SHOWDOWN SEMESTER: Advice from a Writing Professor by Martin Russ

SHOWDOWN SEMESTER: Advice from a Writing Professor

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In letters addressed to ""Curly""--who's about to teach her first writing-course Russ confides tricks of the trade, with specifics from two Fall 1978 classes at Carnegie-Mellon . . . and with periodic reports on his battle (doomed) against dismissal by the English department. A classroom question you can't answer? Say: ""That's a very good question. Don't ask it again."" Also--how to avoid ""good-guyism"" or long heart-to-hearts with students, how to handle the ""obstreperous strident"" (passive sadism), how to react to the rampantly sexual nature of most undergrad fiction, how to rip something apart diplomatically. And, more fundamentally, professed ""philistine"" Russ takes a sophisticated but no-nonsense approach to both expository and creative writing, vetoing ""academic snow jobs"" or blurry self-expression (""Warn your students that you will punish severely anyone who dares turn in stream-of-consciousness fiction""), bearing down on such basics as the show-don't-tell principle and clarity. These are vividly demonstrated in action--""workshopping"" student stories, private conferences, etc.--and the progress of a few individual students (an over-sensitive black girl, a Pynchon-loving artsy type) is sketched in. But the real through-line here is Russ' fight (his second such) for his job, with students rallying to praise his teaching while stuffy academics downgrade him for lack of ""administrative"" efforts. (He himself believes the bottom-line was that his apartness ""made them a little uneasy."") This struggle may not come across quite as nobly as Russ would like--he's a bit too much of a reverse snob--but it does provide just enough of a frame for his very sound and mostly amusing teaching tips: certainly worth a browse by anyone involved in this daunting profession.

Pub Date: Oct. 28th, 1980
Publisher: Crown