Behind the Scenes
The Creative Writing Job Market 2011-12
When I was on the job market, my friends and I who were looking for faculty positions obsessively watched the academic jobs wiki, a comprehensive site with everything you could possibly need to know about going on the job market in nearly ever field. The site is rigorously updated by job searchers with dates of contact from universities, when interviews are scheduled, when offers are made and accepted or declined and even salary information for some fields. If there are tidbits of “inside information” those are shared. On the creative writing jobs page each year, industrious people track down who was hired in each position and make note of how many books they have. The site is very useful, very intimidating, and very revealing about the state of the academic job market. If you want to really see some frustration, the Venting Page, is well worth the look.
I still follow the Rhet/Comp and Creative Writing job pages and feel both relieved and anxious as I remember how intensive the application process was, all the compiling of documents and statements and dossiers and phone interviews and MLA and campus interviews. I had a great experience, no horror stories, very professional search committees and the like, but whether you apply to one job or fifty jobs, it’s a real time commitment and not something I would relish doing ever again. On this year’s Creative Writing page, I noticed, without surprise, that there are very few jobs listed and many of those jobs require a PhD or MFA or PhD which is code for PhD preferred. Most jobs also require at least one book from a major press. Many of the ads ask for applicants to have a secondary specialty because universities want to get the most for their money and because, given the glut of highly qualified job seekers, there’s no reason why universities can’t throw up their wish lists and have those dreams come true. On a more superficial level, few of these jobs are in geographically desirable locales. Universities seem to thrive in the middle of nowhere.
It’s important for people interested in a teaching job in creative writing to get a sense of what you’ll be up against with your debt load and current publication record. There are a handful of jobs for hundreds if not thousands of job seekers who are all highly credentialed. Of the available positions currently listed, 4 are in fiction, 5 are in poetry, 8 are open and 4 positions are for visiting lectureships. It is early in the job season, so more positions will likely be posted but not many. I would guess there will be 40-50 available positions in creative writing. Some of these searches will be cancelled when funding is pulled. Some of these searches will be run even though there are inside candidates. (The wiki will often have this information, which is nice.) When you compare that to the number of graduate students going on the market in the next couple years, the imbalance is pretty stark.
At the bottom of theCreative Writing page, people can self-report their demographics so readers know who’s also on the market. Of those who have reported so far, thirteen people have multiple books. Eight currently hold tenure track jobs and are looking for different situations. Thirteen have both a PhD and an MFA. Last year, Kwame Dawes was on the job market. He has more than 20 books. In addition to all of us who are just starting out, hardcore veterans are also on the job market. The odds are pretty grim.
While I try not to surrender to the doom and gloom about academia, there are conversations to be had about graduate education and exploitation/misinformation, the utility of certain terminal degrees, what graduate students are taught about the realities of the job market, and the cult of the book on the job market. Meanwhile, I am sharing these statistics because the practical realities of job hunting are important too. If you’re already neck deep in a graduate program, the philosophical conversations won’t do you much good.