When I'm at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference, or reading The Writer's Chronicle, I'm always amazed by how beautifully eccentric we all are, and by the intricacies of our shared concerns.
My new essay in The Writer's Chronicle started as a lecture in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Here's the very beginning, along with a link to the site for current (and future) AWP members:
Our contemporary aesthetic generally trains writers toward empathy, away from moral judgment; toward an immaculate surface of vivid detail, away from abstraction and interpretation; toward fairness to all characters, away from taking sides, in either personal or political matters. And hooray for empathy, fairness, vivid detail, but what about when we really do wish to interpret, and even take sides, whether personal or political? Our lives are full of fascinating and enraging power discrepancies, and yet it’s difficult for fiction to show the moment when the armed and unarmed meet: there’s a strong temptation to give way to frothing indignation against the villains or bathetic pity for the victims. Writers who frequently tackle politics – whether on a grand scale or in terms of the effects of world events on individual lives – often find that all of our early work and most of our drafts suffer from a mix of such indignation and pity.
Still, fiction and poetry need not take the Chekhovian stance of the objective observer: structural conflicts, mythic resonances, and formal juxtapositions can create wild narratives, both intimate and grand.