September 8th, 2011 / 5:16 pm
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.


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  1. Char

      used car salesman, personal trainer, insurance salesman, creative writing teacher = shame shame shame shame

  2. karl taro

      this post made me feel better about magazine writing.

  3. Lincoln Michel

      Life’s a bitch and then you die. 

  4. MFBomb

      The job market is tough–no doubt–but there’s growing flexibility for CW’ers with PhD’s. There are a lot of generalist-type jobs open to CW’ers w/ PhD’s that often fly-under-the-radar, jobs where you don’t always need a book (mainly, ones at liberal arts colleges and regional teaching universities in non-glamorous locations). 

      I actually think this will be a better year compared to last, because there seems to be more early job listings than the last few years and the MLA JL hasn’t been officially released yet.

  5. MFBomb

      “There are a handful of jobs for hundreds if not thousands of job seekers who are all highly credentialed.”

      I sort of disagree here.  Many of the teaching-focused jobs seem to want CW’ers who are qualified (academically speaking) to teach lit and/or comp, which means that there are some MFA’ers with major books who are still unqualified because they haven’t been formally trained at the doctoral level in literature and/or comp. 

  6. Soiled

      You can always grip the devil’s teat and become an advertising copywriter.

  7. Mike Meginnis

      Tracy and I got MFAs and then used those to get editing jobs. I think the misinformation/exploitation where grad students are concerned are real problems, but at least as pernicious is the idea that these degrees are only useful for getting teaching jobs. If you do a little extra while you get your MFA — work on a magazine, for instance, or do some freelancing — you can come out with a pretty solid resume and make a little extra money for having the degree, too.

  8. Roxane

      There are lots of job options. I worked in university communications before my PhD. It can be interesting work.

  9. MFBomb

      Anyone else see that job at St. Thomas in St. Paul? Drool…….I’d kill for that job. 

  10. Roxane

      For PhDs the market is indeed more flexible but it’s going to be a tough year regardless. Saying this year will be better just doesn’t mean much. I’m still looking forward to the MLA list. It will be interesting to see who is hiring.

  11. MFBomb

      It’s always tough, I agree, but I think too many applicants waste time worrying over jobs they don’t have a realistic chance of landing, or, they’re too picky about location. For me, since I have a ton of comp experience and a PhD but no book, I only plan to apply to the jobs that focus on undergrad teaching. 

      The VAP’s and non-tenure track gigs are always a good back-up plan too. When I graduated with my MFA, I actually emailed the comp directors at about 50 large state universities to ask about non-TT, full-time comp gigs and landed three interviews and a job as a result (only one was advertised). 

      BTW, for any of you MFA grads: this is a good strategy. In the late spring, if you’re still looking for work and have comp experience, email the comp directors at large state universities. They often have a billion sections to fill and there’s no way they can staff all of them with TA’s and adjuncts.

  12. Cole

      What’s especially attractive to you about that job? 

  13. time wasting anon

      Thanks for this; I hadn’t known about the wiki. 

      Look at this sentence from the Columbia job: “While we seek a generalist, the department is already well-served in Medieval and Renaissance as well as Creative Non-Fiction.” 

      “Although we want a general practitioner, we already have a sports injury specialist and a cardiologist.” 

      The construction works like this, job-ad writing people: “Although we want A, we don’t want A-prime.” Or it can also work like this: “Although we want A, we would happily consider B, or an A/B combination.” That’s not a rule of job ads; it’s just how English works. 

      They probably mean: The job is open to those with expertise in several areas, but we already have these two particular areas covered. 

      But “Although we want A, we already have C and D” is wrong. 

  14. MFBomb

      I’ve also liked the idea of teaching at a SLAC, this one in particular has a good rep (students are great), and the location is awesome. 

  15. MFBomb


  16. Mittens

      Hi, Roxanne – One of the reasons there are so few jobs listed on the Wiki is that it’s still VERY early in the process. Most jobs won’t be announced until the next MLA JIL, which doesn’t ‘open’ until 9/15. Not saying the job market will be amazing this year, but there should be quite a few more jobs announced than are currently on the Wiki.

  17. Mittens

      It might be worth looking at last year’s WIKI as a point of comparison – 39 poetry jobs, 61 fiction jobs, 22 Nonfiction, and another 38 ‘Open’ genre. Not awesome, but perhaps not as grim as you suggest, and of course those numbers are not a reflection on how many jobs will be open this year. But yes, grim. I have heard (again, not really hard data) that at least some searches that have been on hold the last few years are going to open this year.

      A job search that I had ‘inside’ information on last year got 150 applicants for a TT assistant professor position. I’ve heard that number be as high as 300, but 150-200 seems to be the ‘typical’ number. I’d love to hear somebody else weigh in on this. The job that Kwame Dawes got was one of the few advertised that was looking for an ‘advanced associate or full’ professor. I don’t suspect that Dawes was applying for any assistant professor jobs, which are the vast majority of jobs posted. Unfortunately this means that the job market is especially tough for anybody looking to move from a position in which they already have tenure to a position at the same rank. If you look at most of the people who got assistant professor jobs last year, most of them have a book or two and some combination of Ph.D. and MFA. I’m not saying it’s easy, by any means, but I don’t think it’s as grim as you’re suggesting in this post.

  18. Mittens

      Sorry, one more point of contention – “On a more superficial level, few of these jobs are in geographically desirable locales.” – that’s highly subjective. I find it at least somewhat encouraging that there are jobs in or near Western Mass, Vermont, NYC, Minneapolis, Iowa City, San Francisco this year. I’m sure Salt Lake City, near Myrtle Beach, and near Columbus OH would also be geographically desirable to a lot of people. Maybe even Lincoln, Nebraska.

  19. MFBomb

      I noticed this as well.  I couldn’t tell if Roxane was quoting a number per genre, or for all of the genres combined. 

      From what I’ve heard, there should be around 60-70 fiction jobs open this year, ranging from jobs at MFA programs for writers with books, to generalist-type jobs for writers who are willing and/or qualified to teach comp and literature surveys in addition to undergrad creative writing.  

      I, too, think that people often sound too grim when discussing the job market. Everyone that I know who has ever REALLY wanted a career in academia has had a career in academia. You just have to be willing to live anywhere and teach high loads and not start off in some glamorous position.  You also have to be proactive and make the most of your opportunities along the way and leave grad school with a diverse teaching portfolio.

      I also think it’s important to note that most established writers or writers with books do not apply for jobs at places with high and/or mixed teaching loads and even if they do, it doesn’t mean they are a) more qualified for those kinds of positions and b) committees for these jobs don’t want to hire someone who will be looking to leave after a year. That is, if you’re young and not quite established, you can have a better inside track on some jobs than established writers because the committee will see you as someone who might actually stay longer than a year. 

  20. Roxane

      I was born in Nebraska so Lincoln, where I lived for 10 years, would be very desirable. Of course geography is subjective. 

  21. Roxane

      Mittens, I actually do note that it’s early in the job season and more jobs will be added. I stand corrected on the number of jobs available. I guesstimated from a couple years ago because I couldn’t find last year’s page for some reason. Regardless, I’m not the spokesperson for the job market. I offered one set of data from one website on one given day because, as I also note, I happened to be looking at the Wiki. I primarily posted about this because when I was on the market, I didn’t know about the wiki until a friend told me and then the wiki became one of the most valuable tools in my job search. I also state that I am generally not very doom and gloom about academia. I don’t believe things are gulag grim and most of the time when I write about this topic I am quite optimistic. Here, I offered some observations about what this year’s market looks like early on, again, based on one set of data. I’m on a search committee for a poetry position this year and we expect about 150 applications. There were some crazy numbers for 2009-10 with some schools getting as many as 700 applications, High Point, I think and some schools getting as few as 75. There are few hard facts about any of this but it still remains that in academia and beyond there are more people looking for jobs than there are jobs.  Dawes was certainly only looking for advanced positions. My point, which I didn’t elaborate on, my bad, is that it’s tough no matter what level you’re at. Tough doesn’t mean impossible or tuck your tail between your legs. It’s just an assessment.  And when you say that most people who got asst. prof jobs last year had a book or two and a combo of PhD and MFA…well, that’s also what I said. For people who don’t have a book, that’s potentially intimidating. There are many graduate programs that don’t adequately prepare students for the realities of the job market, and, more importantly, how to best position themselves to remain competitive. As for geography, I know more faculty stuck in BFE than living in their dream or even tolerable locales. I live in BFE. It’s totally fine because I have a job and it’s a good one, but it’s also okay to wish for a 2/2 dream job in the heart of a warm, sunny, reasonably populated place. I also dream of being a secret agent. I don’t expect these dreams to come true.

  22. Roxane

      I agree, MF. I applied for a tech comm position at a program looking for a generalist and when I got here and they realized I really could write creatively, I quickly transitioned into doing both tech comm and creative writing. That said, if you want a career in academia, sure you can have one, but if you want a TT career, I think it’s…shortsighted to suggest that everyone who wants one will get one. Such is not the case. I also, as noted above, was sharing observations about the wiki on a given day. I was not taking a canonical approach to discussing the job market, what it takes to get a job, etc.

  23. MFBomb

      “I think it’s…shortsighted to suggest that everyone who wants one will get one.” 

      I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree, though I am talking about people with PhDs and diverse teaching resumes who aren’t too good to work at liberal arts colleges and regional teaching universities that focus on undergrads as opposed to MFA students. 

  24. Mittens

      Hi, Roxane – Yes, I just think it’s an unfair day to make any assessments about the job market – meaning, if you looked at the Wiki a month ago it would have been particularly grim because there were no jobs listed. Perhaps in a week there will be a better picture of what this year’s going to look like.

      AWP compiles statistics on number of jobs each year, for those who are curious as to trends – according to AWP, there were 62 TT CW jobs in 2005/06 in all genres, 89 in 06/07, 114 in 07/08, 98 in 08/09. I couldn’t find their numbers for 09/10 or 10/11, but anyway, I think it’s at least marginally interesting information. The Wiki is great, but I know of at least a handful of TT jobs that came up late in the spring and one in the summer that were never listed, so it’s not absolutely comprehensive, even though it is extremely useful.

      On the book versus no book thing – I do know a handful of people who got TT jobs with PhDs without books in the last two years. As far as people I know personally, I know almost as many people who got jobs without books as with. I’m certain that they were in competition with candidates with books. Who knows what won out in the end, but I really think it comes down to the person. Of course you have to get to the interview, but I think if you can write a compelling job letter and get an interview, at that point it’s anybody’s game.

  25. MFBomb

      The issue I have with the, “1,000 people applied for this job”-argument is that it doesn’t account for the qualifications of the applicants. There’s this assumption that everyone who applies for an academic job is qualified for it, or–better yet–a good fit, when often, half or more of the applicants are either not qualified or a bad fit, so you can throw a bunch out the window right off the bat. 

      This matter was discussed at one of the AWP job panels in DC.  The panel urged applicants to not firebomb, but to honestly assess the market and apply for the ones that best fit them. 

  26. Mittens

      Hi, MFBomb – I think you’re right. I remember reading (perhaps on HTMLGiant the last time the academic job market came up) a comment by somebody who said that many of the applicants that apply for academic jobs simply don’t have the qualifications advertised, or didn’t send the required materials, or wrote a shitty job letter, etc. For example, people with only poetry pubs applying to fiction jobs, that sort of things.

      That said, I feel like there’s no reason NOT to apply to all the jobs for which somebody might reasonably qualify. I feel like some of these jobs are so vaguely worded (esp the ‘secondary specialty’ bit – does teaching lit qualify? or do they mean two genres) I’ll bet there’s a fair amount of wiggle room with who they actually decide to interview.

  27. MFBomb

      Yes, I’ve also heard about people applying for jobs outside their genres, even when the ad clearly specifies another genre.  What on earth are these people thinking? Also, people without a book will still apply to jobs that say, “we require at least one published book.” Hello!

      You’re right though about the loose wording of some of the postings; those can be tricky.  My solution for those sorts of jobs is to study the departments’ websites to see who is currently on the faculty–to get a sense of the backgrounds of the asst. profs. 

  28. MFBomb

      I also consider institution type, too.  If the institution is larger, it’s more likely to be research as opposed to teaching, etc. 

  29. Roxane

      These people are thinking, “I desperately need a job.” You’re really intellectualizing something that isn’t 100% intellectual. Sometimes, people do ill-advised things to try and get a job. No they have no chance but sometimes, you try anyway. As you say, the market isn’t perhaps totally grim but it is rough and many people will do anything just to work. I have yet to meet someone who’s particularly picky about teaching universities and regional schools and the like. I have a colleague who commutes back and forth to Ohio because his wife is at a university there. He flies in on Monday nights and flies out on Thursday nights or Friday mornings. I have a friend who adjuncts in Philly and flies home 2x a month to see her husband and kids because the kids are in school and they didn’t want to uproot them. There’s a whole class of faculty who travel great distances every week just so they can work in academia. I read an article on this in The Chronicle I think, but there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence beyond that. There’s the job but most of us have families and partners and even if those partners aren’t in academia, it’s rough to find a job. I live in a place where partners struggle to find jobs of any kind so many people in my department do long distance, permanently. You can find a job but there are, generally, sacrifices. These are choices we make, but taking the attitude that the job search can be neatly planned out with just a little ingenuity is simply not demonstrating an understanding of everything that goes into getting an academic job.

  30. MFBomb

      I disagree that I’m “intellectualizing” anything at all–where did you get that from? You’re reading way too much into my comment, Roxane. I’m not suggesting at all that the applicant shouldn’t take risks, or that the entire process should be neatly planned out. I’m talking about basic common sense here. Come on. And I’m not talking about the loosely-worded jobs, or multi-genre jobs, either. 

      But if the job ad reads, “we are looking to hire a poet,” then it is the applicant’s responsibility to not be so delusional to think that his or her fiction application will suddenly make the committee change its mind and hire a fiction writer instead of a poet. 

      It’s also a bad move for the applicant politically because academia–as I’m sure you know–is a small world, one where everyone knows each other, where word travels quickly about the fiction writer who totally disrespected the committee and wasted its time by applying for a poetry job. I’m quite honestly surprised by your response, since you’re an editor and I’m sure are annoyed by all the “desperate” writers who ignore your guidelines.  Do you express this kind of sympathy for them, or do you just sigh and hit, “reject”?

      I understand where your coming from, though, with the adjunct stuff.  I have nine or so years of college teaching experience–some of those years as a composition adjunct. I know the struggle. 

  31. Roxane

      Of course its annoying when a poet applies for a fiction job and so on but it doesn’t really affect the work of a search committee. It takes like five minutes to weed that person out of the pool. I don’t think it’s disrespect. I think it’s human failing and I just don’t expect perfection from anyone. People who approach the job search conscientiously will have better opportunities. People who don’t, well, it’s not my place to judge them, and sloppy applying results in failure.  We don’t have guidelines at PANK so there’s no way anyone can ignore our guidelines. I’m no longer put in the position of having to be annoyed by a writer ignoring guidelines and its wonderful.

  32. MFBomb

      It absolutely does affect the work of the committee. Five minutes times several wasted applications adds up.  Committee members can’t stand it when people blatantly ignore the application guidelines and it is disrespectful when someone applies to a job outside his or her field/area when the ad clearly specifies a different field/area. How is this even debatable? There have been lengthy discussions about this topic on the Chronicle of Higher Ed forums. Numerous professors on Chronicle there have discussed this topic, and it’s one of their biggest pet peeves. 

      It’s also time wasted on the part of the applicant–less time, for instance, to research those jobs and schools that are actual fits. 

  33. Roxane

      You’re talking to me like I’ve never been on a search committee before. Look, you want to be right. Fine, you’re right. It affects the work of the committee. I’m not really debating you. I will just say it doesn’t bother me. It makes me sad because I understand where it’s coming from. 

  34. MFBomb

      No, I’m just responding to what you’ve written. And, no, it’s not important that I “want” to be right about this, more than I am simply disagreeing with you and believe that people applying for English jobs should know how to read a job ad, especially onces that say in bold, “we are looking to hire x.”

  35. Roxane

      As if it’s about reading comprehension! It’s not. It’s about need. Period. We will just have to agree to disagree.

  36. MFBomb

      Yeah, but while you mean well to hone-in on this idea of “need,” remember that my original point was to question those numbers that are often cited and what they often represent when looked at closely. 

  37. Elizabeth Deanna Morris

      Or as the Polish say, “Life is brutal and full of traps.”

  38. MJ

      I really wanted to be a teacher until I read all this, including the wiki.

  39. MFBomb

      Why? The post is about the academic job market. Every profession has a “professional side” that isn’t glamorous, or like a screening of Dead Poet’s Society. 

      If you want to be a teacher (or work in higher ed), you must accept that it’s still a job.