would force their teachers to pretend otherwise. And that is fine! I take dance classes for the joy it brings me, and have for decades. But I'm not a professional dancer, will never be one, don't expect people to pretend otherwise, and don't take out student loans for classes. It's closer to a gym membership than an MFA program.
Much ado about nothing.
Less is more.
Despite protests to the contrary, Boudinot's bestowal of his "Real Deal" honorific on Sevcik really seems to have gone to Sevcik's head. This piece, with its extraordinary, rambling length, the sacharrine sentimentality and baffling naivete of politics in favour of hoaky, homespun 'wisdom', stands as an indictment of both.
Christ on a crutch, now that you two are done anti-masturbating each other in public, could you both please choke on your unfinished novels?
You are right about one thing. You definitely don't belong on that list.
I enjoyed your riposte until I arrived at the 85th paragraph where I realised that the writer was abusing their privileged position of greatness-thrust-upon by Serendipity to take up more space both than the reply warranted and than what they had to say justified.
Conciseness and comment format are apt bedfellows.
Is there going to be an actual book review here ever again, or just conversations about writing? It's been two weeks since the Ann Pancake review by Paul, and with APRIL Festival coming up, can we maybe get some reviews of those books/writers?
I, for one, have found this whole brouhaha exceptionally intriguing. I think it is just the conversation we need to have. I know this is a vague comment, but as a published writer who doesn't make the majority my living from it, I am glued to the topic. It is such a messy arena full of levels of talent that can only be judged through a microscope lense. Yeah, bad is bad, mediocre is mediocre, but there is a lot of good that may not reach the heights of Saunders or DFW. I suppose we just write and deal with the gold dust or the fallout.
I got bored reading this half-way through and quit. And then went back and reread the Boudinot piece again and enjoyed it all over again.

So thank you for returning me to the scene of that crime.


I appreciate your compassion and empathy for Ryan Boudinot, but it's misplaced. Ryan chose to burn his bridges--and poured plenty of fuel on the fire when he did it. UNESCO and City of LIterature deserve--and indeed have every right--to choose a suitable representative for their efforts. Do they want a raving egotist with a questionable sense of taste and temper to be the face of their organization? It really doesn't matter how much time and talent he's poured into the effort; his inability to control himself renders him, quite plainly, the wrong man for the job. People have lost positions for far less than his (perhaps you've heard of Justine Sacco?).

Also, anyone who's ever taught, anyone who has any respect whatsoever for the teaching profession--understands that "punitive pegagogy" is a contradiction in terms. It's one thing to be tough on students, to push them to do and be more. It's another to be completely sadistic. Pieces like this make it seem like educational sadism is okay.

It's not. Please stop conflating the two. It's entirely possible to get the best results from students through encouragement--and, in fact, it's easier and better for everyone in the end. Maybe Ryan wasn't sadistic, but by holding Whiplash up as a model, he might as well have been.
What a waste of space this piece is. I literally fell asleep reading this mighty chunk of shitty "writing". Mr. Boudinot has been avenged, in my view.
Good grief. After reading this looooong article, I returned to Ryan Boudinot's original piece. It didn't seem so harsh, certainly not J.K. Simmons in "Whiplash" throwing a cymbal at the drumming student's head kind of harsh. If an instructor tells you to work hard and get on with it, you might want to listen. If a motivated writer sets up a literary salon in Seattle, you might want to get involved. Or not. Whatever. Next!
that was the longest navel-gazing, mixed up humblebrag I've ever tried to read.
Quite the vainglorious and self-congratulatory response. Only one problem: what Boudinot said was true. All the willy-nilly faux-outrage in Seattle can't change that...
Humble-brag, yeah. I liked some of what Sevcik said but I was also glad I wasn't in an MFA program with him. The helter-skelter organization, cliches, and mixed metaphors in this piece pretty much wiped out my brain cells. In a writing class, Sevcik would have been the little pissant in the corner blooming when the instructor praised his work, looking deflated when all the attention wasn't on him, and smirking when the class reviewed a problematic passage from a fellow writer's workshopped piece. I'll take Boudinot over this hot mess any day.
why in God's name would you *ever* pay for an MFA degree? there are a ton of schools that will pay you to go to them - going to an MFA program you have to pay for tells me there is something lacking in the quality of writing of the attendee - that or they are woefully ignorant/naive. also a little bit strange we're getting a "let everyone in" rant about writing programs from someone who apparently paid tens of thousands of dollars to attend one.
A position "...he recently resigned from less than gracefully." Slimy. Suggests the original piece was right, if this is the kind of clumsy stiletto attempt the MFA program produces.
"If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter." Thought of that quote reading the Disneyland article and, now, this 'response.' He seemed less an asshole, and more a delusional, bipolar character.
To the "writer" of this article: did you ever submit any writing to the workshops at Goddard? If so, was your piece read and critiqued? Man, I would love to have been there that day...
This article evades the real kernel of wisdom in the Boudinot piece -- work matters. The piece that Boudinot doesn't mention is that love matters. Everything else is bullshit. Students need respect -- give it to them but don't hide the ball that hard work and love are what it takes and don't do them any favors by rewarding less.
For an outlet that targets writers and literary enthusiasts I find it a bit shocking how many people reacted to the length of this essay. Attention spans are shrinking here too? Et tu Bruti? This essay's main point is valid. Destroy a man's vision to further our literary culture because of a hyperbolic joke? There is an enemy out there, and it isn't Justine Sacco.
Has anyone, ever, in the history of the world decided to read a book because the author has a MFA? What a waste of time and money. If you want to be a writer, write.
This article completely gave me new respect for Boudinot and I hope he has success in his Seattle writing project.
All these sniveling little MFA darlings better stay on the soft side of academia because their thin skinned, narcissistic bs would be shoved down their throats over here in the land of STEM. I can't imagine the level of mocking I would have received if I ever thought to complain a physics professor wasn't nurturing me enough!
"as readers and writers, we know that the people who come off as jerks are just humans with feelings and flaws. " yes. i think there's room for people to be human, even if it offends.
I had a personal relationship with Ryan, and his oozing ego, decades ago. As a teenager, his narcissism already piloted his sociopathic shell of a personality. I spent hours listening to him berate not only me, but his teachers, fellow students, even members of his family. What you are seeing is not Ryan's reaction to teaching in an MFA program, it is simply Ryan.

Please wait...

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