Hall to McNair: October 17, 1980


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17 October 1980

Wesley McNair
Box 43
North Sutton, NH 03260

Dear Wes,

Good to hear from you. I fully understand your wish
to leave Colby-Sawyer. I think you may have picked a very
difficult time to move. Do not burn any bridges! …I do
not mean that you should not be looking, and my recommendation
will go out today.

Still, I have a number of observations. I suspect that
most other places would be no more stimulating then Colby-Sawyer.
Colby-Sawyer has a pleasing sort of faculty. You would have
better students at many other places – but of course you would
virtually never, in twenty years of teaching, have what we
might reasonably call a “good poet.” And you would surround
yourself with a whole lot of bogus professionalism, the wretched
hustlers of the academy – who prevail at Dartmouth, Michigan,
Arizona State, etc.… But not nearly so much at Colby-Sawyer.

Second, it is well known that it is virtually impossible
to get a job in writing right now, unless you have three or
four books, and preferably a Pulitzer Prize. I am almost
serious. Everybody looking for work now has an M.F.A. I
don’t think you need an M.F.A.! I don’t think an M.F.A. means
anything. But probably it means something to Deans.

And then, because there are so many small presses and
small publishers, lots of people apply for jobs saying that
they have published nine books, seven, thirteen… And in a
sense they have.

There are also good people, with books, with M.F.A.’s,
looking for work. It is really a terrible time. It is also
a terrible time in mathematics, physics, etc. But creative
writing is one of the worst areas right now, because of the
frantic overproduction of M.F.A.’s in the last fifteen years.

Third, or fourth or whatever it is…do try, if you are
looking for a new job, to get something that includes the
teaching of literature. The swamp of the creative writing
industry, in this country, consists mainly of illiterate
lizards who cannot teach literature at all because they
haven’t read anything. To be isolated with them in a “creative
writing department” is a fate worse than teaching in a room full
of sub-literate young ladies, which is what you are used to.


[X] I was at Arizona State last autumn and I think it is
in the swamp all right. Still, anything might be welcome
relief, and a good change, so I would not try to argue with
you about taking the job if you’ve got it. But I suspect
that there will be two or three hundred applications for it,
and that most of them will list books, and that some of them
will really have published two, three, or four books.

I am being discouraging! I don’t want you to expect
too much… But I am not trying to get you not to try –
much as I would prefer it if you stayed in North Sutton!

That is nice news about the Magazine Verse book. Jane
had a letter from them too. In the letter to her, the man
offered no money at all. Did he offer any to you? She is
going to ask him for some. And then if he won’t give her
any, she will probably let him have it for free.

I have learned to ask: does the ink-manufacturer donate
the ink? Does the paper-manufacturer donate the paper? Is
there absolutely no sum whatsoever to the secretaries typing
these letters? To the editor himself?

There will be more poems in more places before very
long, I do believe. Peter Davison wrote a very sweet letter
of rejection – and I would predict that he would take something
within a year. I don’t suppose I should make such predictions!
But I wouldn’t be surprised…

Oh my goodness, the foliage is fantastic.

Love as ever,


Editorial note about this letter: Included with this letter is Hall’s letter of recommendation for McNair’s job search, accompanied by other letters written by professors from Bread Loaf, and from Dartmouth College, where McNair took courses in American literature, history and art during 1971-72, sponsored by a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

See the letter of recommendation Hall wrote for McNair here.