In this second installment of three articles, draft editor Mark Polanzak opines about the writerly mystique and all the drama surrounding literary genius.
After the mandated souring of young persons to the act of reading through our educational system, there’s the culture of book people to contend with. How do we as a society view authors?
On a recent South Park episode, when Butters took credit for authoring the novel Scrotie McBoogerballs and the world deemed him a genius writer, his look morphed from anxious nerdlinger in pale green tee to self-important writer-douche in black frame eyeglasses and gray sweater. The episode goes on to point out that books are not simply enjoyed for the stories they tell. Rather, they are bizarre language puzzles that concoct impenetrable metaphors and allegories that readers must set to figuring out. There’s this bullshit air of mystery about the whole endeavor and about authors themselves. Continue reading →
In this first installment of three articles, draft editor Mark Polanzak sounds off about high school English curricula, literary culture, and reading events. Today, we hear him bitch about Beowulf.
A Note From The Author
I see my job as a college writing and literature teacher as largely a mission to get college students to enjoy reading and see some value in writing smartly, despite their declared major. Each semester, a handful of students tell me, “No offense, but I hate reading…” I tell them, “None taken, I didn’t invent books.”
But it’s sort of shitty to hear that young people truly hate the act of reading, because I write, and also because it hurts to hear that others laugh at your pleasures. No offense, but your interests blow. Oh, none taken. It also hurts to be so uncool. To belong, in part, to the artistic/entertainment group that the majority of the population doesn’t give a rat’s ass about.
I blame my students’ distaste for reading on several things:
1) The crazy joke of our high school English curriculum
2) A smelliness in the bourgeois literary culture
3) The sadness of reading events
All of these need serious revamping and soon, or else we’ll lose even more generations of readers and plunge the publishing world into a darker pit than it’s already falling through at terminal velocity. Continue reading →
Issue 4 is here! We hustled to get it done in time for AWP 2014 in Seattle, and it came straight from the presses the day before we boarded our cross-country flights to the 11,000-writer extravaganza and sprawling bookfair. Thanks to everyone who stopped by our table and picked up a copy or subscription.
We’re really proud of this issue that features fantastic stories by David James Poissant (an old MFA classmate who has his first collection just out!), Helen Phillips (whose flash collection And Yet They Were Happy we loved), and Amy Bloom (Amy Bloom!!!!!!!!!!).
And look at that cover. Look at it! We love the artwork by Mark Vollenweider that features an image from Helen Phillips’ story in this issue.
If you’re teaching a fiction workshop this fall, this issue would be a great resource for your revision unit (if we do say so ourselves).
The posts below are puerile odes to the fragility of language. Steal one letter, just one little letter from a thing, and that thing becomes a different thing. And hopefully it becomes a funnier or weirder or sexier thing. All the titles below were written by two friends on the wrapper of a spinach and cheese croissant from Au Bon Pain. They are the offspring of spinach, cheese, and coffee. The descriptions that accompany the titles were written by one friend, and are the offspring of bourbon and Doritos.
The Da Vinci Cod
In which Dan Brown discovers the secret history behind one our greatest minds, (and one of our greatest fish). Continue reading →
“A work of art is good if it has sprung from necessity. In this nature of its origin lies the judgment of it: there is no other. Therefore, my dear sir, I know no advice for you save this: to go into yourself and test the deeps in which your life takes rise; at its source will find the answer to the creation whether you must create. Accept it, just as it sounds, without inquiring into it. Perhaps it will turn out that you are called to be an artist. Then take that destiny upon yourself and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without asking what recompense might come from outside. For the creator must be a world for himself and find everything in himself and in Nature to who he has attached himself.”
“There is here no measuring with time, no year matters and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means, not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer. It does come. But it comes only to the patient, who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide.”
From the story “The Teacher,” in Winesburg, Ohio. Yes, Sherwood Anderson. Yes.
The school teacher tried to bring home to the mind of the boy some conception of the difficulties he would have to face as a writer. “You will have to know life,” she declared, and her voice trembled with earnestness. She took hold of George Willard’s shoulders and turned him about so that she could look into his eyes. A passer-by might have thought them about to embrace. “If you are to become a writer you’ll have to stop fooling with words,” she explained. “It would be better to give up the notion of writing until you are better prepared. Now it’s time to be living. I don’t want to frighten you, but I would like to make you understand the import of what you think of attempting. You must not become a mere peddler of words. The thing to learn is to know what people are thinking about, not what they say.”
UPDATE:Here’s the full text of the Soderbergh speech referenced below. If you care about anything, read it.
Shane Jones has a good post over at HTMLGiant that reflects on the publishing industry and on some cogent comments Director Steven Soderbergh recently made.
Here’s something Soderbergh says in his speech that should make every young filmmaker, writer, and artist, take notice: when questioning why his film Side Effects didn’t do well he comes up with the answer that there is no answer because everyone at the studio had already moved on to the next release. And when a film (or book) doesn’t do well, it’s not the studio (or publisher) who is truly affected, it’s the artist.
UPDATE: It is now Thursday, April 18. Berklee College has been closed all week with a partial opening scheduled for tomorrow. We have lost an entire week of school. We will have a college-wide meeting on Monday to address the attacks. My classes have two weeks left, final projects to do, assignments to complete, all the regularly scheduled stuff. But we will dedicate a portion of next week to addressing the effects on the college community. A Berklee student was injured in the bombings. Many others have donated their time and energy to volunteering at hospitals. We are caught up in the events, and we have the end of the term fast approaching. I want to ask: what would you do with these classes for two weeks? Can I ask for your help in advising me going forward? Thanks in advance for any suggestions.
Some asshole detonated two bombs on Boylston Street, near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, here in Boston on April 15, Patriots’ Day, “Marathon Monday,” “Tax Day.” Marathon Monday in Boston is a really nice day, typically. It’s a state holiday; everyone here in the seat of the American Revolution has the day off while the rest of the country suffers another shift at work. Thousands of people pile into the city for a really nice thing—friends, family, strangers running 26.2 miles through Boston, the longest standing marathon in the United States. My father ran the marathon when I was four. My neighbor Paul ran the marathon a few years back. My friend Justin ran the marathon two years ago, and I was there to support him (read: drink beers with another friend near the finish line). I’ve always watched the intrepid runners, wondering if I’d ever get up the courage to attempt such a feat. Two Patriots’ Days ago, I was standing and laughing and cheering for strangers and friends—people determined to run an absurdly long distance to prove something to themselves, to get in shape, to triumph, to join in tradition, to go after something cool and weird and respectable and good—right where a bomb exploded yesterday, killing three, including an eight-year-old boy, maiming dozens, and injuring a hundred more. Why? Continue reading →
I’ve been thinking about all the stuff that gets cut away from stories. Behind everything we see published are these ghost drafts, words and sentences that will never be read that lurk on our hard drives or in notebooks. Obviously we love these ghost drafts at draft, and we’re always looking to get our hands on particularly interesting passages.