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Posts Tagged ‘MFA’

Jeffrey Eugenides on The Virgin Suicides

April 13, 2016 | by

Inspired by our famous Writers at Work interviews, “My First Time” is a series of short videos about how writers got their start. Created by the filmmakers Tom Bean, Casey Brooks, and Luke Poling, each video is a portrait of the artist as a beginner—and a look at the creative process, in all its joy, abjection, delusion, and euphoria.

Today’s featured writer is Jeffrey Eugenides, who discusses his debut novel, The Virgin Suicides, published in 1993. (An early installment appeared in the Review’s Winter 1990 issue.) “I wrote two hours every night, and on the weekends I would spend four hours,” he says. “Each book that you write, you swim a long way from the piers at a certain point—you just don’t know what’s going to happen. If I learned anything with The Virgin Suicides, I just learned if you keep going, you’ll figure out how to shape the thing.”

Be sure to watch the previous interviews in the series:

Your Best-selling Foot, and Other News

February 25, 2016 | by

This is Brent Underwood’s foot, a more accomplished author than you or I.

  • Writers should always have a backup plan. A good one is to consider a career in the Central Intelligence Agency, which is what Jennifer duBois did around the time she was applying to M.F.A. programs. You ask: But couldn’t she do both? “When it comes to writing for publication, the CIA’s terms are stark: once you have been under their employ, everything you write for the rest of your life will be subject to their review and redaction … The CIA emphasizes that these redactions apply only to matters of national security—that a potential novelist would not, for example, be forfeiting her artistic autonomy for a lifetime, which is a question I think I actually asked—and, for what it’s worth, I believe this. But then, how could we ever know? Who would ever tell us?”
  • Do you have three bucks? Do you have five minutes? Friend, congratulations: you’re about to become a best-selling author. Brent Underwood tells you how: “I didn’t feel like writing a book so I instead just took a photo of my foot. I called the book Putting My Foot Down and included one page with, you guessed it, a photo of my foot … I decided my foot was worthy of the ‘Transpersonal’ category under psychology books and ‘Freemasonry & Secret Societies’ category under social sciences books … Burst onto the scene with three copies sold in the first few hours. Look at that hockey stick growth!”
  • When fingerprinting came on the scene in the late nineteenth century, it was regarded as a forensics godsend—and tellingly, it coincided with the popularity of Sherlock Holmes and detective fiction. But Francis Galton, who wrote the first influential book on fingerprints, was interested in them for a different kind of fiction: “He definitively declared that ‘no peculiar pattern …characterizes persons of any of the above races.’ And yet, despite his admission that ‘hard fact had made hope no longer justifiable,’ a closer look at Galton’s writings reveals that racial typologies were never far from his thoughts. The conflicted speculation, conjecture, and hesitation in Galton’s racial rhetoric in Finger Prints can be understood as a deliberate strategy, one which allowed him to perpetuate a strong racial and imperial research program even when his scientific data undermined it.”
  • Just a friendly reminder that good times are ahead: the Oscars are happening. A whole bunch of movies will be celebrated, and most of them are highly forgettable, but in interesting ways. Luckily A. S. Hamrah knows these ways, and has written them down. On The Martian: “Ridley Scott’s backlot Mars offers a parable for New Yorkers considering the move to LA … You’ll conduct your social life via text and Skype, make trips to the desert in your electric car. You’ll continue to shave every day on the off chance you get a meeting.” On The Revenant: “Iñárritu has finally solved the problem of how to film a realistic bear fight. The next cinematic problem he should tackle is screenwriting.” On Steve Jobs: “They should have given Steve Jobs away for free without anyone asking for it, like that U2 album. That way people (users) might have watched it by accident.”
  • In 1955, the saxophonist Wardell Gray died in bizarre circumstances, found miles outside of Vegas with a broken neck, his body having clearly been moved. For Aaron Gilbreath, his story reminds of “the small pantheon of jazz fiction. Writers looking to turn real life into dramatic narrative need look no further than the real history of American music. Racism, resistance, creativity, invention, the power to shape global culture while enduring systematic repression, violence, drug use, and the countless personalities with memorable names set against the sprawling canvas of post-WWII New York City, Detroit, Chicago, and Los Angeles–it’s all there.”

Ben Lerner on The Lichtenberg Figures

February 16, 2016 | by

My First Time” is a  video series in which we invite authors to discuss the trials of writing and publishing their first books. Consider it a chance to see how successful writers got their start, in their own words—it’s a portrait of the artist as a beginner and a look at the creative process, in all its joy, abjection, delusion, and euphoria.

This installment stars Ben Lerner, poet and novelist. While an undergraduate at Brown—and later as an M.F.A. student—Lerner wrote the cycle of fifty-two sonnets that would become 2004’s The Lichtenberg Figures. At the time, he and roommate Cyrus Console were, says Lerner, “always writing under the sign of crisis ... now when I look back, we had a kind of really intense practice.” He discusses the process of imposing form, his thematic inspirations, and the challenges of taking one’s place in the creative universe. “With the first book, you don’t really know if you can do it. You have a kind of constant anxiety about whether or not you have something to contribute to the conversation. And that anxiety—it can ruin your life, but it’s also really generative. Like, it’s a kind of discipline.”

This series is made by the filmmakers Tom BeanCasey Brooks, and Luke Poling; we’re delighted to collaborate with them. Be sure to watch the previous interviews in the series:

Train Robberies for Everyone, and Other News

May 1, 2014 | by

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Marius Amdam, The Great Train Robbery

  • Junot Díaz on getting an MFA: “I didn’t have a great workshop experience. Not at all. In fact by the start of my second year I was like: get me the fuck out of here. So what was the problem? Oh, just the standard problem of MFA programs. That shit was too white.”
  • Al Feldstein, the editor who turned Mad Magazine into an institution in the late fifties, has died, at eighty-eight. “In his second issue, Mr. Feldstein seized on a character who had appeared only marginally in the magazine—a freckled, gaptoothed, big-eared, glazed-looking young man—and put his image on the cover, identifying him as a write-in candidate for president campaigning under the slogan ‘What—me worry?’”
  • When print books are scanned and converted into e-books, a process called optical character recognition is supposed to ensure that all of the letters are “read” correctly. But things sometimes go awry, and your e-book includes sentences like this: “‘Bertie, dear Bertie, will you not say good night to me,’ pleaded the sweet, voice of Minnie Hamilton, as she wound her anus affectionately around her brother’s neck.”
  • DreamWorks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg has a dim view of the future of the cinema: “A movie will come out and you will have seventeen days, that’s exactly three weekends, which is 95% of the revenue for 98% of movies. On the eighteenth day, these movies will be available everywhere ubiquitously and you will pay for the size [of the screen you watch it on]. A movie screen will be $15. A 75” TV will be $4.00. A smartphone will be $1.99… ”
  • In praise of train robberies: “Dismemberment and armed robbery have been lost in today’s commuting experience … A few train robberies would do wonders for commuter attitude. Instead of insisting the city clean up all the snow as opposed to just most of it; instead of complaining that the Citi Bike seats are too long or short, too hard or squishy; instead of issuing eye rolls when a passenger shoves in ahead of closing doors, disrupting their Candy Crush level—a train heist would remind folks that any arrival, even a tardy one, is a blessing.”
  • What’s wrong with contemporary philosophy? “The exclusion of the agrarian and nomadic, in favor of the urban and sedentary. The problem is not just ‘the West’, or Europe, or masculine domination, or white supremacy, or even the intersection of all of these. The problem is the city.”

 

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Should I Get an MFA? And Other Questions from Our AMA

September 13, 2013 | by

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Earlier this week, we hosted an AMA on Reddit: all the editors clustered around Lorin’s desk, while Stephen typed, and we addressed as many queries as we could. It was fun, and exhausting, and we were delighted and impressed with the caliber of questions! Since there were a number of points that came up repeatedly, below, we are reprinting some of the most frequently-asked questions from that session.

Do you believe that the popularity of creative writing degree programs, both graduate and undergraduate, is impacting contemporary literature positively or negatively? … As a student and writer currently debating whether to pursue the MFA route, or go on to graduate school in my chosen field of study, I would be extremely interested in your views on the matter.

The problem with creative-writing programs is not the quality of instruction; it’s the enforced isolation with other people who are thinking, eating, and breathing the same things you are. That said, much can be learned from a good teacher, or by simply spending those two years alone with a whole lot of books.

As a publishing/journalism industry hopeful, I’m curious about your career trajectories. How did you get where you are now? What were your entry-level jobs?

“Clare and I are both former (Paris Review) interns. That was our entry-level job.” —Stephen

“My first job? I was an editorial assistant at a publishing house.” —Sadie

“I was a part-time secretary at Publishers Weekly.” —Lorin

“Advertising.” —Justin

“This is my entry-level job.” —Hailey

How does the public’s taste in poetry differ now than it twenty years ago? The Paris Review had an article recently stating that there are now “an insufficiency of readers but too many people trying to get published”—how is The Paris Review combating this? Lastly, what are your pet peeves in submissions you get? For example, I work at a journal as well and my “pet peeve” is poems about pieces of obscure artwork that cannot stand alone.

The best way to interest people in reading is to publish great writing. At least, that’s our strategy.

Fashions change in poetry as in any other artistic endeavor; if there’s one generalization to be made, it’s that it’s harder to generalize now about truly gifted poets.

Pet peeves: stories about hunting, stories about MFA programs (though we’ve published our share), stories that start with someone closing a car door. Read More »

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Master Class

April 4, 2013 | by

450The packet came in the mail. My first MFA workshop would be led by Lynne Sharon Schwartz. So I did what any good writing student does: I bought and read one of her books. I remember humming along through Disturbances in the Field, deeply engaged with Lydia, a Manhattan pianist who understands her life through the lessons of the great philosophers. “Heraclitus was right,” she says. “No sooner is a position established than it erodes. The solid earth under our feet melts into water, evaporates into air, and is consumed in fire. I moved from one family to another.” The mood is heady, the details exquisite. Here, I thought, is a novel unhampered by plot: a capacious, intelligent book about the endless trouble of being smart and a woman, of being with other people and alive. A book that showed me how to write sentences, and how to live a life of the mind. Twenty-three in Brooklyn, I took constant, exuberant notes.

But then, halfway through, like a guillotine, the plot falls into place. Something irreversible occurs in Lydia’s life, something devastating. And despite the book’s description, despite the many, many narrative clues, I was shocked. Suddenly, I had in my hands an entirely different book. The armor of ideas Lydia had been forging no longer fit the shape of the world; somehow, she’d have to recast it. Schwartz was even more masterful than I’d thought.

Mildly daunted, I made my way to Bennington, where I met the author herself: a small, dignified woman who clearly didn’t suffer fools. Somehow, I managed to call her Lynne. As a teacher, she turned out to be quite compatible with her book: broad-minded yet blunt, rigorous yet humane. Unsurprisingly, she’d read everything—because, as she often insisted, the only way to become a writer was to read and live and write. Like Lydia, she could always call up just the right book for any situation.

Lynne wasn’t the first writer I’d known, but she may have been the first with whom I kept up a regular correspondence. I learned recklessly from her recommendations, and from her own books, too. In her memoir of bibliophilia, Ruined By Reading, she cautions that “the writer is born of our fantasies. Reading her book, we fashion her image, which has a sort of existence, but never in the flesh of the person bearing her name.” And yet, I really did know this person, which had to count for something. We traded childhood stories, discovered a mutual affection for Daniel Deronda and Natalia Ginzburg, shared news of births and deaths. She was known as one of the bad cops at Bennington, famous for being tough on her students. Well, if this was bad, I wouldn’t waste my time with good. Read More »

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