Writing Craft: The Workshop System in American Culture takes seriously the adoption of the term “workshop” to describe an institutional practice we know as “creative writing,” asking what is at stake—aesthetically and politically—in the figuration of poetry as craft labor. Beginning with the first writing “workshop” so called—drama professor George Pierce Baker’s 47 Workshop at Harvard—I show how that term came to mediate key ideological tensions rending U.S. culture during the rapid industrialization of the early 20th century. In doing so, I track two interrelated processes. First, I assess how craft rhetoric supplied a set of values by which to reorient institutions of higher education and, thereby, to alter U.S. literary practice. Second, I explore how artists affiliated with early workshops used them to stage a wider intervention, mobilizing literary craftsmanship to rethink the meaning and ramifications of labor. If Baker and others marshaled craft toward leftist critique, however, craft pedagogies would come, with the rise of the MFA industry, to consolidate the authority of elite educational institutions, the workshop poem sharing discursive space with consumer products like “hand-loomed” Pottery Barn rugs and “craft” IPAs. Poet Richard Hugo’s postwar craft book, The Triggering Town, for instance—charging writers to “take possession” of de-industrialized towns as a creative spur—suggests the role of workshop in promoting a new class of professional-managerial workers. Writing Craft delineates this trajectory, tracking craft rhetoric as its alternative potential is absorbed, though never anesthetized, by an evolving post-industrial economy.
English Literary History (ELH): "'A vast university of the common people': Meridel Le Sueur and the 1930s Literary Left" (forthcoming)
American Literary History (ALH): "The Play's a Thing: The 47 Workshop and the 'Crafting' of Creative Writing" (32:2, Summer 2020)
Modernism/modernity: "'Addicted to the Lubric a Little': Spectacle, Speculation, and the Language of Flow in Ulysses" (24:1, January 2017)