the contextual life

thoughts without borders

meet the reader: the mfa pursuer

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liz once worked in the book publishing industry in nyc. she’s since moved to florida to pursue an mfa. kind enough to take time away from reading and writing, liz has some suggestions for us.

what are you reading now?
Just finished Alice Munro’s collection The Progress of Love. Now on to Alan Gurganus’s collection The Practical Heart.

last great book you read that you would recommend? who should read it and why?
The Interrogative Mood by Padgett Powell. This book plays with form in such an interesting way and is wholly (surprisingly) successful. Every sentence in the book (except for one) is a question and there are no traditional characters but a voice and sensibility emerge that comes to characterize the interrogator and then, also, to implicate the reader.

what author have you come across in recent years that you wish everyone read?
Etgar Keret! Also, Peter Taylor: The Old Forest and Other Stories.

have you read any biographies of or memoirs by writers that stand out to you?
Raymond Carver by Carol Sklenicka. Such an interesting person; not an easy life.
Cheever by Blake Bailey. Very thorough and good New York publishing gossip.
Zelda biography of Zelda Scott Fitzgerald by Nancy Milford. What a character!
Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford. New York in the twenties!
Joan Didion’s memoir The Year of Magical Thinking. So honest and ravaging.

a writing or style guide that had a profound or lasting effect on your writing (and reading)?
Actually, a textbook: Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway. Also, Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook.

is there a particular author who inspires you to write?
Alice Munro. Mary Robison. George Saunders. Munro’s craft and the way she allows a story to unfold by its own rules. Robison for her sentences and ways of rendering the world. Saunders for his imagination and humor.

do you read literary journals? if so, which ones?
Story Quarterly, AGNI, American Short Fiction, Tin House, Crazyhorse, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, Conjunctions.

literary websites?
Robert Birnbaum at The Morning News and IdentityTheory.com

book review pages?
New York Times, Bookforum, New York Review of Books, The Atlantic. I also like reading interviews on the Paris Review archives and Powell’s website.

what’s one of the biggest changes you’ve experienced or witnessed going from the publishing industry to an mfa program?
Time. Time. Time. Time. I came to an MFA program for one reason: the time to write.

do you feel there’s a disconnect between the two?
Yes. The two do not have a dialogue. Writers in the MFA program have very little knowledge of the publishing world and the marketplace. And in publishing, there is never talk about reaching out to writers in MFA programs. I think there is a missed opportunity for the publishing industry to reach out to MFA programs not necessarily as a source of writers but as a source of readers. Marketing and publicity never know what to do with those new literary fiction novels and MFA students are the prime audience.

what are some publishing houses you admire? why?
The usual suspects for literary fiction: FSG, Knopf. I am looking at my bookshelf and I’ve got favorites from Norton, Picador, Ecco, Scribner. My loyalty is with the author. I don’t much care where they are published. I don’t think the general public pays any attention to the colophon on the spine.

do you listen to literary radio programs either on the radio or via podcast?
I love Selected Shorts.

i’ve recently read a collection of essays by zadie smith. she sounds like she was not only an avid reader when she was young but also incredibly astute. i admire that in her but i’m also envious. what was your reading like when you were young? do you ever look back and wish you’d had more direction?
I found my way intuitively. I used to go into bookstores when I was young and read the back cover copy and take a chance on things. I ended up reading a lot of Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou. Something about their writing and the stories they told hooked me. My education in the Classics has major holes in it that I will try to fill over the course of my life.

what book did you read in school that you look back on now and are glad it was assigned?
E. M. Forster gets mentioned again and again in my writing life and I am glad I read Howard’s End in school.

what book do you wish was part of a grade school curriculum?
I wish grade school, high school, and college offered more contemporary fiction to students. I think kids get turned off from reading because they think it’s all old, boring, inaccessible language. Most students have no awareness of contemporary fiction until they are out of college and start to seek things out for themselves (if they seek books out at all). I’d love for middle schoolers to read Junot Diaz.

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Written by Gabrielle

March 16, 2011 at 7:59 am

One Response

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  1. I feel, the love that Osho talks about, maybe is a kind of pure love beyond the mundane world, which is full of divinity and caritas, and overflows with Buddhist allegorical words and gestures,
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    Oakley Jupiter Squared

    September 22, 2014 at 9:21 pm


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