s the craft of writing a given? Do we all know what craft means? There are characters, conflict, tone, subtext, plot, and descriptions. Or is craft a prescribed notion? Just another point-of-view?
“Goodnight Moon” does two things right away: It sets up a world and then it subverts its own rules even as it follows them. It works like a sonata of sorts, but, like a good version of the form, it does not follow a wholly predictable structure.
The archetypal anti-workshop argument was made by David Foster Wallace in “The Fictional Future,” a section of a 1988 essay that is reprinted in “MFA vs NYC.” In his telling, creative-writing programs are filled with teachers who would rather be writing than teaching, and who resent their students for the lost time.
Two years spent in an MFA program, in other words, constitute a tiny and often ineffectual part of the American writer’s lifelong engagement with the university. And yet critics continue to bemoan the mechanizing effects of the programs, and to draw links between a writer’s degree-holding status and her degree of aesthetic freedom. Get out of the schools and live! they urge, forgetting on the one hand how much of contemporary life is lived in the shadow of the university, even if beyond its walls; and on the other hand how much free living an adult can do while attending two classes per week.
I’m a genre writer. Gary Shteyngart hasn’t blurbed any of my novels, and Marion Ettlinger has never photographed me for a book jacket. I’m more at ease with the sequins and shirtless men at the Romantic Times conference than I am with the serious eyewear at poetry readings.
When Robert Lowell used his ex-wife’s letters for his poetry, Elizabeth Bishop told him, “Art just isn’t worth that much.” This week, Francine Prose and Leslie Jamison discuss what they make of mining actual relationships for literary material.
Endings have always been my Everest. Or, really, if writing a novel is like climbing Everest, then my tendency is to get within eyeshot of the summit and say, “Well, that’s far enough.”
Gabo lives. The extraordinary worldwide attention paid to the death of Gabriel García Márquez, and the genuine sorrow felt by readers everywhere at his passing, tells us that the books are still very much alive.