William Ellsworth had recently retired as president of the publishing house The Century Company — which in 1933 would merge with another company that would in turn merge with the present-day publishing company Prentice Hall. He worried that colleges were teaching people how to evaluate great literature rather than helping them produce it. He says:
“Fifteen years ago I made a count of 1,000 book manuscripts received in our office, and I found that 25 in the 1,000 were accepted, and 975 were declined. Of the twenty-five accepted, eleven were by authors who had written before and fourteen were bolts from the blue.
“Now, a count of one thousand book manuscripts received up to Jan. 1, 1916, shows that forty-one were accepted. And how many of these, do you suppose, were by new writers? Not one!
“Now, that is discouraging… I am not a pessimist, but I cannot help feeling that the art of authorship is not growing in America as it should, and that the colleges are apparently doing nothing to help this growth.”
Is that phenomenon still occurring today? If you have thoughts, leave them in the comments. I’ll say from personal experience that in college I did take courses like “American and British Literature” that required evaluation and analysis, but never classes on how to write creatively — perhaps that skill was honed in part through my work on the student-run newspaper, but certainly not from my courses.
Many Writers Not Helped by College Training: W.W. Ellsworth, Veteran Publisher, Says That Our Educational Institutions Turn Out Critics, Not Creative Artists
From July 9, 1916