But Ford didn’t really break through as a writer until he published The Sportswriter in 1986, some 16 years after getting his M. (Chabon won the 2001 Pulitzer for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.) Alice Sebold’s memoir about being raped, Lucky, began as a 10-page writing assignment in an Irvine class.
The Workshop’s brand-new and clean-lined Glenn Schaeffer Library adjoins the house in the rear, as a fashionable offspring might flank a more elegantly dressed parent.
In the library’s Frank Conroy Reading Room, which overlooks the gray waters of the Iowa River, are tall, glassed bookcases containing some 3,000 volumes published by graduates of the Workshop since it began, in 1936.
In the series, published by Harcourt, the submissions of Iowa students have been selected more times than those from any other degree program, though both Virginia and Florida State have consistently had strong showings. “Program hoppers,” who might study briefly at two or more programs, or even get multiple M. The other question must be: Which well-known authors teach there?
(Oddly, Columbia, always considered a top program, has placed none.) A seemingly accelerating trend is that of students graduating from two or more programs. This particular scorecard celebrates the kind of fame that attends a writer who has achieved that rarest of feats: name recognition derived from writing literary fiction. Doctorow and the poets Philip Levine and Sharon Olds. “You’ll find a lot of people who run programs desperately trying to eliminate the attitude that nothing is really possible in these classes.” At Iowa, some of the faculty members work in large offices where their classes and workshops also meet, like one-room schoolhouses.