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First Person

Wanted: Literary Mentor

May 21, 2013 | by


I’m in the market for a mentor. My qualifications? I’m educated. Some (prospective employers, Stafford Loan sharks, OKCupid algorithms) would say too educated. More importantly, I have wide shoulders and solid vision, am able to open most jars and decipher prescription fine print. I’m handy with sticky file cabinets and missing memory sticks. I can sort e-mails and convert floppy disks, screen calls from editors and exes, purchase trinkets and gadgets for departing lovers or estranged children.

Past potential mentors (professors, friends of friends, intermittent pen pals) have proved unwilling or unworthy for a variety of reasons. Some were in no position to accept or provide help, requiring their own full-blown interventions. Others had full plates—book tours, a slew of international residencies—or had already been claimed by another dedicated sycophant. One candidate of desirable vintage (tottering, affable, largely abandoned) preferred nubile female mentees. Another candidate projected an intriguing otherworldly aura. A certified genius, she was very kind but too far removed from the cynical workings of the world to offer much practical assistance. (In one dreamlike afternoon workshop, just prior to dropping another brilliant, indecipherable insight: “First, allow me to put on my human-being suit.”)

But enough about me, let’s talk about you. Ideally you are a cultural touchstone who would like to see your career reincarnated through a willing and qualified vessel, a literary lion(ess) seeking to direct and amplify the ripples of your influence, a charming gadabout with a tennis court and celebrity godchildren. You are able to offer constructive praise of my stalled novel (feel free to characterize it as “a more soulful rendition” of your own debut) and you are happy to engineer introductions to heiresses with serrated shoulder blades, impressionable patrons, pocket-squares-in-chief, and other figures commonly found at the fizzy intersection of art and commerce.

In these blooming, feral months of early summer there is doubtless much to do at your summer cottage. Allow me to spray the hornets’ nest in your outdoor shower, prune your butterfly bush, wax your musty MG, collect intelligence on the local unmarrieds, crack your lobsters, brew your tea, administer your nightcaps, track down exotic pipe tobaccos, sand your dock, paint your dinghy, rearrange pots and buckets as the ceiling springs the usual leaks. Deputize me to hand wash your cardigans in the sink and retrieve daily gossip, newspapers, and jugs of gin from the general store.

I’m even willing to enter into a vaguely forebidding psychosexual relationship, waking to find pieces of sea glass rearranged on my nightstand in some significant way or a constellation of fireflies scooped from the meadow and released into my rooms above the garage. Accidentally leave your diary open to a particularly suggestive passage, point out photographs of dead lovers who shared my likeness and “energy,” paint watercolors in the nude.

Perhaps in July I’ll chauffeur you through green New England hills to various conferences and retreats, manage ferry schedules and tire pressure, proofread craft talks and other remarks, prepare picnic lunches, replace reading glasses left in a truck-stop washroom, provide cold comfort and fake contact information for clingy attendees. In a humid lull between award ceremonies, I’ll use satellites to locate your cherished childhood swimming hole, shepherd you up the steep trail, apply sunscreen to your ravaged skin, and either turn my head modestly or note your fragile grace (your preference) as you strip before plunging into the cold water.

In August, as the nights cool and rents rise, I’ll ghostwrite blurbs and upload your syllabus, invite culturally significant neighbors over for cocktails and croquet while rebuffing the local book clubs. One night, drowsy from the day’s sun, picking at a cold chicken, we discuss the impending fall with unusual candor. Your editor threatens legal action over an undelivered manuscript; your biographer is bored; your department head hints at forced retirement. The last of the movie money must go to a new roof. There are no calls from Stockholm forthcoming. We jokingly contemplate murder-suicide while toasting the freedom of diminished circumstances.

The big maple in the yard turns a mournful red. You spend Labor Day with family. Shunned, I write a story about a dying, vice-riddled artist haunted by regret. You retaliate by writing a story about a talentless, deceitful striver who worms his way into the confidences of a trusting, benevolent sage.

Our falling out is quick and bloodless. You instruct the groundskeeper to pack my belongings while I’m off at the pharmacy. I return to tutoring while you pen a widely mocked editorial on the fecklessness of millennials. My story is rejected at the usual places while yours is acquired by the latest well-funded online outfit.

CV, samples, and references available upon request.

Michael McGrath is a writer living in Connecticut and a former Poe-Faulkner Fellow at the University of Virginia. Visit him at




  1. babalouie | May 21, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Michael McGrath is a writer living in Connecticut and a former Poe-Faulkner Fellow at the University of Virginia. He is also bloody boring and I think I can whoop his ass silly and get the spirit inside him so he can write better. Like this. From the gut. Bam!

  2. anneik | May 21, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    Very nabokovian, thanks for the brief getaway.

  3. Maria | May 21, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    This is hilarious. Nice writing.

  4. Nigel | May 22, 2013 at 2:27 pm

    This is third time I’ve read a piece, thought to myself, “damn, that’s good,” and then saw Michael McGrath wrote it. Very enjoyable!

  5. George Balanchine | May 23, 2013 at 7:11 am

    Wow, what a weird article! Nice to see someone try to reach beyond irony or feeble satire for once.
    But isn’t the writer talking about graduate school and not “literary mentorship”?

  6. Dan Conley | May 23, 2013 at 9:18 am

    Michael, try some ghostwriting. It’s all this and more. At least your fictional mentor never passed on twenty hours of rambling audio recordings when you asked for notes on Chapter Four.

  7. Kit | May 23, 2013 at 9:40 am

    So this was the life I missed!

  8. Copper Sloane Levy | May 23, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    The irony of this for me is that I’ve been looking for a literary mentor for some time now.

    Not actively, or pressingly, but I sort of go into relations with certain professors and favorite writers hoping they’ll take me in as a sort of project, someone to pass on their knowledge to.

    Wishful thinking, I suppose.

  9. Bruice Owen | May 26, 2013 at 4:46 am

    Mentors…Lorca to Cohen, Lorca to Neruda…Lorca to Spain…mentor to the green valley and the green balcony…mentor within the sound of “verde…” Owens

    “In these blooming, feral months of early summer there is doubtless much to do at your summer cottage”

    Leaf Mirrors Adrift

    Where can I find you Lorca
    asleep among the poppies of snow
    that grow next to her skin
    A candle glows
    in the middle of a stream
    flowing towards her lips
    You kiss the rose
    and gently toss it
    into the sea
    at war with itself
    did not know how
    to strum her long undone hair
    the color of dusk or the shine
    of a crows wing

    They did not know how to fly into her
    low hills, the trees, a silhouette of eyelashes
    closing on the cafe lights
    where you read her this poem
    sipping spring water from the palm of her hand

    Like the rifle smoke after the execution
    you staggered off, your white silk shirt
    stained red
    and where you fell
    no one knows
    where you left you dreams

    Some of them drifting down the Hudson
    like leaf mirrors
    Other having found harbor in small towns
    like moths around a porch light

    And maybe one dream was clutched in Hart’s hand
    before he leaped overboard

    And the goons that killed you outside your friend’s house
    the goons that dragged you out into a field
    jeered you and called you a Fag

    But now, some sixty years later,
    I touch your green words in the tower of the wind
    and my hands on the balcony
    look out into the world,
    the green, green world…

    Copyright by Bruce Owens

  10. Bruce Owens | October 21, 2015 at 5:05 am

    “Bruice Owen” and “Mentors…Lorca to Cohen, Lorca to Neruda…Lorca to Spain…mentor to the green valley and the green balcony…mentor within the sound of “verde…” Owens

    “In these blooming, feral months of early summer there is doubtless much to do at your summer cottage”

    This string of words and the misspelling of my name misrepresent the poem I wrote: “Leaf Mirrors Adrift” I would think that The Paris Review would show some consideration and respect for the author and eliminate this kind of posturing.

    Prof. David Gareth Walters College of Arts and Humanities
    Swansea had this to say concerning the poem: “It’s a very sensitive composition, and what I like about it is its allusive quality – both to the period and to other writers (such as Hart Crane). It also reminded me of some of the poems that Neruda wrote when he was in Spain around the start of the Civil War. It’s a fine tribute to Lorca. You don’t ape his style but it seems to capture through transformation some of his motifs (the green in particular).

    I congratulate you on the quality of this piece and trust that it will be published somewhere soon, if it has not been already.”

    Notation: Gareth Walters was appointed Professor of Hispanic Studies in 2007, having previously held chairs at the universities of Glasgow and Exeter. He has researched widely on Spanish and Catalan poetry, and recently produced an edition of Quevedo’s Poems to Lisi with his own verse translations. He has also published on various aspects of Spanish music, notably on Manuel de Falla and Lorca. Since 2004 he has given papers at international conferences in Palermo and Barcelona and delivered the Kate Elder Lecture at Queen Mary University and the Olwen Reckert Lecture and Cardiff University. He has examined doctoral theses in the UK, Eire and Spain. He is on the advisory board of Bulletin of Spanish Studies, and is a member of the Iberian Languages panel for the Research Assessment Exercise of 2008.

  11. John Kimuhu | April 5, 2016 at 6:07 pm

    This is amazing. Can you mentor me?? Haha. I want to write like. To SEE like this.

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