A Manner of Being: Writers on Their Mentors, edited by Annie Liontas and Jeff Parker, is a collection of essays by writers reflecting on the influence of their mentors (or lack of mentor). Most of the relationships were born in university classrooms, but despite this similarity, the experiences explored in Manner of Being are as varied as the collection of writers from which they’re drawn. The book delivers many lessons–in writing, teaching, life–and the lessons aren’t always delivered by writers (a nanny here, a bookstore owner there). There are some heavy hitters, though. Of the seventy essays, some of the writers represented are Pam Houston, Philip Levine, Mary Gaitskill, Gore Vidal, John Irving, Gordon Lish, Mary Jo Salter. There are also lesser known writers who have wonderfully told tales of their apprenticeships.
Click here for an example essay originally published in The New Yorker: George Saunders on Tobias Wolff.
By William Logan
How should I now recall
the icy lace of the pane
like a sheet of cellophane,
or the skies of alcohol
poured over the saltbox town?
On that stony New England tableau,
the halo of falling snow
glared like a waxy crown.
Through blue frozen lots
my giant parents strolled,
wrapped tight against the cold
like woolen Argonauts,
searching for that tall
perfection of Scotch pine
from the hundreds laid in line
like the dead at Guadalcanal.
The clapboard village aglow
that starry stark December
I barely now remember,
or the brutish ache of snow
burning my face like quicklime.
Yet one thing was still missing.
I saw my parents kissing,
perhaps for the last time.
from Poetry (June 2012).
In The New York Times, Alexandra Alternov writes about a new breed of poet: Tyler Knott Gregson, a web poet whose found success with his viral verse: “Seven years ago, Mr. Gregson, 34, was scraping by as a freelance copywriter, churning out descriptions of exercise equipment, hair products and medical imaging devices. Now, thanks to his 560,000 Instagram and Tumblr followers, he has become the literary equivalent of a unicorn: a best-selling celebrity poet.” Check out the unheard-of-before success of his first book of poetry, Chasers of Light, here.
“Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So that it can make us happy, as you put it ? Good God, we’d be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we loved ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any presence, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe.”
Franz Kafka in a letter to Oskar Pollak
Lit mags, so I am learning, have been on Twitter for quite a while, offering the latest submissions and publication info, as well as links to their essays, stories, poems, and interviews. Here’s a small sampling:
The Black Warrior Review
The Iowa Review
The Kenyon Review
The Normal School
Jonathan Mahler’s New York Times‘ article, “The Invisible Hand Behind Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,'” offers a glimpse into the interdependent process of creating a masterpiece.
“In the spring of 1957,” Mahler writes, “a 31-year-old aspiring novelist named Harper Lee — everyone called her Nelle — delivered the manuscript for “Go Set a Watchman” to her agent [Tay Hohoff] [but] the manuscript was by no means fit for publication. It was [. . .] ‘more a series of anecdotes than a fully conceived novel.’ During the next couple of years, she led Ms. Lee from one draft to the next until the book finally achieved its finished form and was retitled ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’”
Read the article here.
And for kicks, check out this wonderful interview with Harper Lee.
Written over 400 years ago, from As You Like It. Has anything changed about the way we grow old?
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.