[Opening Shot: Fourteen hopeful MFA candidates. A grungy dive bar that only serves overpriced gin and tonics. Poorly lit. Bon Iver plays gently in the background.]
Host, the ghost of F. Scott Fitzgerald: Good evening, MFA candidates, and welcome to the seventh season of Project MFA. Seven poets and seven fiction writers sit before me, selected from hundreds of applicants around the country, supposedly on merit of your writing samples, but very possibly based on how much you kissed our asses in your personal statements. Every one of you has impressive publication credits and an unquestionable talent of stringing nice sentences together. But only one of you will leave here with an MFA in creative writing and an uncertain, potentially penniless future.
[Poets and writers look at each other with a combination of uncertainty and arrogance.]
Fitzgerald: I am joined tonight by your two other judges, Jonathan Franzen and the demonic manifestation of Ernest Hemingway’s head. Tennessee Williams, as reincarnated into this Siamese cat, is both our token homosexual and your literary mentor. Collectively, it is our thankless task to serve as gatekeepers for the writing profession, ensuring that only the very best are allowed the time and funding necessary to follow their dreams and carve out a coveted space within the literary canon. Looking into the crowd, I see a few faces that just won’t fit in: you, sir, and you two ladies there. Oh, and you, a woman and ethnic, well, that’s a double no. Could the four of you just leave us, please? Don’t worry about paying for your drinks. We’ll send you a bill and a subscription to our in-house literary magazine in the mail.
[The four undesirables leave and go on to have successful careers in writing and publishing. The “ethnic” woman wins a Pulitzer Prize.]
Fitzgerald: Now that we’ve eliminated all possibility for diversity and unique perspectives, let us continue.
Contestant, sitting at a table near the front: Excuse me, Mr. Fitzgerald. I’m one thirty-seventh Cherokee Indian. Should I leave too?
Fitzgerald: No, that’s fine. In fact you can use that in your semi-autobiographical novel to illustrate how you always felt subtly different in your fancy rich white suburb and how that gives you a psychological reason to cheat on your wife.
Contestant: Okay, cool.
Fitzgerald: This season, we have an amazing prize package. The winner of Project MFA will receive one year’s paid rent for an apartment in Greenwich Village which is decent but not so good as to damage the starving artist shtick. He will also receive five thousand dollars to stock up on Apple products (because one cannot possibly pen the next Great American Novel on a PC) or to squander on cigarettes and cheap whiskey to, again, uphold his Bukowski-esque image.
[The contestants nod appreciatively, pleased that, at least for a year, they can avoid having to find work teaching introductory composition as an adjunct.]
Fitzgerald: Now, for your first challenge. Each of you will have to write and perform a piece at the open mic here tomorrow night. We request that all pieces be under five minutes to ensure that everyone gets a chance to read, but I’m sure we won’t mind your twenty-minute manifesto as long as it’s really, really good. I mean groundbreaking.
[The contestants continue nodding, sipping their watered down drinks.]
Fitzgerald: However, you must stick to the theme for this challenge. The theme is…ennui.
[The contestants smile at one another, each one confident that only he really knows the true meaning of the word.]
Fitzgerald: So get out there and get writing. Write those poems about how jerking off under the buffet table at your friend Ari’s bar mitzvah was a deep and profound spiritual experience. Write those stories that only you can write but will also somehow speak for an entire American generation. Make the most of your time here on Project MFA, and don’t forget: your first U-Bill payment is due next Monday.