Harvard once considered hiring Nabokov to teach literature; Roman Jakobson, then a professor of linguistics there, is supposed to have asked whether the university was also prepared to hire an elephant to teach zoology.
—Show and Tell: Should Creative Writing Be Taught? Louis Menand, The New Yorker.
This anecdote is presented in parentheses, but it’s the key to the entire article, and answers the question posed in the title. I’ve never taken a creative writing course at the college level and I believe them to be largely useless: you’ve either got it, or you don’t, and no amount of lessons at these programs is going to change who you are.
Great artistry is also fundamentally rare, and I think the number of great artists in any given generation will remain proportionate to the total number of people in that generation. So if fifty million people walked the Earth at the time of Homer, there are about a hundred Homers walking the earth today, and I think most of them probably aren’t creative writers. This statement also presumes, for sake of simplicity, that there was only one great artist alive at the time of Homer, and that this artist was Homer, about whom we know nothing, and who may have been many different people.
I do believe these classes can make mediocre writers into good writers, just as someone who likes mathematics can be turned into an engineer. But Einstein was always Einstein. Nonetheless these workshops are probably mostly useful for making connections, or so I hear, and squeezing some measure of lucre from the art form.
But an elephant trumpets naturally, it doesn’t learn to trumpet in school; if a product of these programs ever creates the equivalent to “Sing, muse”, it will only be a coincidence.