Poetry, creative writing are hot
A language group, meeting in Phila., focuses on texts - and jobs.

By Susan Snyder
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA); 530 words
Published: 2006-12-29
Edition: CITY-D

The creative-writing field has seen a surge in job openings at U.S. colleges this year, signaling a renewed interest in that area as a major field of study.

There were 69 available creative-writing jobs advertised across the nation in October, up from 52 in October of last year, reported the Modern Language Association, which is holding its convention in Philadelphia this week.

Several Pennsylvania and New Jersey colleges and universities are among those posting jobs with a creative-writing thrust, including Drexel, St. Joseph's, Ursinus, Lehigh, Bucknell, Gettysburg, Susquehanna, Slippery Rock, Millersville, Richard Stockton, Fairleigh Dickinson and Drew, according to the association.

"We're in a phase right now where students want to study literature and to write. We're in a very literary moment, I feel," said Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the association. "If you look at the program offerings this year . . . there is more emphasis on what writers do, reading what writers write, and if you want to be a writer, learning how to write. . . . I would even say you see less of an emphasis on pure literary theory."

About 9,000 teachers and professors from around the world are attending the four-day conference held primarily at the Marriott near City Hall. The conference, which ends tomorrow, also serves as a job market for newly minted Ph.D.'s in literature and language fields. Organizers have identified poetry as a major theme this year....

The association reported a 2 percent increase in overall jobs available this year and an 11.6 percent increase from 2003-04, the most recent low for open positions. An estimated 1,720 English-language positions will be advertised in 2006-07, up from 1,687 last year, the group said. Because the number of job candidates also has increased, job prospects for English and English-related faculty remain about the same.

Creative-writing jobs have fluctuated over the last 10 years, hitting a high of 97 in 2001, when they accounted for 9.9 percent of the available jobs. Last year, 7.6 percent of the openings were in creative writing, compared with 9.5 percent this year. Feal said the data likely mean that universities are investing more in permanent, tenure-track jobs for creative writing.

"I think it's going to keep going up," said Marjorie Perloff, a professor emerita of humanities in the English department at Stanford University and president of the language association. "People who are interested in literature, many of them are also writers. What that urge to do creative writing testifies to is the real interest in literary study again."

She said some critics consider the move toward more study of creative writing a "dumbing down" of the study of literature, a charge she and others rebut.

"What we're interested in is talking about these works as works of art, rather than extracting the sociological or historical information from them," said Charles T. Bernstein, an English professor at the University of Pennsylvania who participated in a panel on poetry with Perloff.

The association also noted that Arabic- and Chinese-language job openings continued to rise, while the number of jobs in Spanish dropped below 40 percent for the first time in decades.

Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or

Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)