By Mary Manning
The UH English Department, with John McNamara as chair, shaped its creative writing program in the late 1970s, when such programs were sprouting up across the country, as a way to draw students at a time of “steadily declining graduate enrollment in the Department.” In 1978, the department asked poet Cynthia Macdonald, then at Johns Hopkins University, to advise them on the proposed program.
One highlight of the program was the Ph.D. in literature and creative writing to be offered alongside the MFA in creative writing. Many college or university English departments offered curricula focused mostly on literature with just a few creative writing courses. The UH English Department theorized that having a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing would make UH graduates more marketable when applying for academic positions. The department’s “Rationale for the Ph.D. Creative Writing Option” explains:
The value for the student of the Ph.D. option in creative writing would come primarily in an enhanced ability to find a teaching job. As a terminal degree, the MFA is the highest qua artist. But the fact is that a majority of artists who take an advanced degree in literature earn their livings not by writing, but by teaching. In view of this fact, the Ph.D. looms as an increasingly necessary benefit to securing employment, promotion, and tenure.
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