Discussion Topics

Ideas and opinions to spur reflection and debate.
In “The Art of Reading Andre Dubus” (Poets & Writers Magazine, page 21), Joshua Bodwell includes this quote from the famed fiction writer Dubus: “If there were no sin, there wouldn’t be art.” Do you agree with Dubus’s claim? Is literature driven by actions and ideas of good and evil?

Also in “The Art of Reading Andre Dubus,” Bodwell discusses Dubus’s talent for creating female characters. Bodwell quotes the fiction writer Tobias Wolff on this topic; Wolff says that Dubus “wrote better about women than any man of his generation, both from their point of view and from without.” If Dubus, as a male writer, was especially adept at writing women, then which female writers, in your opinion, are equally adept with men?

In “The Practice of Remaining in the Dark” by Robert Boswell (page 63), Boswell challenges the conventional wisdom on the writing of fiction. He says that while many writers believe that “you must know your characters and their worlds quite thoroughly to write about them, “ this is simply “not true.” Instead, Boswell says, a writer must be willing to work “in the dark.” Consider what Boswell means in this statement, and if you agree with his theory of “remaining in the dark.”

In “The Permanent Prince” (page 10), Sarah Weinman discusses the use of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a “narrative template” for two recently published novels: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski and Undiscovered Country by Lin Enger. Weinman also notes in the article that “Jane Smiley could not have written her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Thousand Acres without several close reads of King Lear.” Do you think these contemporary writers should be commended for making fresh use of classic material?—or is borrowing a “narrative template” a dubious shortcut?

In the profile of Ethan Canin, “From Vladivostok to Gibraltar on His Knees” (page 36), writer Kevin Nance quotes Canin on the recent changes in American literature. “In the last decade, two things happened that are bringing about a real shift,” says Canin. “One is the Internet, which makes research so much easier . . . . The other thing that happened is September 11. It’s made people realize that there are larger forces out there to think about.” What else, in your opinion, is currently impacting American literature? What other events, innovations, policies, ideas, are changing the literary landscape?

In the “Agents & Editors” feature (page 27), Jofie Ferrari-Adler interviews veteran editor Janet Silver. In the interview, Silver says, “I find that the best writers, the most ambitious writers, are the greatest readers, and not just of contemporary fiction, but of classic fiction.” Do you agree with Silver’s suggestion that contemporary writers should be reading classic fiction? Do you read classic fiction yourself?—and if so, does it impact or enhance your writing style?

Also in the interview with Janet Silver by Jofie Ferrari-Adler (page 27), Silver describes what she is not looking for in a piece of new writing: “There are a couple of things I see in first fiction that always tell me something is not for me.” The first, according to Silver, is “a young female protagonist with a vaguely artistic temperament” who within the first ten pages “looks in the mirror and describes herself.” The second is a dream motif, which Silver labels as “too easy.” Have you seen these elements in fiction, either in published work or your own? And would you agree that these elements verge on the clichéd?

“Anthologies Offer Poetic Diplomacy” (page 15) highlights the publishing of several new anthologies of international poetry. The reporter, Travis Nichols, notes that these editions contain the work of writers “from over a hundred countries and territories,” many of whom “have never before had work translated into English.” What is the benefit to American readers and writers in being exposed to poets from outside the United States? And what does Tina Chang, editor of one of these international anthologies, mean when she says to Nichols that “poetry is the ambassador of the spirit”?

In “The New Creative Nonfiction Writers” (page 12), Kelly Nuxoll discusses the rise of “citizen journalism,” the blogging and informal reportage done by nonprofessional journalists. Nuxoll applauds the “plurality of voices” that this phenomenon has produced, but she is concerned about the growing pressure to “get one’s ideas out when the news cycle is still fresh.” Which aspects of writing are more important to the reporting process: the speed and immediacy of a writer’s report, or its quality and craft?
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