In the years since the publication of Mark McGurl’s The Program Era (2011), scholars have reckoned with its central insights—that creative writing is shaped by the institutional matrices in which it is produced, and that the rise of the creative writing program has constituted an epochal shift in the history of North American fiction and poetry. The argument has become so entrenched as to feel like common sense, and a recent spate of scholarship has begun to extend and fine-tune the thesis in important ways. One of McGurl’s main interventions was to focus on the role of the post-Iowa creative writing workshop; the two books discussed here allow that workshop to fall ever so slightly out of focus.

Christopher Kempf’s Craft Class: The Writing Workshop in American Culture shows how the discourse and practice of teaching “craft” in “workshops,” so integral to the modern MFA, originated outside of the university...

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