Skip to main content

The Elephants Teach

Creative Writing Since 1880

With a new Afterword
When Vladimir Nabokov was up for a chair in literature at Harvard, the linguist Roman Jakobson protested: “What’s next? Shall we appoint elephants to teach zoology?” That anecdote, with which D. G. Myers begins The Elephants Teach, perfectly frames the issues this book tackles.  

Myers explores more than a century of debate over how writing should be taught and whether it can or should be taught in a classroom at all. Along the way, he incorporates insights from a host of poets and teachers, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Frost, John Berryman, John Dewey, Lionel Trilling, Robert Lowell, Ezra Pound, and Saul Bellow. And from his exhaustive research, Myers extracts relevant background information on nineteenth-century educational theory; shifts in technology, publishing, and marketing; the growth of critical theory in this country; and the politics of higher education. While he shows how creative writing has become a machine for creating more creative writing programs, Myers also suggests that its history supplies a precedent for something different—a way for creativity and criticism, poetry and scholarship, to join together to produce not just writing programs but good writers. 

Updated with fresh commentary on what’s happened to creative writing in the academy since the first edition was published ten years ago, The Elephants Teach will be indispensable for students and teachers of writing, literature, and literary history.

256 pages | 6 x 9 | © 1996, 2006

Education: Curriculum and Methodology, Education--General Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory


The Elephants Teach is an astonishing piece of work. . . . Under the author’s magic it becomes the story of a great part of our culture since the turn of the century.” – from the Foreword by Jacques Barzun

from the Foreword by Jacques Barzun

“In clear prose and careful scholarship, David Myers . . . tells the story of how what was supposed to free English literature from the trap of academic disciplines became itself an academic discipline.”<First Things>

First Things

Myers is thorough, his writing is clear, and the history he has to tell will be to most, if not all, current teachers of creative writing little short of a revelation. . . . This is a book all teachers of creative writing should read.”<History of Education Quarterly>

Roger Mitchell | History of Education Quarterly

"This material I think should be required for anyone who intends to teach creative writing on the college or university level."

Patrick Bizzaro | College Composition and Communication

Table of Contents

About the Author
Foreword by Jacques Barzun
1. When Philology Was in Flower
2. The Founding of English Composition
3. The Problem of Writing in a Practical Age
4. An Index of Adagios
5. The Sudden Adoption of Creative Work
6. Criticism Takes Command
7. The Elephant Machine

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press