At Ohio the search for a junior professor to
teach fiction writing officially began just days
before Christmas in 2011. Master’s of fine arts
or Ph.D. required, the job posting read. Must
have published at least one book. Expected to
teach undergraduate and graduate courses in
fiction writing while publishing and directing
creative work. Send a 20-page writing sample.
The first application arrived the same day
the job was posted.
Plenty of well-qualified people entered the
fray. There were applicants with books pub-
lished by reputable presses. Fifteen people
held an M.F. A. and a Ph.D. One applicant’s
novel had been adapted into a motion picture.
More than a few had prestigious awards.
There were also applicants not quite ready
for prime time, like the one whose qualifica-
tions mentioned “10 years of customer ser-
vice” and another whose list of publications
included a review of a Vietnamese restaurant
that had run in a local newspaper. A number
of CVs and cover letters had typographical er-
rors—an automatic no-no for applicants hop-
ing to teach writing.
The candidates were competing against
writers known and unknown. In at least two
instances, an adviser was up against an advi-
see. (One of those advisees, the search-com-
mittee chairman said, had presented a glow-
ing recommendation letter from an adviser
who was also in the pool.) Two applicants—
non-tenure-track professors at a public insti-
tution in the Midwest—were from the same
Ohio’s search drew a considerable interest
even though the seven-member search com-
mittee worried that posting the opening late
in the academic hiring season, which typically
begins in October, would generate slim pick-
ings. (It garnered some attention on the Aca-
demic Jobs Wiki, but the site offered scant de-
tail for job seekers.)
At one point, the English department wasn’t
sure that it would be able to hire at all. A se-
nior colleague in the department had moved
on to another position, but in the wake of the
budget cuts and hiring freezes at many state
universities after the recession, replacing a
tenured professor in 2011-12 wasn’t a given.
The department had to make the case to the
dean that the hire was necessary.
The needs of the English department won
out. And the scramble to assemble a job post-
ing for a fiction writer before the end of the
As the 117 applications came rolling in, they
were stuffed into file folders that were alpha-
betized and put on a big cart for the commit-
tee members to browse. Forty-five women and
72 men applied. Nearly three-quarters of the
candidates were white.
At least half a dozen were journalists-
turned-fiction-writers. One was a writer with
two published books and a prior career as a
professional musician, with four albums to
his credit. Another was a high-school Eng-
lish teacher. Eighty-eight people had M.F.A.’s,
including the three finalists. The committee
said a Ph.D. in creative writing or a related
field was an acceptable credential; 30 people
had earned such degrees, with 13 more hav-
ing completed all but their dissertation. Two
people decided that the job’s educational crite-
ria were merely a suggestion and applied with
only master’s degrees. Twenty-eight people
hadn’t published a book and didn’t have one
DIANA BOXER, who served as chair of her department’s search for an assistant professor of second-lan- guage acquisition at the Univer- sity of Florida, knew the compe-
tition for the job would be stiff.
“It’s increasingly difficult for people with
Ph.D.’s to get good tenure-track jobs,” says Ms.
Boxer, a professor of linguistics, whose aca-
demic career began more than two decades
ago. “Things certainly have changed.”
The number of applicants, 71, was about
what she expected. Nearly 20 percent of the
candidates had been educated at universi-
ties in other countries. Roughly half were ex-
pecting to earn Ph.D.’s a few months before
August, when the job at Florida was slated to
begin. More than half of the candidates were
Classmates competed for the position, in-
cluding two candidates each from the Universi-
ty of Pittsburgh and the University of Maryland
at College Park, who had finished their course-
Continued on Following Page
Wanted: Assistant Professor
of Creative Writing, Ohio U.
The department of English at Ohio University re-
ceived 117 applications for a tenure-track open-
ing in 2011-12. Candidates were required to
have a Ph.D. or an M.F.A. and at least one book
published. Here’s what the CVs from the search
showed about the candidate pool.
WHO GOT THE JOB
Previously visiting professor, U. of Cincinnati
Highest degree: M.F.A. in fiction, U. of Michigan,
Publishing highlights: The Hill Road, a collection
of four stories, published by Viking Penguin in
2005, that won two national honors, the Story
Prize and the Whiting Award. The Visitors, a forth-
coming novel, also published by Viking, expected
March 2014. Four short stories (plus one forth-
coming), two essays, one poem also published.
Teaching experience: Mr. O’Keeffe has taught un-
dergraduate and graduate courses. They include
an introduction to fiction writing, advanced fiction
writing, introduction to creative writing, advanced
creative writing, advanced fiction workshop, non-
fiction workshop, writing and literature, poetry,
college writing, argumentative writing, and intro-
duction to the short story and novel.
WHO MADE IT TO THE FINAL ROUND
Visiting assistant professor at a private
university in the Midwest
Highest degree: M.F.A. in creative writing/fiction
from a university that is a member of the Asso-
ciation of American Universities, 2007.
Publishing highlights: One published book,
a novel. Short stories published in more than
a dozen publications.
Teaching experience: Graduate and undergradu-
ate workshops, courses about literature.
Non-tenure-track faculty member at a private
liberal-arts college on the East Coast
Highest degree: M.F.A. in creative writing from
a private liberal-arts college on the East Coast,
Publishing highlights: Three books. Wrote three
plays—two of them produced—and co-wrote the
screenplay for a film adaptation of her novel.
Teaching experience: Undergraduate, intermedi-
ate and advanced workshops in fiction, courses
in dramatic writing, and literature courses.
WHO WAS IN THE POOL
3 associate professors, 12 assistant professors
67 people working off the tenure track
7 people who applied from jobs outside
30 people who had earned a Ph.D., 88 people
who had earned an M.F.A., and 15 who had
61 people who had at least
one novel published
28 people who had no novel published