Is naropa on the inside or outside?

I heard about this article at P&W and this interview with Steven Ford Brown from the KY Literary Newsletter.

The interview is mostly about a website, which reports on fraudulent poetry contests sponsored by some respectable institutions, including University of Iowa’s Iowa Poetry Prize, University of Georgia Press Contemporary Poetry Series, and The Colorado State University’s Colorado Prize.

It’s pretty shocking. These are some prestigious names. Even Kentucky’s Sarabande was in the foetry list (the good news is that Sarabande has changed its contest rules to include a no friends of the judge ? clause).

The interview with Steven Ford Brown also gets into the ethics of the whole MFA system. This is an important discussion. The issues raised are the same ones I struggled with when I decided to get an MFA.

If most MFA graduates do not go on the publish books or even to teach, then what does it mean to study writing at an academic institution?

And does the MFA system create an environment where writers are successful not as a function of the quality of their writing but based on their relationships with teachers, students, and colleagues?

What does it mean that writers, as university faculty, may be afraid to speak out against the system because their on a tenure track and have a mortgage and a family to support?

And where does The Jack Kerouac School fit in all this? Is Naropa on the outside or inside of this corrupt system?

I’m not sure. I’ve only been here a couple of months. And I’m a fiction writer in a poets’ school, which puts me (nicely) on the outside of much of this. But there are reasons to think that the program founded by Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman still has some of that Kerouac spirit.

One of my teachers told me about giving his book to another writer and asking for a blurb. The other writer declined, explaining that it wasn’t the kind of book he’d recommend to a friend so he did not want to write a blurb. My teacher has no ill feelings about this and still speaks highly of the writer. That’s what I call integrity.

During a meeting with one of my other teachers about revising my story Field Mouse ?, I asked if he knew where I might get my story published. He deftly avoided a direct answer and instead gave me more help on revision. At the time I was confused by his response, now I think he might have been dodging a potentially messy conversation. But I have found alot of support in learning about the publishing world in the form of panel discussions, workshops, and lunch talks with publishers.

As a staff member for Bombay Gin I get to read all the submissions. There are no names on any of the manuscripts and the editors have explicitly told everyone not to comment on any piece they recognize as being written by someone they know personally. I didn’t think this was anything to boast about, because I figured it was standard practice, but then I read the allegations at

I have heard rumors of Naropa cronyism at the NEA in the past, but I wasn’t able to find out anything on google.

I can see how it happens. What would I do if a teacher of mine said, This writing is really great and I have a friend at the university of such-and-such who would really appreciate it. You should submit it. I’ll tell them to keep an eye out for your manuscript. ?

I’m sure that kind of thing happens all the time in publishing. Maybe that’s where agents come in. But in a contest where writers are paying reading fees it is unconscionable. I hope I’d have the presence of mind and ethical sense to recognize the difference.

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