When you came to Rutgers four years ago, someone asked for advice on getting an MFA. You gave two pieces of advice: 1. Have your heart broken on three continents, and 2. Wait until you're at least 25. Would you change that advice at all?
Junot Díaz: In the four years since I was in Rutgers, the astonishing professionalization of creative writing has shocked even me ... There's this tendency that's accelerated these past couple of years vis-a-vis creative writing about turning writing — which is actually an art — into something that will resemble a university level industry. Part of the reason this has happened goes hand in hand with why young people have the largest debt in the history of the US. It's because creative writing is actually the best way to get young people to have $120,000 in debt, but even more valuable is it's the best way to guarantee that people graduate college and don't know shit. I'm not just saying that — that's not a throwaway joke ... I have so many students who say, “I don't expect to read. You have to read me..."
The intellectual content of creative writing programs is absolutely risible because you can graduate without knowing even the most basic fucking thing, and they will charge you dollar on the barrel ... Creative writing is like the lottery system for the intellectual set. I used to work a lottery machine when I was doing my newspaper route for eight years. The same impulse that brought dudes who couldn't put fucking food on the table who would spend $80 on lottery ticket is the same impulse that makes people gamble everything on a fucking $140,000 degree.
I seriously think my advice would be to a young writer is that you should wait until you're twenty-fucking-seven. Deep down in your heart, if you're serious about being an artist, whether you do it early or late, it doesn't matter ... I really think that any art worth its name comes from your life in the world, what news you can bring us from living outside an institution like university ... You're more likely to create that if you have done all the wrong things. The right thing is to finish college with a major in creative writing and go right to an MFA, maybe with nine months off so that you can say you worked. The wrong thing is to do none of the above. I do think the news you bring us from the world is what we need as artists and what we need as people who love to read.
Image courtesy of Glory Anne Plata