Back to School Special: Thoughtful Imitation

"Mimicry in South African Butterflies - chromolithographic frontispiece of The Colours of Animals by Edward Bagnall Poulton, 1890" by Edward Bagnall Poulton - own scan of The Colours of Animals by Edward Bagnall Poulton, 1890. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mimicry_in_South_African_Butterflies_-_chromolithographic_frontispiece_of_The_Colours_of_Animals_by_Edward_Bagnall_Poulton,_1890.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Mimicry_in_South_African_Butterflies_-_chromolithographic_frontispiece_of_The_Colours_of_Animals_by_Edward_Bagnall_Poulton,_1890.jpg

Mimicry in South African Butterflies – chromolithographic frontispiece of The Colours of Animals by Edward Bagnall Poulton, 1890. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

I didn’t study creative writing as an undergraduate; it wasn’t an option. When I enrolled in the MFA program at University of Washington, what I craved more than workshop (which I’d experienced a few times in continuing education settings) was the elusive “craft” class: reading analytically not to make an argument about literature (which I also enjoy) but to learn how another writer achieved an artistic effect. One of the most enriching classes I took at UW was such a class, taught by David Bosworth.

We looked at everything from aphorisms and fables to stories by Joseph Conrad and James Baldwin and Mavis Gallant and Marguerite Duras, among others. Students chose additional stories they wanted to dissect for the class and brought in Flannery O’Connor, George Saunders, Roberto Bolaño, and more. I felt little gaps in my novel-heavy education filling. We imitated, we analyzed, we explored choices the writers did and did not make. The one thing we were not allowed to do was write parody, a rule for which I was grateful. Allowing parody, I think, could have opened the door to being a little less thoughtful, a little less open to learning from what all of these writers offered.Continue Reading

Roundup: Traditions

In our Roundups segment, we’re looking back at all the great posts since the blog started in 2009. We explore posts from our archives as well as other top literary magazines and websites, centered on a certain theme to help you jump-start your week.

Food and family are the most common holiday traditions. For those of us celebrating, it’s easy to predict the Thanksgiving Day spread and which family member will show up late to the festivities. But it’s that comfort of familiarity, of pumpkin pie and your grandfather’s snores from the recliner, that gives us anticipation.

In preparation for the holiday, we’ve compiled some tasty offerings from the Ploughshares blog and around the Internet for you to enjoy.

2946395218_0a2860b0c9From Ploughshares

  • Caitlin O’Neil shares her writing recipe with a few helpful tips on cooking up a good story. Plus get a bonus recipe of Roasted Carrot Soup in how Writing is Like Cooking.
  • Thanksgiving time is often family time, with fathers everywhere settling into a post-turkey coma. But, while the dads of America are asleep, Ian Stansel has a couple replacements in the World’s Best (Literary) DadsContinue Reading

Writing Lessons: Erin Somers

In our Writing Lessons series, writing students will discuss lessons learned, epiphanies about craft, and the challenges of studying writing. This week, we hear from Erin Somers, a recent graduate of the MFA program at the University of New Hampshire. Erin is also the editor-in-chief of Barnstorm Literary Journal, and her other writing has appeared on The RumpusThe Millions, and elsewhere. —Andrew Ladd, Blog Editor

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Here’s a potential title for a country song: “I Learned About Heartbreak at Writing School.” Maybe there’s a whole untapped genre of music out there with major hit potential among nearsighted editors’ assistants and those that actually use their library cards. “Iowa Said No And My Dog Ran Away.” “Freshman Comp Blues.” “50thForm-Email Rejection (Standing in Line at Rite Aid).”

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Roundup: We Are Family

In our Roundups segment, we’re looking back at all the great posts since the blog started in 2009. We explore posts from our archives as well as other top literary magazines and websites, centered on a certain theme to help you jump-start your week.

Summer is here, and it’s the perfect time for family picnics, family barbecues, family visits, family… Writers, needless to say, have a long history of being inspired by family in many glorious and terrible ways. Here are some insights to remember (and some families to compare to) when you find yourself sighing heavily at the umpteenth outing.

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The Books We Teach #2: Interview with Roxane Gay

The Books We Teach series will feature primary, secondary, and post-secondary educators and their thoughts about literature in the face of an evolving classroom. Posts will highlight literary innovations in teaching, contemporary literature’s place in pedagogy, and the books that writers teach. In the spirit of educational dynamism, we encourage readers to contribute their thoughts in the comments section.

The Best Story I Read in a Lit Mag This Week: “My Parasite” by Gina Frangello

The thing about a well-developed setting is that in many ways it’s invisible: it’s hidden in a sentence that reveals a character’s flaw, it sits quietly beside an emotional truth, it’s the catalyst for a surprising behavior. Setting grounds us in a specific context so that we can believe and understand the narrative, but the writer doesn’t want us to stop and notice, to have to think: look, here we are.

You could argue that most successful elements of craft—not just setting—are also invisible, but stories set in the future, like Gina Frangello’s story “My Parasite,” published on The Rumpus on January 6 , run the risk of working too hard to show us how the time and place of the story is so different and removed from our present. When it comes to giving the reader a context when a story is set in a dystopian future, less is more. And Frangello? She nails it.

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