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THE WORKSHOP by Tom Grimes


Seven Decades of the Iowa Writers' Workshop--42 Stories, Recollections, and Essays on Iowa's Place in 20th Century American Literature

edited by Tom Grimes

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 1999
ISBN: 0-7868-6503-2
Publisher: Hyperion

Three-and-a-half dozen grade-A short stories, as hatched in one of the country’s premier academic incubators of creativity. This immense, impressive collection is edited by Tom Grimes, a novelist (City of God, 1995, etc.) and Iowa Writers’ Workshop grad who heads the creative-writing program at Southwest Texas State University. It joins three other books on the Iowa Writers” Workshop published this year: Steve Wilbur’s and Robert Dana’s companion volumes from Iowa Press, and Frank Conroy’s from HarperCollins. The Iowa books emphasize poetry and the history and dynamics of the Workshop, while Conroy, who wrote the introduction here, focuses on the creative process rather than short stories. This anthology presents Iowa’s finest short fiction, supplemented by author notes on the writing of each piece, essays (often testimonials) about Workshop experiences, and biographical notes. For each winner of a prestigious award, there are contributors whose primary credential is graduation. Grimes’s preface discusses how creativity must be honed in the “tedium of creation,” how the author and the message are secondary to the literary effect, how workshops involve “subtle and not so subtle assassinations of character,” and how “80 percent of writers in the program reported evidence of manic-depression, alcoholism,” or other emotional or addictive problems. The stories are divided by decade since the 1930s, and that of National Book Award—winner and early Iowa star Flannery O’Connor typifies the American genius for ordinary people doing extraordinary things when influenced by great stresses or passions (in “The Comforts of Home”). Even though the pieces show evidence of research and formula writing, the language, description, and plotting of even the Generation-X writers, most notably Lan Samantha Chang and Z Z Packer, are enthralling. These last two gems indicate that Iowa’s future promises to reflect more of America’s multicultural reality. Supporters of M.F.A. programs may resent egg-production metaphors, but it takes a tough writing program to make such tender short stories.