An anthology of personal recollections by writers of their mentors.
Many deride collegiate creative writing courses as a plague on literature. To them, most such courses churn out academically correct acolytes and followers of literary convention—academics birthing academics—who spend their careers congratulating each other on their genius (with an incestuous showering of blurbs and awards) but offering comparatively little of enduring value. Too often, the critique is valid. This book, edited by Liontas (Let Me Explain You, 2015) and Parker (English/Univ. of Massachusetts; Where Bears Roam the Streets: A Russian Journal, 2015, etc.), reflects both the virtues and deficits of books immersed in the vagaries of this world. At times playful, touching, and trenchant, the contributions can also be nebulous, labored, and much too self-consciously “literary,” with allusions to writers few will recognize. Nearly 70 authors, many known chiefly to each other, recall their principal influences in writing and in life. Some mentors are recalled anonymously, others were neither writers nor teachers, and for many, books were their counselors. Alas, many a fine writer must augment his or her income by teaching. Some are outstanding at it and at mentoring; their influences are profound. Others tend to perpetuate the worst failings of academic fiction: turgid prose, fealty to fashion, slavish imitation, and undisciplined experiment. But at their best, they give young writers a sense of a way in, of how to take risks and not be derailed by failure, of focusing on the process, not the audience, of obtaining clarity and power, and of finding a place at the table. Notable contributors include Tobias Wolff, George Saunders, Aimee Bender, Mary Gaitskill, Jay Parini, Sam Lipsyte, Sheila Heti, and Tayari Jones.
While too eccentric to succeed as a general handbook for mentoring and being mentored—sage aphorisms and sound guidance are often weakened by wanderings and pretension—the book does offer arresting memories and useful advice on navigating the writing life.