A Q&A with MPW Director Brighde MullinsBy Allison Doyle MPW '11
November 1, 2010
The spring of 2011 marks the 40th anniversary of USC College’s Master of Professional Writing (MPW) Program. Among the first of its kind, the program unites five disciplines — fiction, nonfiction, poetry, new media, dramatic writing — and prepares students for writing careers.
MPW Director Brighde Mullins sits down with Allison Doyle, a student in the program, and discusses the art and craft of writing and the benefits of an MPW degree.
How does an MPW degree prepare students for writing careers? What distinguishes MPW from similar programs?
MULLINS: The MPW Program emphasizes the creative and the pragmatic aspects of a writer’s life. Students are required to take classes in all genres as a way to increase their expressive capacities as artists and their opportunities as writers.
Our philosophy is reflected in our name, which is in keeping with USC’s emphasis on professional education across disciplines. Other professional writing programs are more technically oriented — we are truly a creative writing program with an added layer of preparation. We offer panels and classes such as “Literary Marketplace” that address the gritty business realities and the aesthetic reach of being a writer. “Irish poets, learn your trade, / Sing whatever is well made,” William Butler Yeats advised in “Under Ben Bulben.” Yeats inherited a tradition in which poems and stories were memorized, recited and used as emblems against adversity with the understanding that narrative and lyric were essential to our sense of self. This sense that writing is not only an art — it is a craft — is essential to the understanding of the College’s MPW Program.
Where do you envision the MPW Program going in the next 40 years?
MULLINS: Our vision is to continue to challenge our students to stretch into other genres and forms, and to become creative citizens in the world. The production mode of writing is changing drastically. Publishing is changing. Producing is changing. Even poetry is changing. These changes have a bearing on the way that writing finds its audience. The desire to write, the need to write and the discipline that a writer needs — these are timeless elements. As Samuel Beckett said, “I could not have gone through the awful wretched mess of life without having left a stain upon the silence.” We must keep focus on what’s timeless as we keep up with the times.
With the rise of social media such as Twitter and blogs, along with other new technology in publishing, what will the next generations of writers need to succeed?
MULLINS: New technologies are new opportunities. Tape recorders were cutting edge when Beckett wrote Krapp’s Last Tape. The ability to incorporate and adapt is a quality of mind and spirit. The writer is a reader, and any deep reader and serious writer will want to know her precedents, what she’s inherited, the tradition. The MPW curriculum is introducing classes to reflect how new technologies influence writing practice, such as a class that looks at literary models for writing blogs, or a cross-genre class on mashups.
In the writing workshops, how is an environment created and maintained that is supportive and encouraging?
It is the instructor’s role to set the tone for the class, to establish a safe arena for serious discussion and contemplation. Every instructor has his or her own way of creating that arena. My background is in theatre, an enterprise requiring cooperation and camaraderie. These are behaviors I encourage when I teach. There is room for analysis, but the work is alive, and the story is connected to a person and that person is in the room. Gandhi wrote, “Writing is itself one of the experiments with truth.” What kind of truth is available to us as readers, as writers? The bar must be set very high.
For more information on the Master of Professional Writing Program, visit college.usc.edu/mpw.