Wednesday, June 03, 2009

I almost forgot to mention the book

In the post below, Menand's article focuses on The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing (Harvard UP 2009) by Mark McGurl, associate professor of English at UCLA.

Quote about workshops that hits home

People who know me and my rants know that while I love writer's groups, I loathe "workshops," specifically those squads of usually unpublished fiction writers or poets who get together to comment on each other's art. A writers' group can be a wonderfully productive, supportive, collaborative enterprise. But Workshop in the way it has come to be defined in MFA programs and the creative writing side of English majors can be unnecessarily brutal, and more often than not just plain wrong. It can help to have a successful, published author guide you in your writing. It does not help to have a wannabe who has never published a word eviscerate you in front of your peers.

Louis Menand of The New Yorker said this better than I could when he wrote the opening paragraph of his article about such matters this week: Creative-writing programs are designed on the theory that students who have never published a poem can teach other students who have never published a poem how to write a publishable poem. The fruit of the theory is the writing workshop, a combination of ritual scarring and twelve-on-one group therapy where aspiring writers offer their views of the efforts of other aspiring writers.

Amen, and I breathed a sigh of appreciation at his understanding when I read it: "He gets it." Menand has published some wonderful books, including with publishers I love such as Oxford and FSG, yet I can hear in his words a yelp of pain that surely he received from a remembered blow in one of these courses somewhere, sometime. Either that or I'm imagining things (that never happens).

Meanwhile, the summer book groups proceed apace. We meet, we challenge one another, we offer support and goals and accountability. But we never, ever tear into each other, not even in the name of "constructive criticism." There is a place for such things, but in private, and only from someone who has published and who is offering genuine, caring guidance.

Photo of Louis Menand from the Harvard website. He even looks like someone who would understand. A-men.

Monday, June 01, 2009

A Booklab Baby

Charlene Brown-McKenzie, who is the Director of the Meyers Institute for College Preparation at Georgetown, and her husband Alton had another baby. Maybe we should start a tradition of posting pictures of Booklab Babies (Charlene doesn't work at Booklab, but Carole sometimes teaches summer school writing for Charlene's program, and she has tutored on Saturdays during the school year).

Say hello to big brother Micah McKenzie holding new baby Gabriella Rose.