Tag Archives: literature job market job list MLA convention 1980s

The Job List

So seven or eight years during the 80’s and some too in the 90’s, I went out on the market lookingsupplydemand for a job in lit.  The process started in October.  That’s when the biggest professional organization for people in lit, the Modern Language Association, put out the job list.  Every college looking to hire somebody from Harvard to Podunk U would send in a little description of the kind of position they had open and it would go into that list.  The list wasn’t free by the way; you had to pay money for the wretched thing.

The first edition of it would come out in October, another in November, one in December, and one would come out in June.  The first two usually had pretty much the same job listings.  A few new ones would appear in November, but mostly the November list had fewer openings because many of the colleges that had listed in October by that time would have closed their searches.  So the October one was the really important one.

I would get it in the mail and I wouldn’t be able to look at it for several days.  I had to steel myself and then I would go through it looking for jobs for which I might be qualified.  I would circle the ones I thought I might be qualified for and then I would go through the list again and write letters of application to the places I had circled.  This was onerous work.

Then you sent the letters off and sat there and waited.  Sometimes I never heard from some of the colleges at all.  Mostly I got rejection letters.  Rejection after rejection after rejection.  But sometimes I would get a letter saying that the college would like to interview me at the big MLA convention held each year in the week right after Christmas.  These conventions were held in cities all over the USA in Chicago, or NY, or San Francisco or Washington D.C. and a couple of times in other places. 

I had to pay for the plane tickets and the room where I would stay at the convention.  So if I got an interview I had to decide whether it would be worth it to spend all that money to go to the convention.  Usually, I was so desperate, especially when I first started looking, I would go even in the college I was interviewing for was at the end of the known universe.

Then I would go to the convention and be interviewed—a couple of times I had three interviews at one convention—the week after Christmas, and then I would sit and wait to see if I would be called to the campus for an interview there since most colleges would invite at least three candidates for on campus interviews.  Sometimes I had to wait clear into March before I heard that I had been rejected by all of the places that had interviewed me.

Maybe a half dozen times over the years, I was invited to an on campus interview, and then I would wait to hear if I got the job.  Twice I was not notified until June.  So over a decade the guts of my year were eaten up emotionally by the waiting and anxiety attendant upon the job search.

As I have previously said I had no idea what I was getting into when I became an English major.