Wednesday, July 6, 2011
Jess Row, "Dear Yale," and "Workshop-safe Writing": VCFA Summer Res 2011 Comes to a Close
In an interview with Guernica, Jess Row talks about the politics of elite American universities (in response to his story Dear Yale)....I admit I'm impressed with this under-40-something guy, particularly his politics and place as faculty at VCFA, thus my share. Here's a quote from the interview:
"Don’t get me wrong: I love universities. I loved my time in college. Before I went to Yale I had no idea what it meant to have an intellectual life. I tried, to the best of my abilities at the time, to make use of its immense, unbelievable resources. At the same time, I was deeply lazy and complacent. I took it for granted that because I was a Yalie certain things would come naturally to me—for example, that, without any training at all, I would be able to teach English grammar to speakers of Chinese. I lived under the sway of that immense collective narcissism until I graduated and it burst, and, then I had, for all intents and purposes, a nervous breakdown. Which is not at all uncommon."
The interview ends with an important point about how we teach writing in contemporary American workshops and why we need, as writers, to continually question the walls and rules we accept and apply to our work. A rather poignant read as our 10-day Vermont College Writers Residency comes to a close and we return to our homes and families, our jobs and pets....I for one am interested in pushing the limits of my work to a place that is less than cozy.
"I think it’s also important to say—and maybe I didn’t make this clear enough in the Rumpus interview—that of course American fiction is full of fearsomely intellectual and cerebral writers, David Foster Wallace and William T. Vollmann being two obvious examples. But I think some writing workshop instructors would like to pretend that those writers don’t exist, because they are relatively hard to teach, and their methods (and, to be frank, their interests and intellectual range) are so far beyond the reach of many beginning writers. As a writing teacher, I’ve been trying steadily to raise the bar for my students over the years—to expose them to the full range of possibilities in contemporary prose, and ask them to participate in that universe. But it’s not easy. There is such a thing as workshop-safe writing, and many students (and teachers) want to cleave to it and not let go."