Discussion Topics

Ideas and opinions to spur reflection and debate.

In the article Way, Way Too Much Information (Poets & Writers Magazine, page 13), contributor Frank Bures discusses the deluge of information being produced and trafficked in our culture. He refers to a study from the University of California, Berkeley, that reported in 2002, “human beings created five exabytes of data—or thirty-seven thousand times the amount of information stored in the Library of Congress.” With all of these bits and bytes zooming around, some writers, such as Pico Iyer and Tom Bissell, have sought refuge in remote areas in order to produce work in an atmosphere of fewer distractions. Think about your own creative process. Do you typically seek solitude when sitting down to write? Or do you feel that you work best with more external stimulation?

In “Chinese Characters” (page 21), Stephen Morison Jr. explores the burgeoning literary scene in China. He describes the work of new writers such as Chun Sue and Qing Li Wen, noting that within the youth-driven movement of “Ba Ling Huo,” influences from Western pop culture abound. If young Chinese writers are making use of Western (and particularly, American) culture, is the same dynamic happening from the other side of the Pacific Ocean? Do you see American writers mining from Chinese and Asian cultures as the literary landscape becomes broader, more global?

The article by Daniel Nester “Memoir? What Memoir? Frey’s Novel” (page 18) discusses the upcoming publication of James Frey’s new novel, Bright Shiny Morning. Frey’s previous book from 2003, A Million Little Pieces, became infamous in the publishing and literary communities when it was discovered that this supposed memoir was in fact a fictionalized account of his life. According to Nester, James Frey and his publisher are hoping for a comeback, though some people might argue that Frey has permanently damaged his credibility as a writer. Do you believe that James Frey deserves a second chance with readers? Would you buy, read, and potentially embrace his new work with the knowledge that he has previously betrayed

In the column First (page 67), Melissa J. Delbridge is profiled by Amy Rosenberg. Delbridge, who grew up in Alabama and is categorized by some as a “Southern” writer, speaks of her impatience with negative Southern stereotypes: “I get real tired of the dumb-Southerner shit.” Consider the label under which you may be categorized—as a “woman” writer, an “African American” writer, a “gay” writer, etc.—and the stereotypes, expectations, that may accompany that label. In what ways do you think you fit or transcend that label? And do you feel limited or affirmed by such a designation?

In “You Cannot Tell This to Anybody,” the profile of Valzhyna Mort (page 29), Mort talks with interviewer Kevin Nance her use of the Belarusian language. She says that in the last century, “Belarusian was the language of poor, rural people,” and that even now it carries such a stigma of provincialism that many contemporary Belarusians refuse to speak it. Consider the language that you use in your own writing. It may very well be English, but what kind of English? Is yours the language of the young, the immigrant, the urban, the affluent? Do you use dialects, accents, regional idioms in your work? How does your use of language, your particular version of English, inform your creative work?

The special section “Project Lit Mag” (page 49) covers several key aspects of literary publishing—how to get published, where to get published, and what editors of literary magazines are seeking. Most of the editors who offer their perspectives agree that more and more submissions are coming into their magazines. However, one editor, Stephen Corey of the Georgia Review, says that “the competitive pool” is still “very small.” How would you explain this phenomenon? Is it possible that even though there is more writing being produced, it is actually weak writing of an unpublishable sort?

In “Where the Real World Lies” (page 35), fiction writer Lee Martin is interviewed by Amos Magliocco. Martin speaks of the importance of “vulnerability” in a writer, and of the resourcefulness of a writer to make good use of bad fortune. “Life will test you,” Martin says. In what ways have you been personally tested in life? And how have you used these events, these difficulties or disappointments, in forging your own creative voice?

Nat Sobel, a veteran agent in the publishing industry, is interviewed by Jofie Ferrari-Adler in this issue's installment of “Agents & Editors” (page 41). Sobel is asked by Ferrari-Adler about the submissions he receives from MFA writers, and this is part of Sobel’s response: “In much of the material I’ve seen from MFA writers, they’re writing about the standard stories of family trauma, divorce, the death of a parent. They’re very capably written. But we’ve seen too much of that.” Do you think your own work is of the type that Sobel decries? Why or why not? And if you are or have been a student of a creative writing program, do you think that these programs produce homogenized work?

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