Thanks, Alto. I got my MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. My focus was fiction and we had several professors in that area; one I just didn’t really connect well with so I didn’t take much from him and another ran a pretty good workshop but was past retirement and somewhat old school.
So most of my workshops were with my adviser and he threw a heckuva workshop. We usually met in his large, historic and eclectic house where he’d provide a ton of food and alcohol and we’d all usually stay till well past class. He was a high-functioning alcoholic at the time but cared deeply about writing and teaching, creating a warm and vibrant atmosphere where people were open and honest but also kind and thoughtful. (As a side note, he had taught Michael Chabon as an undergrad and was “rewarded” by Chabon writing the less than flattering Wonder Boys loosely about him — they eventually made their peace.)
I can’t say as I had any bad workshop experiences in either undergrad (mostly poetry at the Univ. of Illinois) or grad school. I had a lot of respect for the majority of my profs, both as writers and as teachers, and the other students were for the most part excellent. My only negative was a lit crit professor who was perhaps brilliant but definitely crazy, and who hated fiction students because she believed that we were neither interested in nor capable of understanding the subject.
There was a lot of political infighting between the higher ups (mostly profs but also students) in the three disciplines of lit crit, comp and creative writing, but I tried to stay out of it. Did you experience any of that in Toronto? I’m told it’s pretty common, or was at the time. I eventually took black lit classes at UNC-Chapel Hill where I loved my core classes but was far less impressed with the department overall and there was even more infighting (although as a disclaimer this was almost 20 years ago).
I would say that even the best MFA program is not for everyone. One has to have a bit of a thick skin and be open to criticism. It also helps if you can assess your critics and figure out whose/what criticism is helpful and what you might be best ignoring. Even among the best of writers, not everything is for everyone; some people just don’t “get” each other.