Francine Prose, an acclaimed author and longtime creative writing teacher, opens her essay in the 2006 Fiction issue with a question: “Can writing be taught?” As she sees it, some aspects of writing, such as judicious editing of one’s own work, can be cultivated. But others, particularly the “gift for storytelling,” cannot be learned. She invites the reader to imagine Milton or Kafka enrolling in a graduate writing program, seeking faculty guidance for Paradise Lost or taking advice from classmates who nix the idea of a man turning into a giant bug.
Such scenarios are preposterous, Prose acknowledges, but their very absurdity invites a troubling question: “What would it say about me, my students, and the hours we’ve spent in the classroom if I said that any attempt to teach the writing of fiction is a complete waste of time?”
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