On Teaching Creative Writing.

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I taught a writing course in 2015. For the first class, we read DFW’s “A Brief History of Postindustrial Life” (Student comment: why postindustrial? This could be any time. Another student: well — the cars. Me: like driving to the airport in Solaris!), Donald Barthelme’s “The School,” Italo Calvino’s “The Adventure Of A Clerk” (one student making the point that Gnei, the featured character in it, had left the bed of a woman who had servants, and ended up doing things that might echo more with the woman than his actual life — i.e., getting a professional shave, etc, and that that wasn’t necessarily as elucidated as it could be in some fictive new draft somewhere), and the first chapter of The Code of The Woosters, which one student accidentally read in place of Calvino, which — when we got to the Calvino — led to a wonderful moment of — ‘Well, you know, it’s very British.’ ‘I mean — maybe the … translator was British, but …’

Some of the questions I put to my class on the syllabus I handed out –

What makes a good beginning? What makes a good ending? What don’t you know? Why? What’s most interesting about that? If you know a language other than English — is there a writer doing something in that language that you haven’t seen yet replicated in English? What’s the one ‘classic’ writer you’ve always wanted to read but haven’t had the chance to yet? Is there ‘an old favorite’ you could return to now that might — as a reader — surprise you? What’s a ‘good’ balance between rhythm and characterization? What might you ‘cordially filch’ from other art forms and bring to writing? Why? What do you think of compression? What do you think of detail? What’s the best way ‘in’ to a story? (And — is this something you want to be self-conscious of or not?)

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