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The Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the famed launching pad for many of America’s most respected novelists and poets, is debating whether to institute sweeping changes to its program in an effort to, as explained by faculty member Marilynne Robinson, “get us some of that 50 Shades of Grey money.”

The Workshop is a two-year residency program which culminates in the submission of a creative thesis (a novel, a collection of stories, or a book of poetry) and the awarding of a Master of Fine Arts degree. Alumni have won seventeen Pulitzer Prizes, as well as numerous National Book Awards and other major literary honors. Three recent U.S. Poet Laureates have been graduates of the Workshop. None of these writers, however, have had the cultural significance, impact, or mega-sales of E.L. James’ erotic, unputdownable mommy porn. And that has many involved with the prestigious program worried.

For more than 70 years emerging writers have come to Iowa City to work on their manuscripts and to exchange ideas about writing and reading with each other and with the faculty. Many of them have gone on to publish award-winning work after graduating. But not one of them has been the object of a frenzied bidding war to bring their ebook adapted from fan fiction based on an immensely-popular but critically-reviled paranormal teen romance. And Robinson, for one, wonders “Why not? Have we at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop focused too much on maintaining the spirit of an arts colony and the benefits of the research University of which we are a part, to the detriment of financial instincts? Have we been too busy cultivating literature, and neglecting to cultivate an audience? Did we win all of those awards just to have to stand by while some ex-fucking-TV-executive who started her career writing under the name ‘Snowqueens Icedragon’ fer chrissakes swoops in and gets credit for saving publishing?! I’ve been telling my colleagues, ‘that could have been us!’ and if I have anything to say about it, someday soon it will be.”

While the debate rages, the Writers’ Workshop continues to foster and to celebrate American literature in all its varied forms.

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