March 13, 2018

A Writing on Writing essay from the 100th issue.

Heroes are no trite matter—people worth looking up to are important at any age. Adult influences wield less power; we come to them more fully formed, with harder edges and less need. Those first heroes are mentors, confidants, complete relationships in their one-sided way. Not unlike first loves, they hold that most delicate of heartstrings: hope. Hope for the future, for what love is capable of, what words are capable of, what we ourselves are capable of. My first hero is, always, Eudora Welty.

March 13, 2018

A Writing on Writing essay from the 100th issue.

To ease the terror of having your work picked over by him and your fellow writers, Rick ran workshop like the Grand Guignol. Jokes leavened the sting; his over-the-top performance and rhetoric made the criticism entertaining, bracing. He gave us a set of dictums he adhered to in his own work. Twenty years later, they’re available online as “The 39 Steps,” but back then, these don’ts and dos rolled off his tongue. 

March 13, 2018

A Writing on Writing essay from the 100th issue.

So, I kind of fell backward into writing, not because it came “naturally” or because I wanted to join the family business (in his novel Money, Martin Amis, the son of Kingsley Amis, famously joked, “Oh, sure. It’s just like taking over the family pub”), but because curiosity drove everything I did, and eventually that curiosity won out.

March 13, 2018

A Writing on Writing essay from the 100th issue.

I keep a photograph on my desk that I printed from the internet. It is a candid snapshot, taken at the end of a gathering of black women. It must be fall because most of them are wearing coats. It looks as if someone insisted at the last minute that they take a photo to capture the evening. In the background, a portrait of Bessie Smith, the blues singer, hangs on the wall. 

October 18, 2016

A conversation with Guy Clark biographer Tamara Saviano.

“Guy was telling me for at least a year and a half before he died that he would not be here when the book came out.”

October 21, 2016

A conversation with Ben Stroud.

“Lots of people don’t like the idea of white guilt, for a whole variety of reasons. But I think it’s useful, and important. The simple answer is that if you’re white and live in the South—or, more broadly, America—you are connected to these actions. They are part of what made the world we live in today—part of what built the various structures of privilege, etc. We live in a culture that loves to deny guilt. And in some cases, that’s very useful. Shame can be really inhibiting to living a fulfilled life, and it can be a tool of repression/oppression. But certain kinds of shame and guilt can be useful, are necessary, and I think the oft-derided white guilt can be one of these.”

January 22, 2018

Denis Johnson and revision. 

A couple of years later, I told someone about this, that the hitchhiker in “Emergency” is a real guy with the same name, that I’d watched this remarkable video of Johnson reading the story, and she second-guessed the whole thing. What if, she wondered, the interruption, the anecdote, the letter that Johnson reads is just another version of the story? It all fits together that way, that years later the narrator would be a novelist, that the character he’d almost forgotten was real would walk up and say hello. It feels a little like a final revision.

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