The Play’s a Thing: The 47 Workshop and the “Crafting” of Creative Writing

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This article examines the first creative writing “workshop,” so called, in order to assess how present-day institutional practices restructure transhistorical questions of labor, education, and aesthetic and economic production. Drawing on extensive archival research, I document the procedures of and theory behind drama professor George Pierce Baker’s “47 Workshop” at Harvard, operative from 1912 to 1924. Baker’s use of the term, I argue, provides rhetorical cover by which to slot arts courses into a Harvard curriculum increasingly geared toward utilitarian education. At the same time, the term signals Baker’s ties to the American Arts and Crafts movement, a cause opposed to industrialization just as Baker opposed the mass fare of Broadway. Reading Baker’s 1930 pageant Control for its advocacy of preindustrial values, the article concludes by contending that this distinct genealogy for creative writing helps us rethink the discipline today. If Baker understood workshop as an alternative, nonrationalized discourse, present-day craft rhetoric consolidates the authority of elite educational institutions.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)243-272
Number of pages30
JournalAmerican Literary History
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2020
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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