MFA Programs in Creative Writing and Literary Translation

Those of you who have known me from the days before this little translation blog was born know that I have been teaching in the wonderful MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Queens College, which is part of the City University of New York system. I recently blogged about it elsewhere. And since I’m in the middle of writing an article about the teaching of literary translation in this country, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about where and how translation should best be taught. If you ask me, it’s in the context of creative writing programs, since translation is actually, when it comes right down to it, just a very specialized form of writing that happens to involve thorough knowledge of a foreign language. When you teach translation, what you are actually teaching is how to write well while translating. Anyhow, it’s strange that to this day there are still only three MFA programs in literary translation in the United States, and only two of them are part of creative writing programs. One of these is at Queens, the other at the University of Arkansas. I just had a fascinating talk with poet and translator Geoffrey Brock, who teaches there. It sounds like an excellent program. As at Queens, MFA students at Arkansas can choose the “translation track” within creative writing or submit a “mixed” thesis that contains both translations and their own original writing. Whichever option they pursue, they are required to enroll in at least one writing workshop in addition to their translation coursework. Arkansas students have four years to complete the degree program—during which time they can support themselves on teaching fellowships. The program at Queens, on the other hand, is designed to last two years, though students can opt for a three-year plan. I can certainly see the appeal of a longer program—it gives students longer to mature, and ideally, time enough to produce a publishable manuscript.

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