Salvatore Pane

Tag: Richard Ford

Fall 2011 Fiction Recommendations

One of my favorite aspects of teaching is recommending fiction to students. There’s almost nothing better than reading a student story and thinking, “This person absolutely needs to read Lorrie Moore!” Matching students with their established counterparts is an integral and rewarding part of the job. I vividly remember being an undergrad creative writer and going to meet with Tom Bailey or Gary Fincke. Their office shelves were lined with books, most of which I’d never heard of. They’d go over my drafts with me and then list off three or four writers I had to read right that very second. Most times, I’d walk straight to the library and take out every last book they recommended. Reading everything I could get my hands on helped me develop as a writer, and I try really hard to pass that enthusiasm on to my students.

That being said, I’ve decided to again share every fiction recommendation I’ve given out this semester. This term I taught two fiction workshops, one at the University of Pittsburgh and another at Chatham University. In total, there were 33 students, meaning 66 workshops and individual conferences. The same ground rules I set forth last spring still apply. This is by no means a comprehensive list of the writers I teach. In fact, most of the writers on this list don’t show up in my syllabus. I recommended them because students put up work that was in conversation with these established writers. There was something to be learned there, something we might not have covered in the classroom or maybe not in enough detail. Some of the writers who appear the most often were in the syllabus, and I kept recommending other work by them to remind students of the lessons we’d learned throughout the semester. And literary journals! There are a bunch of literary journals at the bottom of the list. I want all of my students to become active literary citizens in the vein of Blake Butler, and that means supporting (submitting AND reading) emerging and established literary journals.

The numbers alongside the names represent how many times I recommended a specific author. Please leave suggestions in the comments feed. I’m always looking to shake up my reading list. If you have certain writers you recommend to students again and again, share. If you’re a student and were truly impacted by a specific writer, share.

George Saunders 15
Alissa Nutting 14
xTx 11
Andre Dubus 10
Matt Bell 8
Patrick Somerville 7
Kirsty Logan 7
Amber Sparks 7
Etgar Keret 7
Raymond Carver 7
Lorrie Moore 6
Martin Amis 6
Wells Tower 5
Breece D’J Pancake 4
Tom Perrotta 4
Alice Munro 4
Emma Straub 4
Bobbie Ann Mason 4
Roxane Gay 4
Kelly Link 4
Brian Allen Carr 4
Cathy Day 4
Scott Snyder 4
Deborah Eisenberg 3
Tillie Olsen 3
Colson Whitehead 3
Don Lee 3
Joyce Carol Oates 3
Matthew Simmons 3
Donald Barthelme 3
Gary Fincke 2
James Alan McPherson 2
Tobias Wolff 2
ZZ Packer 2
Alice Munro 2
Paul Yoon 2
Richard Yates 2
Barry Hannah 2
Bret Easton Ellis 2
John Fowles 2
Benjamin Percy 2
Donald Ray Pollack 2
Blake Butler 2
John Minichillo 2
Steve Himmer 2
Rick Moody 2
Philip Roth 2
Trey Ellis 2
Tim Jones-Yelvington 2
Junot Diaz 2
Steve Almond 2
Jonathan Lethem 2
Justin Taylor 2
Tina May Hall 2
Tom Bailey
Stewart O’Nan
Sarah Gardner Borden
Deborah Eisenberg
Teddy Wayne
A.M. Homes
James Baldwin
Peter Bognnani
Jayne Anne Phillips
Rebecca Barry
Aubrey Hirsch
Joe Meno
Richard Ford
Seth Fried
Rick Bass
Sherwood Anderson
Jeffrey Eugenides
Brian Oliu
J.A. Tyler
Lydia Davis
Dennis Cooper
Douglas Coupland
Cormac McCarthy
Cory Doctorow
Mike Meginnis
Rachel Glasser
Kevin Wilson
Gregory Sherl
Dave Eggers
Jay McInerney
Miranda July
Scott McClanahan
Brock Clarke
Peter Mewshaw
Frank Hinton
Shane Jones
Aleksandar Hemon
Tim O’Brien
John Irving
Gary Shteyngart

The Emprise Review 5
Hobart 5
kill author 4
PANK 4
Metazen 3
Prick of the Spindle 3
Flywheel Magazine 3
Annalemma 3
Atticus Review 3
Monkeybicycle 2
Decomp 2
Gargoyle Magazine 2
Dark Sky 2
Barrelhouse
Pear Noir!
Parcel
The Collagist
Diagram
Weave
FRiGG
Caper Literary Journal
Elimae
Stoked!
Barrelhouse

2011 Guide to AWP

I ran into Eugene Cross last year at AWP. We were waiting in line for coffee at about nine in the morning, and we both looked bleary-eyed and terribly hungover. I’d spent the first night of AWP getting blackout drunk with Cross, Chris Lee and Kirk Nesset at some random bar where I apparently told some woman that she looked just like the Doozers from Fraggle Rock. Eugene ordered his coffee and nodded toward the hallways of highfalutin literary panels. “I want to give a panel next year,” he said, “where I just stand up in front of everyone and say, ‘the first mistake of AWP is coming to a panel.’”

AWP TIP OF THE CENTURY: Telling someone they look like this is *NOT* a compliment.

Last year, I wrote about my experience at AWP Chicago and how I treated the conference like a party and how, in the future, I would not treat AWP like some kind of demon spring break for hyper nerds.

I was completely wrong.

AWP is a demon spring break for hyper nerds. The mistake I made in Chicago was drinking mostly off-site where I was happy just to be on a trip with my buddies away from Pittsburgh. In Denver, I hung out in the hotel bar and attended a lot of readings (in bars!) at night. This is the way to do it my friends. This is the way to get the full AWP experience (whatever the hell that means). So yes, I stand corrected on nearly every “tip” I doled out last year. I’m pulling a George Costanza here. Do the opposite of what I said last year, and you’ll be right as rain.

Below, you’ll find all the panels I’m interested in. Keep in mind, this list has a total fucking bias towards my own concerns. This isn’t a best of. This is a list of the crap I want to go to meaning it predominantly deals with fiction, career shit, and readings. I think there’s only one poetry panel listed.

Also, keep in mind that I’ll do another off-site list when it’s closer to the actual conference. And of course, I have to do what I do best: shameless self-promotion. You should all come to my panel on Thursday at noon.

R160. The Future of the Book Review: How to Break In. (Salvatore Pane, Roxane Gay, Irina Reyn, Emily Testa, Lena Valencia) The rise of the book blogger has forever altered the traditional book review. But what is the state of the book review moving forward in a digital culture, and how do interested parties actually go about becoming reviewers? Panelists including the editor of PANK, the book review editors of BOMB and Hot Metal Bridge, and published writers currently working in the field will answer these questions and more.

Diplomat Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

Ok. Enough about that. Let’s talk panels.

Thursday

9am-10:15am

R109. Short Story to Novel. (Alan Heathcock, Heidi Durrow, Alexi Zentner, Téa Obreht, Marie Mockett, Eugenia Kim) Debut novelists often publish excerpts of their finished works as short stories before tackling a full manuscript. Yet the way from short story to published novel is not always smooth. Four debut novelists, who did publish parts of their books as short stories, will discuss the journey from short story to novel, with an eye toward helping other emerging writers.

Thurgood Marshall North Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

According to this little zine I know about called The New Yorker, Téa Obreht is the new “it” woman of literary fiction. This one could prove interesting, and I’m especially interested as someone who has published excerpts of his novel as short stories.

R112. CLMP Panel—So You’ve Made an eBook… Now What? (Ira Silverberg, Gloria Jacobs, Julie Schaper, Andy Hunter) A marketing-focused symposium for publishers about how small presses and literary magazines can make the most out of paperless publishing.

Virginia A Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Andy Hunter of Electric Literature and a panel about the small presses and little magazines? Sign me up.

10:30am-11:45am

R131. What They Didn’t Tell Us, We Will Tell You: Four First-Time Authors Discuss the Nitty Gritty of Publishing. (Michael David Lukas, Siobhan Fallon, Nomi Stone, Kevin Haworth, Rebecca Rasmussen, Alan Heathcock) This panel will feature four first-time authors discussing the publishing process, from submission to publication and beyond. Drawing from a wide range of personal experience—working with large houses and university presses on poetry collections, novels, and collections of short stories—the panelists will address and attempt to demystify the publishing process, from phoners to author questionnaires, book jackets to blurbs, and the elusive book tour.

Thurgood Marshall North Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

I’ve got two manuscripts. I’m sending them out. Hoping this one might be useful.

R132. Things That Go Bump When You Write: Monsters, Myths and the Supernatural in Literary Fiction. (B.J. Hollars, Bryan Furuness, Hannah Tinti, Laura van den Berg, Scott Francis) What do Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and ghosts all have in common? For one, over the past year, they’ve all managed to stomp, swim and haunt their way onto the literary scene. Join writers as they discuss their experiences implementing supernatural elements into their fiction. Panelists will offer tips on how to add credibility to the incredible and humanity to the inhuman. They will also explore the evolving definitions of gothic and grotesque in the 21st century.

Thurgood Marshall South Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

I personally love a bunch of these writers and the insertion of genre elements into literary fiction has become something I’m increasingly growing obsessed with. While drunk at a bar with other writer pals, I made the declaration that literary fiction needs more “robots and space ships and ghosts”. I stand by that.

R138. Creative Writing Fulbright Fellowship Reading. (Katherine Arnoldi, Katrina Vandenberg, Erika M. Martinez, Gail M. Dottin, M. Thomas Gammarino, Josh Weil) The Fulbright Program funds undergraduate and graduate students to study, conduct research, or pursue creative activities abroad for a year. The Creative Writing Fulbright Fellowship Reading is composed of past Creative Writing Fulbright Fellows who will not only tell of the application process, the experience and the professional, creative and personal benefits of having received this prestigious award but also read some of the work that they created while in such places such as Japan, Panama, the Netherlands, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, and Argentina.

Wilson A, B, & C Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

I put this one up mainly because of Josh Weil. His debut book is a must read, and I got the chance to see one of his panels last year. Really nice dude.

R139. Trends in Contemporary Flash Fiction: What Editors Are Looking For?. (Tom Hazuka, Todd James Pierce, Leah Rogin-Roper, Robert Shapard, Ryan G. Van Cleave) Flash fiction may be elusive to define (stories of 500 words? 750? 1000?), but there is no denying its widespread appeal to both writers and readers. What do editors want in the flash fiction stories they publish? Five editors of both recent and classic short short story anthologies (Flash Fiction, Flash Fiction Forward, You Have Time for This, etc.), who are also widely published writers, discuss trends in contemporary flash fiction and what they look for in stories for their anthologies.

Ambassador Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

Flash fiction is a genre I absolutely love, so this one’s almost a must attend for me. Plus, I enjoyed Ryan G. Van Cleave’s memoir Unplugged.

R144. Beyond Print: Digital Directions in Literary Publishing. (H. Emerson Blake, Michael Archer, Jeffrey Thomson, Ram Devineni, Steven Lagerfeld) Digital media is often presented as a challenge for literary magazines and journals—an obstacle to be overcome. But digital media also presents dynamic opportunities for the world of good writing. This panel features the editors of five print, digital, or online-only publications—Guernica, Orion, From the Fishouse, Wilson Quarterly, and Rattapallax—that are using digital media to find new methods of expressing their missions and new ways of connecting with their audiences.

Palladian Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

One thing I noticed from this year’s events schedule was the dominance of digital-centric panels. While so many people are decrying the end of literature, I’m glad AWP and its attendees are recognizing this moment as one of historic opportunity to galvanize the reading public. Plus, Guernica!

Noon – 1:15PM

R160. The Future of the Book Review: How to Break In. (Salvatore Pane, Roxane Gay, Irina Reyn, Emily Testa, Lena Valencia) The rise of the book blogger has forever altered the traditional book review. But what is the state of the book review moving forward in a digital culture, and how do interested parties actually go about becoming reviewers? Panelists including the editor of PANK, the book review editors of BOMB and Hot Metal Bridge, and published writers currently working in the field will answer these questions and more.

Diplomat Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

YOU BETTER FUCKING COME TO THIS SHIT!

1:30pm-2:45pm

R177. A Different Kind of Hybrid: Race, Lyric, and Innovation. (Ruth Ellen Kocher, Sarah Gambito, Dawn Lundy Martin, Wendy S. Walters, Soham Patel) Norton’s Hybrid Anthology reveals the intersection of Lyric and Innovative poetry, but only slimly represents many writers of color. Are writers of color less often “claimed” as innovative writers, or traditionally lyric writers, regardless of form because they often utilize a privileged “I” or an emerging “freedom narrative” in the midst of experiment? This reading by innovative writers of color means to begin a dialogue about different approaches to Lyric, Hybridity, and Innovation.

Virginia B Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Gotta rep Pitt MFA student Soham Patel and Pitt MFA prof Dawn Lundy Martin. What what.

R179. CLMP Keynote—Size Matters: Big Houses, Small Presses, and the Literary Ecology of American Publishing. (Gerald Howard) The board co-chair of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, and the Maxwell E. Perkins Award-winning Doubleday executive editor and vice-president, talks about the coexistence and cross-pollination of independent and commercial publishing in the US.

Wilson A, B, & C Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

Always willing to see a panel about the future of the houses given by folks from the inside.

R182. Agents & Editors: Best Practices for Securing Your Publishing Partners. (Mary Gannon, Julie Baer, Robert Lasner, Corrina Barsan, Greg Michalson) Agents and editors will give an overview of the literary market and their places within it, as well as providing a behind-the-scenes perspective on how they acquire clients or books and offering specific guidance to authors on the best practices for each step involved in partnering with publishing professionals.

Diplomat Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

Lots of great agents here with really interesting client lists–Kevin Wilson and Joshua Ferris just to name a few. Recommended.

3:00pm-4:15pm

R193. What’s Normal in Nonfiction?(Steven Church, Debra Marquart, Ander Monson, Bonnie J. Rough, Bob Shacochis, David Shields) Moderated by editors of The Normal School, the panel will feature a discussion of the polarizing questions concerning the ethics and aesthetics of nonfiction writing today. Is the nonfiction writer’s obligation to the art or to the subject? The audience? Can you conflate time, use composite or fictionalized characters, or borrow material from other sources without citing it? Panelists will consider what the role of the nonfiction writer is today and how that role is defined by ethical concerns for subject and audience, and/or aesthetic concerns for art, genre, form, and technique.

David Shields on what’s “normal” in nonfiction? Really? Ok. Let’s do this.

Maryland Suite Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

R195. Beyond Bagels and Lox: Jewish-American Fiction in the 21st Century. (Erika Dreifus, Andrew Furman, Kevin Haworth, Margot Singer, Anna Solomon) Jewish-American fiction has long been seen as a literature of emigration from the shtetl, assimilationist angst, and overprotective parents. But what’s nu? How do Americans born decades after the Holocaust and the birth of the State of Israel deal with those complex subjects in fiction? Who are the new Jewish immigrant characters? How does American Jewry’s more than 350-year history inspire plot/setting? And how are writers today influenced by Judaism’s rich multilingual and spiritual legacy?

Thurgood Marshall East Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

This one sounds great, plus it has Erika Dreifus of the awesome Practicing Writing blog. Check it.

R198. Honoring Robert Coover. (Maya Sonenberg, Robert Coover, Kate Bernheimer, Mary Caponegro, Brian Evenson, Ben Marcus) Through fiction and nonfiction, panelists will celebrate their continuing fascination with the ever changing and always challenging work of Robert Coover, meta-fictional master, myth-breaker and myth-maker, and one of the founders of hypertext. Coover, author of over 20 books, including The Origin of the Brunists, The Public Burning, Pricksongs and Descants, Ghost Town, and Noir, will close the panel with a reading.

Thurgood Marshall West Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

Everybody loves Robert Coover, right?

R200. The Urban MFA: Why it Makes a Difference. (Michelle Y. Valladares, Linsey Abrams, Joseph Lease, Jan Heller Levi, Richard Schotter) There are a few MFA programs in the US located in the heart of cities and urban neighborhoods, where students and faculty commute, attend part time and at night. How do these programs represent a difference to the “more traditionally collegiate” programs on suburban or rural campuses? What are the benefits to attending an urban MFA program? Why would students choose such programs? How can urban environments benefit new writers and American writing?

Virginia B Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

This one immediately caught my eye. I did my MFA in Pittsburgh, and I guess I never thought about how different an experience that was compared to people who went to programs in more collegiate towns like Kansas City, Tuscaloosa, Iowa City, and so on. I’m curious as to what this group’s got to say about the matter.

4:30pm-5:45pm

R213. Understanding Comics as Creative Writing. (John Woods, Matt Madden, Gary Sullivan, Luca DiPierro, Joseph Young) While the critical study of comics has been fully embraced by English Literature departments, Creative Writing programs have been slower to create a place for the practice of comics in their own curricula. Similarly, independent literary presses rarely publish comics, leaving that work to comics-specific houses. This panel features teachers and practitioners of the medium who will discuss ways to open up the Creative Writing field to the practice of comics (and other image-text literature).

Hoover Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

YESYESYESYESYESYESYESYESYESYES!!!!!!!!!!!!

R214. Ploughshares 40th Anniversary Celebration. (Ladette Randolph, Eleanor Wilner, Kathryn Harrison, Colm Toibin, Elizabeth Strout, Terrance Hayes) This roundtable features six recent guest editors of Ploughshares magazine and celebrates 40 years of the journal’s founding commitment to showcasing diverse literary voices with each issue. Former guest editors read and discuss how they made choices for their issues.

Marriott Ballroom
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

I had the opportunity to catch Terrance Hayes read in the Hill District awhile back, and it was one of the best poetry readings I’ve ever gone to. Plus, it’s fucking Ploughshares, man.

R221. Fiction’s Future. (Tom Williams, Lance Olsen, M. Evelina Galang, Roy Kesey, Debra DiBlasi, Steve Tomasula) This panel invites five aesthetically diverse authors brave of foolish enough to respond to think aloud about fiction’s future. What might in fiction look like, read like, and why? What forms are we apt to see in the next five or fifteen years? What changes in publishing, distribution, media, and the sociohistorical landscape might impact what we mean when we say “fiction,” “journal,” “book,” “conventional,” and “innovative?” Should writers even concern themselves with such questions?

Virginia A Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

There are a lot of these future of the book type dealies at this year’s AWP, and I’m going to try and attend as many as I possibly can.

R224. A Screening and Discussion for The Times Were Never So Bad: The Life of Andre Dubus. (Edward Delaney) A screening of The Times Were Never So Bad: The Life of Andre Dubus with the filmmaker Edward Delaney, and others who participated In the fim. The documentary features interviews with Andre Dubus III, Tobias Wolff, Richard Russo, Christopher Tilghman and others, and has been an official selection the Rhode Island International Film Festival, the New England Film & Video Festival, among others, and has toured the country at many colleges and universities. The screening will be followed by a discussion and Q&A with the filmmaker and others who participated in the film. The film is 86 minutes long.

Wilson A, B, & C Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

I wasn’t aware this movie existed, but I’m extremely excited about seeing it. Like many who write short stories, Dubus’ collected volume is a huge text in my writerly development.

R226. Creative Writing and the University: A Conversation with Mark McGurl. (Mary Stewart Atwell, Mark McGurl, Eileen Pollack, Tracy Daugherty, Dean Bakopoulos, Nathaniel Minton) This panel will analyze the effects of the institutionalization of creative writing on American literature through a conversation with Mark McGurl, author of The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing. Other participants, well-published fiction writers and teachers of writing, will join McGurl in assessing the particular ways in which MFA programs have influenced the content, structure, and style of postwar American novels and short stories.

Diplomat Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

Not only do I love Dean Bakopoulos, but I’m very invested in the back-and-forth battle that’s erupted online in the wake of The Program Era‘s publication. Looking forward to this one.

R227. Why Don’t They List Agents on Match.com? Demystifying the Author/Agent Relationship. (Britta Coleman, Matt Bondurant, Alex Glass, Marcy Posner, Jenny Bent, Ann Cummins) Finding the perfect agent takes more than a pithy profile or even a well-written query. Join literary agents Marcy Posner, Alex Glass, and Jenny Bent, with authors Britta Coleman, Matt Bondurant, and Ann Cummins, for a lively discussion about finding the right agent, snagging the right agent, and living happily ever after. Topics will include when to approach an agent, how to pitch your work, common pitfalls to avoid, the contract process, and where you can find agents in their natural habitat.

Empire Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

I once stupidly told a non-writer friend that tracking down an agent, giving them your manuscript, and getting a response would probably take “a  few weeks”. So basically, I’m a fucking moron. Teach me, o wise ones!

R230. PEN/Faulkner’s Writers in Schools: Building the Next Generation of Readers. (Richard Ford) Acclaimed author Richard Ford will lead a panel of teachers and students from DC public schools in a discussion of the PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools program, which brings contemporary literature and notable authors into public high school classrooms. Participants will highlight the ways direct author-student conversations make reading vibrant and relevant. The program is a wonderful resource for educators who seek to ensure that the next generation of readers connect to the written word. The success of the DC initiative can serve as a model for other literary communities that wish to provide these transformative experiences within their local schools.

Palladian Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

I’ve never had the chance to see Richard Ford in person. Will probably end up taking this one.

8:30pm-10:100pm

R232. Keynote Address by Jhumpa Lahiri, Sponsored by George Mason University. (Jhumpa Lahiri) Jhumpa Lahiri received the Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for Interpreter of Maladies, her debut story collection that explores issues of love and identity among immigrants and cultural transplants. Published to great acclaim in 2003, Lahiri’s novel, The Namesake, expands on the perplexities of the immigrant experience and the search for identity. Lahiri’s most recent book of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, received the 2008 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the Vallombrosa Von Rezzori Prize, and the Asian American Literary Award. Lahiri is also the recipient of the PEN/Hemingway Award, an O. Henry Prize, and the Addison Metcalf Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and has received grants from the Guggenheim Fellowship and The National Endowment for the Arts.

Marriott Ballroom
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Look. I like Jhumpa Lahiri and everything, but I’m reading during this time–details to come in the next AWP guide post–with a bunch of badasses like Brian Oliu and Amber Sparks. Plus, at our reading you can get wasted.

Friday

9:00am-10:15am

F104. The Good Review: Criticism in the Age of Book Blogs and Amazon.com. (Jeremiah Chamberlin, Charles Baxter, Stacey D’Erasmo, Gemma Sieff, Keith Taylor) This panel examines how criticism is changing in a literary landscape increasingly dominated by new media. In this era, who is a critic? What is a good review? Whom does it serve? And what is the impact of criticism on literature and culture? Editors of both online and print publications join writers of fiction, poetry, and criticism to address these questions, as well as to discuss how books get reviewed and by whom, why vigorous reviewing is necessary, and ways to write reviews that matter.

Delaware Suite Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

This is sort of like my panel, except it has Charles Baxter. You know, THE Charles Baxter. To reiterate, CHARLES MOTHERFUCKING BAXTER!

F109. Raymond Carver in the Workshops. (Carol Sklenicka, Bret Lott, Maura Stanton, C.J. Hribal, Douglas Unger, Dagoberto Gilb) Writers who knew Raymond Carver will examine Carver’s profound influence on late 20th-century short fiction and his legacy to the genre.

Thurgood Marshall East Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

I’m not really convinced the stereotypical and reductive view that all workshop stories are Carver stories hold true anymore. I’ll be interested to see the panel’s take on this.

F117A. Potomac Review Celebrates Best of 50. (Julie Wakeman-LInn, Kirk Nesset, Sandra Beasley, Jacob Appel, Jennine Capó Crucet, Marilyn Kallet) To celebrate its fiftieth issue, Potomac Review offers a sampling of its history with readings by Kirk Nesset, Sandra Beasley, Jacob Appel, Ethelbert Miller, Jennine Capos Crucet, and others. Based in the Potomac region, PR has always had concern for the environment at its heart, but over the past two decades, its focus has evolved nationally and internationally and culturally; the reading represents the diverse voices and styles who have appeared in the pages and taps our Best of the 50 issue.

Diplomat Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

My boy, Kirk Nesset honors the Potomac Review. What’s not to like here?

F117B. Starcherone Books 10th Anniversary Celebration Reading. (Donald Breckenridge, Sara Greenslit, Joshua Harmon, Janet Mitchell, Aimee Parkison, Nina Shope) Featuring Donald Breckenridge, Sara Greenslit, Joshua Harmon, Janet Mitchell, Aimee Parkison, and Nina Shope.

Empire Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

I love Starcherone. With an author lineup that includes Lily Hoang, Blake Butler and Alissa Nutting, I’m not sure what sane human being wouldn’t like Starcherone. Check it, peeps.

10:30-11:45am

F124. The Future of Creative Writing in the Academy. (Terry Ann Thaxton, Joe Amato, Philip Gerard, Nigel McLoughlin, Lisa Roney, Kass Fleisher) Creative writing as an academic discipline is relatively new, with the strongest push forward in the 1940s with Paul Engle’s Iowa Writing Workshop. And now, with budget restraints and the consumerist culture in the academy, creative writing courses, in the US and abroad, are receiving directives from administration to increase enrollments in smaller classes, which cuts at the very core of creative writing pedagogy. How can we afford to remain stagnant in our pedagogy if our studio workshop courses have thirty, forty, fifty students in them? Should we reform our pedagogy? What strategies can we adopt to protect good practice where necessary? Are there pedagogic methodologies which can be applied which will allow us to successfully integrate the workshop model into a more mixed methods approach? This international panel will explore proactive, theoretical, as well as pragmatic ways in which creative writing can survive in academe amidst budget issues and other pressures.

Harding Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

Workshop pedagogy is something I’m thinking more about every day, as I run a workshop three times a week. I’m invested in the future of these courses.

F134. To Tell You the Truth: Strategies in the New Nonfiction. (Jeffrey Shotts, Nick Flynn, Eula Biss, Ander Monson, Stephen Elliott) Creative nonfiction has never been more exciting, as writers from multiple genres explore and define new modes of writing essay, memoir, journalism, and cultural criticism. Four writers at the forefront of the new nonfiction discuss strategies for writing and reading these new forms of “truth-telling.”

Wilson A, B, & C Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

Nick Flynn, Ander Monson and Rumpus overlord Stephen Elliott? Yes, please.

F136. Jets vs. Sharks? (Michael Croley, Richard Bausch, C. Michael Curtis, Elizabeth Cox, Jill McCorkle) In a recent article, essayist and author Elif Batuman stated one of her reasons for not attending a writing program was her aversion to the idea of craft: “I realized that I would greatly prefer to think of literature as a profession, an art, a science, or pretty much anything else, rather than a craft.” The panelists discuss the value of craft, what it means, and how we pass this knowledge onto our students while also addressing the concerns Batuman raises and their legitimacy.

Diplomat Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

As previously mentioned, I’ve been following Batuman-gate as much as the next online lit blogger person. But the real reason to see this panel is JILL MCCORKLE! My love for Jill is pure and true. I had the opportunity to one on one workshop with her about six years back and she told me how honest and true my short story sex scene was. It was the greatest moment of my life.

F139. The Art of Rejection: Giving and Receiving. (Diana Raab, Wendy Call, Kevin Morgan Watson, Geeta Kothari, Molly Peacock, Philip F. Deaver) Rejection is part of the literary life. Rejection of your manuscript is not a rejection of you as a person or a writer, but of one piece of writing. It says nothing about your potential. It’s equally difficult being an editor turning down work, as being a writer receiving the rejection. These panelists of writers, editors, and publishers will discuss how to establish boundaries between yourself and your work, what we learn from rejections, and how feedback makes us better writers and editors.

Hampton Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, East Lobby

Not only is Geeta Kothari Pitt faculty, but she’s also an editor of the Kenyon Review. You can’t get advice from folks this well-connected every day.

Noon-1:15pm

F146. A Reading by Joyce Carol Oates. (Joyce Carol Oates) Evocative and transformative, as novelist, poet, dramatist, and essayist, It is no wonder that Joyce Carol Oates has become one of the most celebrated and honored writers of our time. Recipient of the national Book Award, the PEN/Malamud Award, the 2005 Prix Femina, and the 2010 national Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandorf Lifetime Achievement Award, Oates has been a dedicated teacher of creative writing at Princeton University since 1978 and is the author of the forthcoming A Widow’s Story: A Memoir and Give Me Your heart: Tales of Mystery & Suspense.

Marriott Ballroom
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

You just can’t pass up a chance to see JCO read, right? I saw her in 2004, and she was a delight. Hoping to fit this into my conference schedule somehow.

F147. Local Poets With National Reputations. (Linda Pastan, Carolyn Forché , Fanny Howe, Jonetta Rose Barras) A poetry reading of local writers with national reputations.

Maryland Suite Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

I’ve always had a soft spot for the work of Carolyn Forché. Damn. This is one extremely tight spot on the schedule.

F151. Riders on the Storm: Strategies for Getting (and Surviving) the Tenure-Track Job. (Hadara Bar-Nadav, Miles Harvey, John Struloeff, Irina Reyn, Simone Muench) In these difficult economic times, many colleges and universities across the United States are in financial crisis, which has led to hiring freezes, furloughs, and even firings. As recent tenure-track hires, we will present strategies for securing tenure-track jobs. We also will discuss ways junior faculty can survive and succeed in these precarious economic times, while balancing academic responsibilities with our creative lives.

Thurgood Marshall South Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

Irina Reyn, Pitt MFA guru and my fellow AWP panel-mate, breaks down the ins and outs of landing the tenure track job.

F155. Get Shorty: Readings from The Kenyon Review’s Short Fiction Contest. (Cara Blue Adams, Megan Anderegg Malone, Christopher Feliciano Arnold, Mika Taylor, Nick Ripatrazone, Megan Mayhew Bergman) The KR Short Fiction Contest for Writers Under Thirty is entering its fourth year. This reading is an opportunity to hear work from younger writers recognized as winners or runners-up by judges Alice Hoffman, Richard Ford, and Louise Erdrich from the first three years of the contest. Submission to this contest must be 1,200 words or fewer.

Virginia C Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Nick Ripatrazone is another graduate of the Writers Institute at Susquehanna University. We never met, as he graduated right before I arrived, but since then we’ve appeared in a bunch of journals together. But even if you don’t know Nick you should check this out. Short fiction AND the Kenyon Review? Come on. Come on!

F156. A Tribute to John Haines. (Bruce Guernsey, Dana Gioia, Steven Rogers, John Haines, Sheryl St. Germain, Baron Wormser) A tribute to the noted writer, John Haines of Alaska, the author of nine books of poetry such as Winter News and The Owl in the Mask of the Dreamer: Collected Poems, plus six collections of nonfiction including the memoir, The Stars, the Snow, the Fire. His awards include two Guggenheims, an NEA Fellowship, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Library of Congress. Each participant will speak about a specific aspect of his work and life, and following, Mr. Haines himself will read.

Wilson A, B, & C Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

A shout-out to Sheryl St. Germain, director of the MFA program at nearby Chatham University.

F160. Memoir, Spirituality and the Self in the Narcissistic Culture of Our Time. (Elizabeth Kadetsky, Rodger Kamenetz, Farideh Goldin, Julia Spciher Kasdorf) If one believes the detractors, memoir bears responsibility second only to reality TV for fomenting this “narcissistic” age, in Christopher Lasch’s term—an era of therapeutic jargon that celebrates not so much individualism as solipsism, justifying self-absorption as “authenticity” and “awareness”. Here, we consider quests for self-knowledge as linked, rather, to a spiritual project. How can memoir point to places beyond the self—to transcendence, insight or affiliation with human community?

Executive Room
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

E-Kadets taught at Pitt for a bit while I was in the program, and although I never got to take any of her nonfiction-centric classes, I’ve heard nothing but good things from the cnf folks here. Plus, I got to see her read in Denver last year and she hit the crowd with a cool post-apocalyptic story. Big ups for that.

1:30pm-2:45pm

F167. National Book Critics Circle Celebrates East Coast Fiction. (Jane Ciabattari, Edward P. Jones, Jayne Anne Phillips, Elizabeth Strout, Colson Whitehead, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award Winners and Finalists Edward P. Jones, Jayne Anne Phillips, Elizabeth Strout, and Colson Whitehead read from their award-winning fiction; the geographic range covered in their work evokes various regions of the East Coast, from Maine to Brooklyn to Virginia to West Virginia.

Marriott Ballroom
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

You know those tracks on rap albums where every famous person on the label is carted out to do a verse? This panel is like that AWP style.

F178. Thinking Beyond the Book: The Future of Authorship and Publishing in a Transmedia World. (Jane Friedman, Seth Harwood, Guy Gonzalez, Kevin Smokler, Al Katkowsky) According to publishing futurists, we are now experiencing the late age of print. Publishers are beginning to see the print book as the last stage of author development, rather than the first step. A new model is emerging for stories and content distribution, with publishers and authors experimenting with mobile apps, podcasts, and multimedia approaches. This panel discusses the changes underway, what innovations are coming, and how writers can adapt no matter what the future of reading holds.

Wilson A, B, & C Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

Another future/tech panel I hope to attend.

F181. Responding to Disturbing Undergraduate Student Creative Writing. (Joseph Bathanti, Susan Weinberg, Peter Blair, Kim Carter, Derek Davidson, Lynn Doyle) When students submit work that raises fears for their wellbeing, teachers may wish to focus on craft, yet feel compelled to intercede. Being thrust into roles for which teachers are untrained is daunting, so what approach is best in conferences and workshops? How do we offer help, and what happens when it is rejected? What barriers might we encounter from our college, and what innovations might we propose? Experiences and ideas will be shared, with input from a Counseling professional.

Empire Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

Oh jeez. Oh jeez, oh jeez, oh jeez, oh jeez. See you in Empire Ballroom, folks!

F182. Politics in the Novel. (Andrew Scott, Chuck Wachtel, Debra Monroe, Margaret Lazarus Dean, Steve Yarbrough) Serious novelists who allow politics to enter their novels must make difficult decisions about how the two meet. Readers bring their own politics to the experience as well, so how do authors negotiate these concerns to craft meaningful work that endures? How does an author reckon with the politics of an issue of central concern to her audience without slipping into didacticism or propaganda?

Executive Room
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

Andrew Scott’s an internet pal of mine. Check out his shit!

3:00pm-4:15pm

F191. Hollins Graduate Program 50th Anniversary Reading. (Jeanne Larsen, Madison Smartt Bell, Karen Salyer McElmurray, David Huddle, Jill McCorkle, LU.K.e Johnson) Is it something in the (mineral spring) water? Some noted graduates of Hollins’ one-of-a-kind program in creative writing read their work, and sample more by a variety of other alums. Join us as we look back at our first 50 years, charge on into the next half-century, and celebrate the inauguration of the Jackson Center for Creative Writing, established through the generosity of John and Susan Jackson. Come figure out what makes the Hollins program what it is. Or just come and enjoy.

Maryland Suite Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Since I already gushed about my writer crush on Jill McCorkle, I will now gush about my writer crush on David Huddle. I usually hate books about writing, but The Writing Habit is pretty solid. Also, Madison Smartt Bell. Right? Right.

F197. Bodies Politic. (Barrie Jean Borich, Judith Barrington, Kekla Magoon, Ann Pancake, Ira SU.K.rungruang, Brian Teare) The literary body is beloved, is bared, is captive, is container, is hidden, is habitat, is dissenting, is taboo, is pleasure, is change. We make literature out of the body’s clashes and communions, and our bodies together create a social mesh we write to maintain and sustain, remake or escape. This panel—a diverse body politic of poets, novelists, and essayists gathering in the political belly of America—will grapple with corporeality, community and claiming the body for the page.

Thurgood Marshall West Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

Ann Pancake is one of the best. If you don’t know her work, get Given Ground. If you’ve never met her, go to this panel.

F198. Ask Not What the Internet Can Do for You: Shifting Our Perspective on Internet Publishing as an Alternative to Major Market Publishing. (Ralph Pennel, Justin Maxwell, Ravi Shankar, Anmarie Trimble, Lizzie Stark, Max Magee) This panel will discuss electronic publications as central to the needs of 21st-century writers and readers, and not as entities serving as secondary iterations of preexisting publications. We will focus on how the electronic medium is advantageous to editors, and to the editorial and publication processes. We will also cover how the medium allows for a new nexus between writer and user by permitting a more diverse discourse with current and emerging literary modalities.

Virginia A Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

We living in the 21st century, doing something mean to it.

F199. Hint Fiction: Stories that Prove Less is More. (Robert Swartwood, Randall Brown, Michael Martone, Daniel Olivas, Roxane Gay) The editor of the recent Norton anthology and its contributors examine stories of extreme brevity. They will discuss whether these stories are considered actual stories, and whether they hold substance, focusing on these questions: Do works of this length help or hinder writers? Can these tiny stories have just as much impact as stories of traditional length? The panelists will share their own hint fiction and discuss its role in the ongoing evolution of literature.

Virginia B Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Roxane Gay, my PANK and panel pal, teams up with Michael Martone and others to discuss hint fiction. This one has the potential to be great.

F203. A Tribute to Ontario Review: Raymond Smith and Joyce Carol Oates. (Douglas Unger, Jana Harris, Richard Burgin, Sheila Kohler, Albert Goldbarth, Joyce Carol Oates) Founded in 1974 and edited by Raymond Smith and Joyce Carol Oates, Ontario Review and its press bridged literary/artistic cultures. It is known for introducing new and emerging writers, and maintaining established writers in print for three and a half decades. Forced to suspend publication in 2007 due to the death of Raymond Smith, Ontario Review and Ray Smith’s contributions to letters, and the continuing generous energies of Joyce Carol Oates, are honored by Jana Harris, Richard Burgin, Sheila Kohler, Albert Goldbarth, Doug Unger, and voices from the audience.

Diplomat Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

Again, JCO.

4:30pm-5:45pm

F212. A Reading by Mary Gaitskill and Sapphire, Sponsored by Wilkes University Low Residency MA/MFA Program in association with Blue Flower Arts. (Mary Gaitskill, Sapphire) Mary Gaitskill is the award-winning author of Veronica, which was nominated for the 2005 National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, and L.A. Times Book Award; Because They Wanted To, which was nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award; and her recent collection of stories, Don’t Cry. Sapphire is the author of the bestselling novel Push, which won the Book-of-the-Month Club Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction, and was made into the Academy Award-winning film Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. Her collections of poems are American Dreams and Black Wings & Blind Angels.

Marriott Ballroom
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

This has got to be the single strangest pairing of readers in the history of readers. I have to see this. Plus, many of my MFA classmates called me Precious for a glorious month during the fall of 2009. So there’s that.

F220. Building the Literary Robot: The Lit Journal as New Media. (James Engelhardt, Scott Lindenbaum, Jurgen Fauth, Zach Dodson, Zachary Schomburg, Travis Kurowski) Lit has gone viral, adapted to fit Twitter feeds, iPhone apps, and social networks, and fashioned into flash animation for posting on YouTube. How do literary journals step into these new, far-reaching modes of publishing? What role will e-literature have in contemporary publishing and the teaching of creative writing? What will this mean to the traditional short story, poem, and essay? Writers and editors of online and print literary journals tell how they’ve explored new e-lit territory.

Virginia C Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

I didn’t even need to read the description. Literary Robot. Count me in. I’ll be the guy asking questions about Gizmo Duck.

F225. Writing the Beltway: Four Washington, DC Publishers Navigate the Capital. (Matthew Kirkpatrick, Reb Livingston, Richard Peabody, Caitlin Hill, Dave Housley) Editors from Barrelhouse magazine, No Tell Books, Gargoyle magazine, and Poet Lore magazine read from their journals and discuss their experiences working to produce and promote literary art within the politics-obsessed sphere of Washington, DC.

Executive Room
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

Lots of good editors. Lots of good journals.

8:30pm-10:pm

F228. A Reading by Junot Díaz, Sponsored by Georgia College & State University / Arts & Letters. (Junot Diaz) Junot Díaz was born in 1968 in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey. He is the author of Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the John Sargent, Sr. First Novel Prize; the National Book Critics Circle Award; the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award; and the 2008 Pulitzer Prize. Díaz has been awarded the Eugene McDermott Award, a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, a Lila Acheson Wallace Reader’s Digest Award, the 2002 PEN/Malamud Award, the 2003 U.S./Japan Creative Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He is the fiction editor at the Boston Review and the Rudge (1948), and Nancy Allen Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Marriott Ballroom
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

It’s obvious that I completely loved the first and final thirds of Oscar Wao right?

Saturday

9:00am-10:15am

S111. Small Ships, Deep Ocean: Independent Presses Keep Short Story Collections Afloat. (Clifford Garstang, Mary Akers, Laura van den Berg, Jason Ockert, Jim Ruland) Charting a course for your short story collection has never been trickier. From shrinking shelf space to nonexistent advances, disinterested trade publishers to increased competition for readers, more and more authors of story collections are turning to independent presses. Six salty veterans discuss the small press experience: platforms for approaching publishers, the challenges of promoting collections, and the advantages and disadvantages of small publishers in an uncertain economy.

Thurgood Marshall South Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

This topic is near and dear to my heart. Also, Laura van den Berg. Laura van den Berg!

S117. CLMP Panel—Editor as Mentor: Literary Magazines and Emerging Writers. (Rob Spillman, Hannah Tinti, C. Dale Young) Editors savvy in the ways of molding minds (in addition to manuscripts) from Tin House, One Story, and New England Review share stories about some of the relationships they’ve fostered and the writers they’ve nurtured, and what these mentorships have meant for their respective publications.

Ambassador Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

I will try and go to anything involved with Tin House.

S118. What To Expect When You’re Expecting Your First Book. (Alexi Zentner, Jill Bialosky, Téa Obreht, Noah Eaker, Peter Mountford, Adrienne Brodeur) Three debut novelists and their respective editors from Dial, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and W. W. Norton, will discuss what an author can expect, and more importantly, what an author should do, between the period of selling his or her book and the publication date. Topics will include mistakes to avoid, the editing process, what pre-publication marketing and publicity can be done by the author and what is handled by the house, and what the author should be working on in his or her own writing.

Diplomat Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

We can fucking dream right?

10:30am-11:30am

S136. Finding and Creating Online Teaching Opportunities—and Sustaining and Succeeding in Them. (Erika Dreifus, Sage Cohen, Andrew Gray, Michael Morse, Chloe’ Yelena Miller, Scott Warnock) More than one in four college/university students now take at least one course online. While some writers teach in college and graduate writing programs, others have established their own independent course offerings, or teach through private organizations. Our panelists represent a range of professional experiences in online teaching, in prose and poetry, for-credit and not-for-credit. They will share strategies for finding (and creating) work and succeeding as online writing instructors.

Virginia C Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Like these people. Like this topic. Might be relevant for those on the job market.

S138. The 1960 National Book Award Revisited: What Makes Fiction Last? (Peter Grimes, Steve Almond, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, Brock Clarke, Michael Griffith, Jodee Stanley) What values in fiction endure? In 2010, we formed a committee of fiction writers and looked back fifty years to rejudge the 1960 National Book Award. We read, haggled, named a winner, and each of us wrote an essay—to take up arms for a favorite, reassess the year’s anointed books, reflect on the ebb and flow of reputation, explore the politics of awards. This panel will ask, What do we value most highly in fiction, and what gets cast aside by the way we define “ambition”?

Ambassador Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

I think the whole “let’s revisit a 50 year old literary award” thing is a little strange, but Steve Almond and Brock Clarke are going to be there. That’s reason enough to consider attending.

S140. The Poetry-Prose Dynamic, Internationally. (Carrie Etter, Toi Derricotte, Molly Peacock, Tim Liardet, Jill Bialosky) In this panel, five authors, residing in the U.K., Canada, and the U.S., investigate the interrelationships between their poetry and their prose, addressing such issues as the place(s) of memoir, shared elements such as simile and fact, the writer’s identity, and questions of form. What can we learn by examining the interfaces among the various genres we write? How do the different ways cross-genre authorship is perceived in the U.K., Canada, and the US affect identities and careers?

Empire Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

Big ups to Pitt faculty Toi Derricotte.

S143. A Conversation with Richard Bausch. (Jennifer Haigh, Richard Bausch) A candid conversation between friends: acclaimed teacher and award-winning novelist and short story writer Richard Bausch, and his former student, novelist Jennifer Haigh.

Regency Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

I really like both of these writers. Haigh is totally underrated, and Bausch is a living legend. And conversations between former teacher/students are always interesting to watch unfold.

Noon-1:15pm

S149. America Reimagined: Four Contemporary Voices, Sponsored by Blue Flower Arts. (Alison Granucci, Jennifer Egan, Joshua Ferris, Rick Moody, Benjamin Percy) America finds itself recast, stretched, and redefined though the astute minds of Egan, Ferris, Moody, and Percy. Each explores an eerie version of America through the eyes of their characters: a reanimated crawling hand, an ill man who cannot stop walking, a former punk rock star, and a father-and-son trip down a devilish canyon. These refreshing and surprising writers go straight to the jugular of modern life and bring us stories in which one cannot always tell the hero from the villain.

Marriott Ballroom
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

This might be my pick for best lineup of any panel at AWP. I would probably go see a panel with any one of these writers, but all five? Are you serious? Count me in.

S151. The Myth of Relevance. (Pauls Toutonghi, Tom Bissell, Danielle Evans, Vu Tran, Erin Ergenbright, Peyton Marshall) The use of topical themes in fiction can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, a strong writer should be able to make almost any scene interesting and vivid—writing about current events bears a certain weight of responsibility. Fiction depends on the artful surprise; if the substance of a story is cut from the headlines it risks straying into the territory of the familiar. Where should a writer draw the line? What is dangerous and what is inspiration?

Nathan Hale Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Longtime readers know my hero worship of all things Tom Bissell. I don’t think there’s any way I can actually miss this panel.

S158. From the Page to the Small Screen: What the Information Age Means for Us . (Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum, Terry Hummer, Maggie Dietz, Mary Flinn, Brian Brodeur, Keith Montesano) As digital technologies such as blogs, online periodicals, hypertext, and phone Apps gain legitimacy, more writing than ever before finds its home online. Some big questions loom: What is lost or gained when we translate our work from the page to the screen? Are these technologies promotional tools or new creative forms? Are we witnessing the death of the page or its evolution? Panelists from Slate, Blackbird, the Favorite Poem Project, AmeriCamera, and the blogosphere will answer these questions.

Virginia A Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Did I not tell you there were a lot of panels about digital tidings? If you miss one, there’s literally five or six to pick from.

1:30pm-2:45pm

S171. What We Love; What Editors Are After. (Rob Spillman, Fiona McCrae, H. Emerson Blake, Denise Oswald, Andrew Leland, Daniel Slager) Six distinguished magazine and book editors speak candidly about what they love and what makes it to the top of the mountain of manuscripts. Editors from the Believer, Graywolf Press, Milkweed Editions, Orion, Soft Skull Press, and Tin House offer concrete examples and anecdotes of writing that works for them, as well as advice on how to build a long-term mutually fulfilling writer-editor relationship.

Maryland Suite Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

I love all of those journals and presses. I love this panel. I love San Dimas.

S172. As Long As People Write: Training and Supporting New Writing Teachers. (Sarah Harris, Crystal Fodrey, Ben Ristow) Richard Hugo said that as long as people write, there will be writing teachers. Today many programs listed in the AWP Guide name the opportunity to teach as a selling point—yet few offer training in the teaching of creative writing. Most graduate students are instead trained through composition theory. We will present the results of research on this training process, and recommend ways programs can support those who desire more connection between their writing lives and the courses they teach.

Nathan Hale Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Sarah Harris is an old classmate of mine from Pitt’s MFA program. Let’s support her and this panel, because really, more training for new writing teachers is something most schools desperately need.

S177. The Road Less Traveled: How to be a Writer Without a Full-time Academic Gig. (Cheryl Strayed, Steve Almond, Amy Holman, Ru Freeman, Christian TeBordo, Marisa de los Santos) The path to solvency and security for most writers is to pair writing with full-time jobs in academia. On this panel, six authors will talk about their lives as writers without the de facto college teaching gig. Panelists will discuss the range of ways they’ve supported themselves, the reasons they’ve chosen the paths they have, and also the liberations and constraints they’ve experienced as writers outside the writer-faculty track that’s so deeply embedded in what it means to be a writer today.

Thurgood Marshall West Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

I’ve blogged about alternative careers for writers before, and I’m curious to see what Almond has to say about the matter, especially considering his rock critic past.

S179. Makes New Friends and Keeps the Old. (Jack Shoemaker, Skip Horack, Andrew Altschul, Jane Vandenburgh, Richard Wirick, Janice Shapiro) Counterpoint / Soft Skull Press is an author-driven house with a clear presence on both the West and East coasts and two rosters of award-winning authors working in every genre. Please join us in celebrating our combined successes with readings by current outstanding authors—Skip Horack, Andrew Altschul, Jane Vandenburgh, Richard Wirick, and Janice Shapiro—marking the beginnings of a new indie era.

Virginia B Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Andrew Altschul is the book reviews editor of the Rumpus and a fine writer in his own right. I love Counterpoint/Soft Skull and would try and make this one anyway, but Andrew’s presence is a bonus.

S184. Change or Die: How Established Print Journals are Adapting to Life on the Internet. (Amber Withycombe, David Lynn, Speer Morgan, R.T. Smith, Christina Thompson) As models for publishing an economically viable literary journal evolve, the magazines that shaped small press publishing during the last century are learning to adapt by printing slimmer issues, moving original work online, and emphasizing social networking. Such practices are common for newer magazines, but few established journals have made the change. Editors from Harvard Review, Kenyon Review, Missouri Review, Shenandoah, and Witness discuss how they are re-imagining their magazines online.

Empire Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

Another one about technology, but this one from the perspectives of the more traditional journals. Plus, Speer Morgan is a friend of Pittsburgh’s beloved Chuck Kinder, so I imagine he must be a total badass.

S186A. Writers on Mentors and Literary Friendships. (Jayne Anne Phillips, Tom Grimes, Elizabeth Benedict, Alexander Chee, John McIntyre, Michael Dirda) Jayne Anne Phillips, speaking on publisher/mentor Seymour Lawrence, joins Tom Grimes, author of Mentor, a Memoir (on writing and his Iowa mentor, Frank Conroy); Elizabeth Benedict, editor of Mentors, Muses, Monsters, 30 Writers on People Who Changed Their Lives; Alexander Chee, author of Annie Dillard and The Writing Life; John McIntyre, RN MFA Capote fellow and editor of Memorable Days (letters of James Salter and Robert Phelps); and Michael Dirda, Pulitzer Prize-winning book columnist, discuss the lasting influence of shared literary mentors and publishers, the value of literary letters, and the importance of the mentor/apprentice relationship.

Palladian Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

If Jayne Anne Phillips gave a panel about which keyboards she preferred to write on, I’d attend.

3:00pm-4:15pm

S189. Linking It Up: Working with Story Cycles, Linked Collections, and Novels-in-Stories. (Anne Sanow, Cathy Day, Clifford Garstang, Dylan Landis) You have characters who appear in more than one story, or several stories set in one place—and you don’t want to write a traditional novel. What are the possibilities? This panel examines the different ways that stories can be linked together to create groups of stories or an entire book. We will focus on strategic craft decisions related to character, setting, point of view, and narrative arc, and discuss how best to determine the completed structure and form of your project.

Harding Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

I love linked stories, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for my former sensei, Cathy Day. Read her books then go to this panel.

S191. Graywolf Press Reading. (Jeffrey Shotts, Nick Flynn, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Stephen Elliott, Jessica Francis Kane, Elizabeth Alexander) Five writers of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction read from their recent books published by one of the best literary publishers in the country, Graywolf Press. Introduced by Graywolf Publisher Fiona McCrae.

Marriott Ballroom
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

Another appearance for Stephen Elliott and Nick Flynn. Plus, Graywolf. Everyone likes Graywolf, right?

4:30pm-5:45pm

S221. Beyond the Workshop: Revising, Revamping, Rejecting the Workshop Model. (Margaret Lazarus Dean, Charles Baxter, Liam Callanan, Valerie Laken, Patrick O’Keeffe) For many teachers, the workshop is the default mode of creative writing pedagogy. Many of us have had to defend the method from criticisms (e.g. that a workshop constitutes the blind leading the blind), yet even those of us most dedicated to the workshop have experienced problems or doubts. This panel will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the workshop as traditionally imagined, its underlying assumptions and possible limitations, and alternative approaches to the writing classroom.

Empire Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

Much like Jayne Anne Phillips, I’d go see Charles Baxter read from the phone book. The fact that this topic is relevant to my job at Pitt is a huge bonus.

S224. Celebrating 50 Years of Freedom to Write Advocacy. (Larry Siems, Major Jackson, Joanne Leedom-Ackerman, Azar Nafisi) Freedom to Write, PEN American Center’s flagship program, is celebrating fifty years of working to defend free expression globally.  Several PEN members—Major Jackson, Joanne Leedom Ackerman, and Azar Nafisi—and PEN’s director of Freedom to Write, Larry Siems, will offer an hour of readings and discussion related to PEN’s advocacy work.  They will touch upon PEN’s recent activities in China, Russia, and Iran, as well as PEN’s work against book-banning and for reader privacy in the U.S.

Regency Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

I fucking like me some Azar Nafisi. You should like you some Azar Nafisi too.

8:30pm-10:00pm

S225. A Reading and Conversation with Amy Hempel and Gary Shteyngart, Sponsored by The George Washington University. (Amy Hempel, Gary Shteyngart) Amy Hempel is a recipient of awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the United States Artists Foundation, and the Academy of Arts and Letters. Her Collected Stories was named one of the ten best books of the year by the New York Times, and won the Ambassador Book Award for best fiction of the year. She teaches at Harvard University and Bennington College. Gary Shteyngart’s first novel, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, won the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction and the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction. His second novel, Absurdistan, was a national bestseller. He was named to both Granta’s Best Young American Novelists and the New Yorker’s Top 20 Writers Under 40 in 2010. Following the reading, the authors will participate in a live conversation with novelist and critic Thomas Mallon.

Marriott Ballroom
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

I adore Amy Hempel, and I’ve just started reading Super Sad True Love Story which I so far really enjoy. Looking forward to this.

The Super-Ego: Kanye West vs. The Last Son of Krypton

All contemporary writers are inherently egomaniacs. It takes an ego of unimaginable strength for a person to look at the summation of the written word and think, “Yeah. That’s not good enough. I have something unique, vital and oh so very important to add. Shakespeare? Fuck Shakespeare.” Ego is undeniably a necessary component to the act of, if not writing, then at the very least publishing. If there’s not enough confidence, or even arrogance in the strength and validity of your own work, it’ll probably go unread on your hard drive for all eternity. However, too much ego can quickly become a danger for writers. Three days ago, I posted about novelist Tom Bailey and how he would routinely deliver incredibly harsh critiques to undergrad students, often asking them to pick one great sentence from their drafts and start completely over (meaning new characters, new settings, new plots, new conceits). This pissed off a lot of students and some even changed majors or left the program once they realized the type of rewriting Bailey wanted. And this is where the danger lies. Because although you need to have enough faith in your work to believe it is worthy of existing, worthy of publishing, writers also have to be able to deal with criticism. Otherwise you get explosions like that one time Richard Ford kind of spat on Colson Whitehead over a negative review.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about why ego is so necessary to writers, where it comes from, and what other professions it applies to. This is something my novel deals with a lot, so I’ve been wrestling with these issues for awhile now. In the book, one of the central figures is Kanye West. The Kanye of my novel is an odd amalgam of true reports and utterly fictionalized bullshit (for example, there’s a scene where Kanye rides a steel horse into space to eradicate an old folks’ home on Mars). One of the things that first really excited me about Kanye is his blog. I’m not naive enough to believe that Kanye’s the one actually posting music videos, linking to art exhibits, or gushing about the latest sneakers, but every once in awhile, a post shows up that is clearly written by Yeezy himself. For an example, check out this video of South Park mocking Kanye and then Kanye’s real-life response on his blog:

Click Yeezy for video.

SOUTH PARK MURDERED ME LAST NIGHT AND IT’S PRETTY FUNNY. IT HURTS MY FEELINGS BUT WHAT CAN YOU EXPECT FROM SOUTH PARK! I ACTUALLY HAVE BEEN WORKING ON MY EGO THOUGH. HAVING THE CRAZY EGO IS PLAYED OUT AT THIS POINT IN MY LIFE AND CAREER. I USE TO USE IT TO BUILD UP MY ESTEEM WHEN NOBODY BELIEVED IN ME. NOW THAT PEOPLE DO BELIEVE AND SUPPORT MY MUSIC AND PRODUCTS THE BEST RESPONSE IS THANK YOU INSTEAD OF “I TOLD YOU SO!!!” IT’S COOL TO TALK SHIT WHEN YOU’RE RAPPING BUT NOT IN REAL LIFE… I JUST WANNA BE A DOPER PERSON WHICH STARTS WITH ME NOT ALWAYS TELLING PEOPLE HOW DOPE I THINK I AM. I NEED TO JUST GET PAST MYSELF. DROP THE BRAVADO… AS LONG AS PEOPLE THINK I ACT LIKE A BITCH THIS TYPE OF SHIT WILL HAPPEN TO ME. I GOT A LONG ROAD AHEAD OF ME TO MAKE PEOPLE BELIEVE I’M NOT ACTUALLY A HUGE DOUCHE BUT I’M UP FOR THE CHALLENGE… I’M SURE THERE’S GRAMMATICAL ERRORS IN THIS… THAT’S HOW YOU KNOW IT’S ME! (West)

Kanye’s quote might seem ridiculous to some, but I think there’s something very true and undeniably human about it that makes it worth examining. If anything, West is completely self-aware. He realizes quite accurately that his hyperbole and hyper-ego (the one that first allowed him to attempt to create something and show it in a public venue) originated in his vague, adolescent insecurities. His ego began as a way to boost his self-esteem, but in the wake of rampant success, grew completely out of control. There’s something about this admission that’s always struck me. Ego and insecurities. Are these two warring sensibilities necessary for all writers? Maybe even all “performers”? And if that’s the case, then aren’t we all performers? And are the dangers in overplaying one’s ego that are specific to writers?

These are all issues I’m still grappling with and definitely ones I plan on tackling in future work. My thoughts on the subject (much like this blog post) are kind of scrambled and inconclusive. All I can really add to the subject is this: a week ago, my mother asked me how I was doing. I’d been having a rough go of it (she knew this) and instead of answering her outright and explaining why I now felt so much better about the world, I told her a story. Because I really do believe that stories are how people make sense of reality. I reminded her that after Superman died in his climatic early-nineties throwdown with emotionless super alien Doomsday, the body of Clark Kent/Kal-El was placed inside of a magical regeneration chamber hidden away in the Fortress of Solitude that massaged him back to life with wondrous rays of sunshine imported from the planet Krypton. I told my mother that my ego had the same effect; it comforts, empowers and renews. Kryptonite is on one hand Superman’s greatest weakness, but on the other, it is the wellspring which makes all things possible. For without his Kryptonian lineage, what is Superman other than a disturbed individual who wears his underwear outside of his pants? My mother said, “That’s nice, dear.” That’s probably the best I can expect.

I wish more people understood how much of a self-serving asshole Superman really is.

Thoughts on the Short Story Survey

“Do people still care about short fiction?” That’s a redundant, pointless question for the most part, but I find it interesting that the dominant form of literary fiction consumed in this country is the novel, yet so many undergraduate institutions focus primarily on the short story in writing workshops and even in general surveys for non-English majors. I’m taking an Independent Study at Pitt with Nick Coles called Seminar in Course Design. The goal of the course is for me to generate five syllabi for a wide variety of classes: Workshop in Composition, Short Stories in Context, The Graphic Novel, Intro to Creative Writing and Intro to Fiction. I’ve been reading a lot of pedagogical theory on these subjects by writers like Mike Rose, Richard Rodriguez, Madison Smart Bell and Peter Turchi. It’s been really great experience so far, but the one I keep getting stuck on is the short story course.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the survey courses I took in undergrad. My professor was a particularly cool guy we all wanted to emulate. Dr. Laurence Roth had a book out about Jewish detective fiction and wrote scholarly articles about comic book luminary Will Eisner. He also played in a kickass band made up of other faculty members. This is all to say that he had a posse of students who signed up for practically every class he taught. When I took his survey,  I was still a very naive, innocent undergrad reading Carver, Dubus, Wolff and Ford pretty much exclusively. Roth bombarded us with Pynchon, Eggers, Safran-Foer, DeLillo, Kincaid and even the aforementioned Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware. I was alternatively frightened by Roth’s selection and intrigued. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that Roth’s survey class proved a valuable counterpoint to the realism heavy focus of all my workshop classes. Roth showed the alternative; he showed us what else was possible.

So the question I’ve been facing is whether or not one class can balance both sides. Can a single survey course manage to promote neither realism, postmodernism or any other school of thought, and instead, simply show students the possibilities and let them decide on their own? Or will professors’ biases always come to the forefront no matter how democratic a syllabus? I’m not sold either way. But I’ve made an attempt. Below, you will find a draft of my short story survey syllabus. I’m looking to improve it, so if you have any suggestions, please throw them out. Keep in mind, it’s aimed at undergraduates.

Course Description

This course is a survey of the various facets of the contemporary short story from 1950 to present. The class will be broken down into four major units in which we will examine the work of authors from different literary movements and see how they are affected by history and culture. The first unit will involve a thorough analysis of the so-called post war writers who often focused on the widespread conformity of 1950s and early 1960s America. Unit two will move on to the more experimental writers of the ‘60s and beyond and focus on how these writers constructed their stories and why they were so deeply impacted by their place in literary history. Then we will cover the dirty realists of the ‘80s and their shift back to basics during an age of utter excess. Toward the end of the course, we will study the growing world of globalized writers and the plight of those who deal with the aftermath of colonial imperialism. Finally, the class will investigate the new frontier of canonized short story writers and attempt to understand and categorize what their place in history is.

Required Coursework

The class is designed as an ongoing discussion about the contemporary short story and how the form affects and is affected by broader stratifications in history and culture. We will conduct close readings on the assigned material every class. After the second week, group presentations will begin in which teams of four students are given time to present on directed topics. Aside from class participation and group presentations, grades will be based on three separate papers in which students will be asked to discuss the various texts at length along with supplemental material and other theoretical/cultural concerns.

Sequence

Unit I: Post War Conformity in the USA: The Rise of Traditional Realism

John Updike
John Cheever
J.D Salinger
James Baldwin
Richard Yates
Group Presentations Begin

Unit II: The Counter Culture and Avant-Garde

Donald Barthelme
Joyce Carol Oates
James Alan McPherson
Barry Hannah
Toni Cade Bambara
Charles Baxter
Jamaica Kincaid
Roberto Bolano
Paper #1 Due

Unit III: Dirty Realism in the Age of Reagan

Tim O’Brien
Raymond Carver
Andre Dubus
Tobias Wolff
Richard Ford
Bobbie Ann Mason
Alice Munro
Breece D’J Pancake
Lorrie Moore
Paper #2 Due

Unit IV: New Frontiers

David Foster Wallace
Rick Moody
Rick Bass
Etgar Keret
Junot Diaz
Dan Chaon
Robert Boswell
Dave Eggers
Antonya Nelson
Miranda July
Stewart O’ Nan
A.M Homes
Don Lee
Jhumpa Lahir
George Saunders

Final Paper Due

Assignments

Paper #1) Using the work of two writers from Unit I and two writers from Unit II, compare and contrast the style and techniques of the Post War Realists and the Experimentalists. What is at stake for these groups of writers and is there any overlap? Focus your argument on whether or not one side or the other has more emotional resonance. You may want to take into consideration that the answer may be more complex than “the experimentalists have more emotional resonance because…” What concerns bind these seemingly disparate groups of writers together? What threatens to tear them apart? 5 pages.

Paper #2) What does it mean to be a dirty realist in the age of Reagan? Using the work of at least three of the writers covered in Unit III, come up with a mantra for this generation of writers and spend your paper arguing their merits and drawbacks. What have these writers taken from those in Unit I? What about Unit II? On the flip side, what have they jettisoned? What is gained from their techniques? What is lost? Feel free to make use of the historical milieu of the time period. 5 pages.

Paper #3) We have now examined some of the most major writers of the short story from 1950 to the present day. Since you now have a vast resource of stories and writers to draw from, I would like you to select three writers from Unit IV that you think are similar stylistically. Then go back through the previous units and attempt to create a genealogy for this group of writers. You should argue which writers and stories influenced your writers and how. Do you see the macabre flourishes of Joyce Carol Oates in the work of Dan Chaon? Is there a connection between the down and out protagonists of Raymond Carver and the Pittsburgh milieu of Stewart O’ Nan? Is Jhumpa Lahir’s interest in the post-colonial world influenced by Jamaica Kincaid in any tangible way? Make connections. See the through lines that are at play in literary history. 10 pages.

Why Super Mario Bros. Will Affect the New Generation of Writers

A few years ago I came across a story of Tom Bissell’s in Best American Short Stories 2005. I can’t remember everything about “Death Defiers”, but I’m pretty sure it involved an American photojournalist in the Middle East who gets swept up in some sort of bizarre, familial poison plot. The details are fuzzy, but what I recall quite clearly is the final paragraph: a beautiful piece of prose describing the protagonist stepping on a mine and flipping through the air. I’m not doing this story any justice whatsoever, but I liked the piece enough at the time to add Bissell’s name to my “To Read” list.

I’m sure all writers/readers have similar lists. Mine’s in the back of whatever moleskin notepad I’m keeping my writing notes in at the time. The list comprises every book or writer that I need to read. Sometimes I make it through these lists in their entirety, but most of the time I do not. In the intervening years between first reading Bissell’s short story and now, I’ve seen essays of his from time to time but little else. Then yesterday, over on HTML Giant, I read that he was publishing a collection of essays about his addiction to video games (and flirtations with cocaine) called Extra Lives. They linked to an excerpt at The Guardian.

HOLY SHIT!

Finally, someone is looking at gamer culture with a literary (and serious) sensibility. Interestingly enough, the same Best American with Bissell’s piece also contained a short story about a World of Warcraft-esque human slave labor camp. But outside of that and Justin Taylor’s fantastic flash fiction Tetris/End of the World mash-up, I haven’t really read much that looks at gaming with a seriousness of intent. I was particularly drawn to this section in The Guardian excerpt:

What have games given me? Experiences. Not surrogate experiences, but actual experiences, many of which are as important to me as any real memories. Once I wanted games to show me things I could not see in any other medium. Then I wanted games to tell me a story in a way no other medium can. Then I wanted games to redeem something absent in myself. Then I wanted a game experience that pointed not toward but at something. Playing GTA IV on coke for weeks and then months at a time, I learned that maybe all a game can do is point at the person who is playing it, and maybe this has to be enough….

It turns narrative into an active experience, which film is simply unable to do in the same way. And it is moments like this that remind me why I love video games and what they give me that nothing else can…

Niko [the protagonist of Grand Theft Auto IV] was not my friend, but I felt for him, deeply. He was clearly having a hard go of it and did not always understand why. He was in a new place that did not make a lot of sense. He was trying, he was doing his best, but he was falling into habits and ways of being that did not reflect his best self. By the end of his long journey, Niko and I had been through a lot together. (Bissell)

What I love about this essay is that it recognizes that video games offer a textual experience wholly unique. Literature and film require active participation to a certain extent, but no matter how much you contextualize movies or visualize the scenes in books, you can never have a  literal direct effect on the chain of narrative events in the way you can with video games. Even comic books, which require more active participation than film or books by having white space segmenting the action which forces readers to play out the missing moments of time in their minds, cannot match the interactivity of a video game.

I’m not sure where this line of thinking will carry me, but it’s something I’ve been dwelling on a lot recently as video games factor into the novel I’m very close to completing, The Collected Works of the Digital Narcissist. The protagonist is a gamer nostalgic for the 8-bit games of yore and often embeds images from those games into the text. During a trilogy of scenes which take place during the early nineties, he describes his devotion to all things Nintendo via the following:

If you’ve only casually played video games, then you can not comprehend the inner depths of their joys. You don’t know what it feels like to give yourself up so completely to an alien world of colors and sprites, of repetition and absolute safety. You are no longer yourself. You are an avatar. Super Mario, an Italian plumber tumbled through the looking-glass. Link, the boy knight on a magical crusade to rescue Princess Zelda from the terrible Ganon. Samus Aran, the intergalactic bounty hunter tracking down alien eggs on a world controlled by space pirates. This becomes more “real” than the “real” world…

And so I began my descent into the world of microchips and immateriality. And so I began to fear the natural world. Because when you are represented by an avatar, you are no longer Michael Bishop, a skinny child with a broken arm and sharp ribs that push against your polar bear t-shirt. You are not weak and loathsome and oh so frightened that some threat lurks around every corner existing only to dismember you. I lost myself in those games for hours at a time, refused to leave the safety of my house and that monolithic Nintendo. I feared forests and lakes and birds and wind and most of all people.

The digital!

My first true love!

(Pane)

What’s interesting to me about all of this is echoed in Paste Magazine’s review of the aforementioned Justin Taylor’s Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever. Reviewer Charles McNair writes, “Justing Taylor’s first short-story collection artfully captures the view of the 200s from the perspective of a twentysomethingSeveral of his stories bear the unmistakable, bloggy influence of the 2000s. Do we sense some sort of new fictional frontier? Time will tell.” This is the first generation to come of age raised on video games and technology more advanced than the Atari 2600 and the Apple II. Will that have an effect on the writing produced by those writers? How about blogs and Facebook and Twitter and cell phones? I say overwhelmingly yes. Our sense of narrative has been irrevocably shifted by technology and it only makes sense that not only will the platform literature is disseminated through change, but the very writing itself.

Two brief personal examples to illustrate a point:

1) This is my actual Nintendo collection.

Over the past six years, I’ve managed to track down about 150 Nintendo Entertainment System games, 50 Super Nintendo Entertainment games and 20 GameBoy games. I don’t play newer systems very much because I’d usually rather spend my free time reading, but also because I know that like Bissell I have an addictive personality and remember all too well the days in high school when I would play Japanese Role Playing Games on the original Playstation for disgusting stretches (during one horrible summer before ninth grade, I played Chrono Cross every day for three weeks for at least eight hours at a time. I became so addicted that I only stopped to hurriedly eat a sandwich in front of the pause screen). Since college, I have been content to play the games of my childhood. Super Mario Bros. Chip N’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers. Maniac Mansion. Blaster Master. Fun games with marginal narratives that only take about a half-hour to complete.

All that being said, how can I not be affected by video games? Even if I don’t play much now, so much of my life has been spent glued in front of a television screen controlling digital avatars that it wouldn’t be realistic to clam my sense of narrative hasn’t been deeply impacted by these digital worlds. And I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in this.

2) I went to college for creative writing. The program is very serious compared to other undergrad institutions and the teachers treat their pupils more like graduate students. I often bailed on the work in my other classes to work on fiction and cnf, and this was certainly not frowned upon by the real working writers who taught us. The books lifted up for us to worship were all written by the ’80′s dirty realists and their predecessors. Carver. Dubus. Wolff. Ford. Pancake. Munro. Bobbie Ann Mason. Richard Yates. And don’t get me wrong. They all still number among my favorite writers, and my devotion to Yates borders on the religious.

Unfortunately, after many years of writing each and every day, I eventually came to realize that I will never be a master of domestic realism. I don’t have it in me. My instincts naturally strive for the geeky, the nerdy, and it’s hard to hit that aesthetic in the parameters of sparse Carver minimalism. I wrote a very bad, failed novel a few years ago in the style of domestic realism. The characters were all working class, and the subject matter included decaying mines and the folly of local politics.

It was breathtakingly terrible, and after wonderful advice from a mentor of mine, I packed it away in a drawer. Since then, I have written something much more successful, and my work has begun to be published in very small publications. While working on my new novel, I found myself referencing Nintendo, putting up screen shots, using Twitter feeds, implementing blog posts, inserting web comics and even writing an entire scene in script format. People ask why I made these narrative decisions and I can only respond that it’s what felt natural and “right” to me at the time. Like Bissell, I feel incredibly affected by the prevailing technologies of my era. To deny that by reverting to a mode of writing three decades old is akin to denying myself, something Bissell and Taylor are very clearly aware of.

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The Most Unfortunately Titled Article Ever Published or Why America Hates English Professors

A few days ago I read an entry on the LA Times blog Jacket Copy written by former Pitt MFAer Carolyn Kellogg. The article links back to a feature published in The American Book Review conspicuously titled “Top 40 Bad Books”. Normally, I wouldn’t read such a list because there’s so much great literature out there, so many wonderful opportunities. Why dwell on the negative? But the writers Carolyn name-checked from the article were enough to pique my interest (and rage): Cormac McCarthy? F. Scott Fitzgerald?! RICHARD YATES ??!! Umm….. huh? The introduction (there’s no author credited) gives us this:

Richard Ford once said that it takes as much effort to produce a bad book as a good book. And as disheartening as that sounds, what Ford’s assertion might raise, and what most everyone who has attempted the task of a book-length work already knows, is the notion that effort alone does not ensure a book’s success, and that there are probably more ways for a good book to be overlooked than a bad book to never make it into print…

That said, what constitutes a bad book? Is it an overrated “good” book? Can an otherwise good author produce a “bad” book? Is the badness in style, in execution? Or is it in theme or outlook? Or is the notion of a “bad” book even comprehensible in the age of postmodernism, poststructialism, and cultural studies?

Calling the question of “bad books” to the fore elicited—as might be expected—an overwhelming response. The forty responses below were selected to demonstrate the sheer variety of responses to what at face value seems a simple question. But as with most literary matters, nothing is as simple as it appears—not even the question of what constitutes a bad book… (American Book Review)

Ok, let’s just ignore the fact that they used the dreaded “theme” while discussing literature. I didn’t realize this was AP English. Anyway, what’s on the list? The Great Gatsby. Revolutionary Road. All the Pretty Horses. The Ian Fleming James Bond novels. Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence. Dreiser, Melville and Colson Whitehead also make appearances. On initial glance, I wanted to yell and scream and rant. The list is made up of 40 entries written by College English Professors (in all Caps of course). A few of the entires are obsessed with attacking well-renowned writers and tearing down their legacies (the Yates and Fitzgerald entries are especially, and needlessly, unkind), but there are many examples here of professors (and a writer or two) doing good work. Some don’t even name a single book. For example, take a look at what Dagoberto Gilb has to say on the subject of bad books:

Like bad girlfriends (and boyfriends, too), there are so many categories of bad books that it’d be gruesome and pathetic to categorize the various species of that sorryness. Setting aside the intrinsically aggravating that the very coquetish author is actually stupid, or the editor who chose the manuscript is too dumb or lame or dazzled, or that the system which perpetuates both of them is as flawed as a university paying for a Glenn Beck lecture series, and omitting the writers who are really salespeople, as are their duped or complicit publishers hyping their so pretty product as though…. Wait a minute, that may be what I think is a major bad book or line of them even. (Gilb) (His ellipses, not mine)

One professor wonders about the usefulness of bad books and cites Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Another, Gerald Graff, talks about the practicality of bad books in pedagogical practice. Graff writes, “It has always seemed strange to me that bad books aren’t a prominent part of our school and college literature curriculum. How do we expect students to learn to tell the difference between good and bad books unless we assign some bad ones for comparison? Don’t you need badness in order to know goodness?” Another interesting tangent is brought up by Carol Guess who says:

Notice (2004) was published posthumously. Its narrative voice was so unique that no press would touch it until Lewis committed suicide at forty. Her suicide allowed the book’s publication; now she was dead, and sufficiently chastened for examining experiences that mainstream culture attempts to suppress. Before she killed herself, Lewis wrote one more novel, The Second Suspect (1998). This book was published and reviewed during her lifetime. It was bought, and it was read. The Second Suspect is a terrible book. But it’s not just a bad book; it’s so much more. It’s a bad book riffing off the author’s masterpiece. The Second Suspect is a rewriting of Notice, but minus everything that makes Notice literary. The Second Suspect takes plot, characters, and themes from Notice and reduces them to formulaic drivel. (Guess)

It’s obvious that Guess isn’t arguing that The Second Suspect is one of the worst books ever written, just as it’s painfully clear that some of these professors have axes to grind (look at the lambasting poor Cormac McCarthy takes!) and are using the American Book Review as a platform to air their theoretical grievances. So although the article in its entiretry is far less inflamatory than expected, what I can not stand for is its title. “Top 40 Bad Books” is a horrible title when the article in question doesn’t even have a list, when some of its contributors don’t even put forth a single book. I’m hoping that this is some type of marketing ploy, that the Editors at ABR chose this title knowing it would be controversial and would garner more attention (case in point, its mention on this blog). But an article like this written by a legion of college professors does much more harm than it does good. It purpotrates a stereotype that America loves to hate, that of the stodgy old English professor who despises everything.

For an example of what I’m talking about, check out The New Republic’s review of a recent memoir, The Professor and Other Writings, by Terry Castle. Ross Posnock, the reviewer, starts his critique with the following:

The public expression of contempt for professors is one of our cherished national pastimes and is that rare thing—bipartisan… Recently on its front page the New York Times invoked “the classic image of a humanities professor … tweed jacket, pipe, nerdy, longwinded, secular—and liberal” in a story on a sociological study of the power of typecasting. And in the annals of egghead bashing, the perennial butt of the foolproof punch line has long been the English professor. For decades Hollywood has dined out on this stereotype—Dennis Quaid’s bloated, bleary, and insufferable literature professor in Smart People is only a recent entry in a long parade of fatuity—but the Times has also loyally done its part. Their reports on the MLA convention are always good for a laugh, with their generous sampling of silly and sex-addled paper titles (who can forget “Wandering Genitalia in Late Medieval German Literature and Culture”?) that the Times cited a few years ago as proof that “eggheads are still nerds” with too much “sex on their minds (and time on their hands).” Whether the accusation is justified or not is less the point than the casualness of the contempt, the easy assumption of a license to scorn. Almost no group is more safely maligned and mocked. (Posnock)

I love the New Republic (especially their dryly titled lit blog The Book), but when they think you’re stodgy you know there’s a serious PR problem. Articles like “Top 40 Bad Books” reinforce the stereotype that English professors are cranky old dipshits seething in their Ivy Towers casting their hate outwards at everything. They are not lovers of literature; they are destroyers. Fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction are the manure from which they produce their cornucopia of brilliance. While Carol Guess and Gerald Graff and Dagoberto Gilb attempt to subvert this assumption, there are just as many examples within the ABR article that prove it. Since there are no bios included within the text of the article (only the names of institutions), one has to wonder if these hater professors teach Literature exclusively or if they dabble in their school’s Comp or Creative Writing departments.

The reason why I ask about what department these professors come from is because of an article by William M. Chace in the American Scholar. This was passed around in secret between friends of mine because the views expressed within are relatively controversial in a University environment. Entitled “The Decline of the English Department”, Chace’s article explores how and why enrollment numbers in English departments across the country have plummeted since the 1960′s coinciding with the ascendancy of critical theory as the main text of the humanities classroom. His findings are what you expect. He blames things on cultural studies and theorists with pseudo-political, pseudo-philosophical agendas (thus satisfying neither the politician or philosopher) and the shift away from the so-called Great Books. This stereotype of an English professor is in line with the bogeymen presented in the ABR article: Learned Men coming down the mount to explain to us philistines why The Great Gatsby is one of the top 40 worst books ever written.

But not all is doom and gloom. What Chase ignores is the rise of undergraduate Creative Writing programs and MFAs. Their enrollments have skyrocketed since the 1960′s with MFA programs pumping out 5,000 graduates a year. Similarly, Comp programs have also evolved thanks to the work of dedicated scholars like Mike Rose and Richard Rodriguez. While regular humanities classes become more and more specialized and in some cases jettison works of fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction altogether, creative writing and comp classrooms have put the focus back on student work and the so-called great books. So, to cap off this long, rambling rant, we need more professors like Guess and Graff and Gilb willing to ruminate over tough subjects, but also willing to celebrate the beautiful act that is the reception and creation of literature. And what we need less of are professors making lists of the worst books ever written and explaining why exactly the work of Richard Yates is so offensively terrible.

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