All Craft Conversations take place in Hagerty Lounge at 2:35pm.
Wednesday, September 16th with Geoffrey G. O'Brien
"Escaping Pastoral: Ashbery's "The Instruction Manual" and Genre Responsibility"
This talk will carefully read John Ashbery's mid-century example of what I call "broken pastoral," an imagined escape from conditions that knows and slyly admits it can't get away with it. I'll use this reading to describe a few recent examples of innovative genre use and will gesture at what poets must take on when they they adopt and adapt genres like pastoral, bringing ancient conventions and long histories into the contemporary.
Geoffrey G. O'Brien is the author of People on Sunday (Wave Books, 2013). He is also the author of Metropole (2011), Green and Gray (2007), and The Guns and Flags Project (2002), all from The University of California Press. He is the coauthor (with John Ashbery and Timothy Donnelly) of Three Poets: Ashbery, Donnelly, O’Brien (Minus A Press, 2012) and (in collaboration with the poet Jeff Clark) of 2A (Quemadura, 2006). O’Brien is an Associate Professor in the English Department at UC Berkeley and also teaches for the Prison University Project at San Quentin State Prison.
Wednesday, October 7th with Rachel Howard
"Building Boxes, Making Fences, Forcing Leaps: Some Strategies for Three-Dimensionality in Prose"
As a writer who works from life experiences in different ways—as I think many writers do—I’m less interested in distinctions between fiction and nonfiction than I am in the difference between writing that feels “flat” and writing that places the reader in a charged space of heightened experience, renewed perspective, and active meaning-making. To me, that three-dimensionality is the difference between prose as art and prose as mere relay of information (also a noble and needed function of prose, but not the one we are working toward as literary writers). How is that three-dimensionality created, and what do you do when you find your language stuck in 2-D? This talk will look practically at a few strategies for three-dimensionality drawn from contemporary writers like Sheila Heti and Maggie Nelson, and classics by Marguerite Duras and Bruno Schulz. We’ll also look at examples from other artistic disciplines, particularly dance and the work of choreographers Ohad Naharin and William Forsythe. We often think of technique as separate from the states of consciousness that make for great writing. I’d like to propose that a shift in one can create a shift in the other.
Rachel Howard is the author of The Lost Night, a memoir about her father’s unsolved murder. Her short stories, personal essays, and criticism have appeared in Gulf Coast, Waxwing, ZYZZYVA, The Hudson Review, Canteen, The Arroyo Literary Review, Berfrois, and in the New York Times’ “Draft” series. She received an MFA from Warren Wilson College, and returned there to serve first as Joan Beebe Teaching Fellow and then Interim Director of Undergraduate Creative Writing. A longtime resident of the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, she recently moved to Nevada City, CA, where she is finishing a novel.
Wednesday, November 4th with Karolina Waclawiak
How do we assemble the framework for jaw-dropping moments in our stories? We drop hints, leave clues, and create landscapes of dread to prepare our readers for impending doom. In Object Lessons, we'll look at short stories from writers like Leonard Michaels, A.M. Homes, Junot Diaz, Mary Gaitskill, Charles D'Ambrosio and more to study how they create a sinister feeling with tiny clues laid out for the reader to brush past. In looking at how authors lay the foundation for their stories, we will be able to look at how we can integrate clues into our own work.
Karolina Waclawiak is the author of the recently published novel The Invaders and How to Get Into The Twin Palms, which was a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice and on many year-end book lists including Salon, Largehearted Boy, and others. She is an editor of the Believer and her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, VQR, and other notable publications. AWOL, a film she co-wrote with director Deb Shoval, will be released in 2016.
February 17th with Porter Shreve
“The Magnetic Character”
What do Ellen Olenska, Jay Gatsby, Yunior de las Casas, Jamaica Kincaid's fictional mothers and Olive Kitteridge have in common? They're all magnetic, the kind of characters you can build a novel around. Whether they're narrator, protagonist or secondary character they exert such a force on everyone in their sphere as to be unforgettable. In her essay "Notes on Writing a Novel," Elizabeth Bowen says that every novel needs "at least one character capable of keying the reader up, as though he (the reader) were in the presence of someone he is in love with." In this talk we'll look at some especially magnetic characters in literature and discuss various strategies for discovering and bringing them to life in our own work.
Porter Shreve is the author of four novels. The Obituary Writer was a New York Times Notable Book. Drives Like a Dream and When the White House Was Ours were Chicago Tribune Books of the Year. And his latest, The End of the Book, published in 2014, was a San Francisco Chronicle Book of the Year.
March 2nd with Sarah Manguso
Some texts move us primarily because of what they don't include. Under what literary circumstances is it more expressive to say nothing than to say something? In this talk I'll present poetry and prose that omits formal, narrative, referential, descriptive, or subjective content, and consider the techniques and effects of those omissions. Examples will include works by Man Ray, Don Paterson, James Wright, Jenny Boully, John D'Agata, Amy Hempel, Kenneth Koch, Donald Hall, Lydia Davis, Jack Gilbert, and others.
Sarah Manguso is the author, most recently, of the memoirs Ongoingness, The Guardians, and The Two Kinds of Decay. Her prose has appeared in Harper's, McSweeney's, and the New York Review of Books. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Rome Prize.