Episode 107: Will an MFA Affect Your Writing? What the Data Really Tell Us – Interview with Andrew Piper

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Podcast

Hey there Word Nerds!

I am so glad you’ve joined me because today’s episode is going to be epic.

In this interview, I speak with Andrew Piper, Associate Professor and William Dawson Scholar in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at McGill University. Andrew is the director of .txtLAB (a digital humanities lab at McGill) and is the leader of the multinational research consortium, “NovelITM: Text Mining the novel.” Basically he uses quantitative data to gain a more in-depth understanding of thematic and stylistic elements within the novel as an art-form.

Andrew and his colleague Richard So wrote an article earlier this year in The Atlantic that got a lot of people riled up. They shared research on novels written by authors either with or without an MFA and found that there wasn’t any significant difference between writers in both categories. This article added depth to that perennial MFA debate.

Should you (or shouldn’t you) get an MFA? As you know, this is a subject near and dear to my heart. And now it turns out that there’s actual data suggesting that an MFA degree isn’t a very good predictor of whether someone will become a published author, or even write a great book.

It seems especially fitting for this episode to air this week, just a few short days before the official NYC launch event for my own book.

In this episode Andrew and I discuss:

  • How a computer might (or might not) be able to differentiate between novels of various qualities, versus various genres.
  • The extent to which racial and gender diversity in writing shows up in the literature produced by MFA programs (the Whiteness factor)
  • The role of data analysis in uncovering bias in the publishing industry.
  • Embracing data and computation in the process of growing as a creative.

Plus, Andrew’s #1 tip for writers.

Link to Episode 107

(Right-click to download.)

Andrew Piper is Associate Professor and William Dawson Scholar in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at McGill University. He is the director of .txtLAB @ McGill, a digital humanities laboratory, as well as leader of the multinational research consortium, “NovelTM: Text Mining the Novel,” which brings together 21 partners across North America and Europe to undertake the first large-scale quantitative and cross-cultural study of the novel. He is the author most recently of Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times (Chicago 2012) as well as Dreaming in Books: The Making of the Bibliographic Imagination in the Romantic Age (Chicago 2009), which was awarded the MLA Prize for a First Book and honourable mention for the Harry Levin Prize for the American Comparative Literature Association.


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