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Stay away from Iowa, Hannah!


  • Lena Dunham, who plays Hannah Horvath on HBO's "Girls."
Lena Dunham, who plays Hannah Horvath on HBO's "Girls." (Reuters )
March 26, 2014|By Stephen Markley, @stephenmarkley | For RedEye

As a student in the historic and esteemed Iowa Writer's Workshop, I write to express my dismay that the world's premier creative writing MFA program would lower itself to welcome a young writer named Hannah Horvath.

Horvath's acceptance to Iowa made headlines across the blogosphere this past week, and there is rampant speculation as to whether she and her entire group of friends would descend upon Iowa City, Iowa, like a horde of self-obsessed monkeys flinging their existential feces at each other.

From the fortress walls of the mighty temple of Iowa, I have watched Horvath rise to prominence as a blogger, sexual escapadist, and self-styled "voice of a generation." A third-rate essayist from Brooklyn (where an entire artistic generation has come of age subsidized by their parents, wallowing in the ontological angst of late capitalism to which they are inured), Horvath embodies everything the Workshop Ethic should seek to avoid.

Much like Horvath, I received my acceptance letter last fall and wondered: Could I leave my life behind to strike out on this new chapter? What would I find when I arrived? Would Marilynne Robinson drill me in cold modernism or would I fall victim to the winningly loquacious prose education of Ethan Canin, all my creativity and intellect sapped by Iowa's Soviet-style re-education program?

I'm here to report that the re-education is complete well ahead of schedule. I didn't just drink the Kool-Aid-I've mainlined it, and I now stand sentry for the defense of our glorious institution against all NYCer mongrels and those bent on introducing dynamic forms of literary engagement!

Horvath will not understand the first thing about the Iowa Ethic. It's not just her essays about her insipid boyfriend, Adam, a borderline sociopath. It's not just her never-ending quest to bore the reader to death with her warmed-over "Sex and the City" shenanigans. It's that Horvath embodies a group of young people, raised by over-doting helicopter parents, who expect fame and fortune as their birthright.

The post-World War II MFA program has become the shining protector of literature as we understand it. It has kept the barbarians of the Internet at the gate while the novel is replaced by the ten-episode HBO arc and short story replaced by the Facebook post. Surely, Mark McGurl's 2011 treatise "The Program Era" deserves a new chapter now that a feeble narcissist like Horvath will be slinging her brand of schlock "wit."

But when it comes down to it I must blame the very institution I venerate: far from churning out "cringing, cautious, post-Carverite automatons," Iowa will apparently embrace a new generation of self-styled "truth-tellers" whose only truth is their own vainglory. Horvath's debut novel will no doubt focus on the scattershot dissemblings of a 20-something white woman trying to find her way in the Big City, encountering characters just quirky enough to be interesting to the most vapid readers in her already dumbed-down "The Art of Racing in the Rain"-reading audience.

All I can say is shame on you, Mother Iowa. For shame.

On the other hand, I do hope Horvath brings along her one friend Marnie Michaels. What a total burning asteroid of a babe.

RedEye special contributor Stephen Markley is the author of "The Great Dysmorphia" and "Publish This Book."

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