Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Noam Chomsky "The Responsibility of Intellectuals, Redux" ~ The Boston Review

"If the responsibility of intellectuals refers to their moral responsibility as decent human beings in a position to use their privilege and status to advance the cause of freedom, justice, mercy, and peace—and to speak out not simply about the abuses of our enemies, but, far more significantly, about the crimes in which we are implicated and can ameliorate or terminate if we choose—how should we think of 9/11?"

Noam Chomsky, revisiting some themes from his earlier works, explores collective memory and perceived enemies in this intriguing, in-depth essay.

Check it out at Boston Review.


Ash Dogs, a novel

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Seth Abramson "Six Myths about the MFA Program in Creative Writing" ~ Huffington Post

Seth Abramson's article "Six myths about the MFA program in creative writing" is a very valuable, brief article anyone thinking about an MFA should take a look at.

It's also a fine article to help debunk some misconceptions. The attitude out there, sometimes from writers without MFAs, is that people with one are somehow "elite."

Fact is, you don't need an MFA to write and write well, but for people with the time and desire, it's the ideal program to attend.

Anyway, take a look.


Ash Dogs, a novel

Friday, September 2, 2011

Back from a Fiction Desert

Over the past year, I have heard more than one NPR report on “food deserts”: low-income neighborhoods where decently nutritious food choices are not available within a reasonable distance and/or for manageable prices. So out of convenience, residents eat processed garbage from, well, convenience stores.

What about fiction deserts—has anyone else experienced this?

Two years ago, after finishing a fiction MFA in the midst of a great community of writers, I exiled myself southward from Spokane for the sake of gainful, meaningful, student-loan-repaying employment. I landed in a place that turned out to be a fiction desert.

It was also an actual desert. Or at least a steppe climate. In place of crisp pine needles descending in their soft twirl, I found menacing tumbleweeds—possibly radioactive—darting in front of my car and congregating downwind against a chain-link prison fence, where they bobbed like lottery balls in the recurring gusts.

More forlorn tumbleweeds would crawl through a dinner party in the silence that ensued after a miscalculated Louise Erdrich reference. To be fair, nobody likes a namedropper. But to be fair to literary fiction namedroppers, there should be an appropriate time and place. I didn’t find either.

The place I lived has a lot going for it. I met great and interesting friends, and the Columbia Valley is second only to Napa when it comes to wine. But culturally, the Tri Cities, Washington has that built-in problem: there are three of them. Three not-much-happening downtowns to go along with the suburban sprawl, rather than one vibrant urban center for live music, arts, and literary events. As I write this, I can hear the diehard voices saying, “If you don’t like it, leave.”

Two weeks before we did leave, my wife elbowed me at our neighbor’s end-of-summer barbecue. She pointed with her chin at two women in lawn chairs and whispered, “You should talk to them. I just heard one of them say ‘Iowa Writer’s Workshop’.” Autumn knows and loves me to the extent that she instinctively listens for fiction oases.

Later, in the kitchen, I had a chance to begin a conversation with one of them. A tall, elegant woman a decade or so older than me, she hesitated for a moment when I mentioned I'd overheard her talking about creative writing.

"Are you a writer?" I asked.

"No, I'm just a reader," she said. This almost intrigued me more. I wish I could approach stories more purely, without a thief's agenda.

Several minutes later, after we had traded meta-stories of our respective relationships with short fiction (and practically recited the end of Tobias Wolff's "Bullet in the Brain" together) I returned to my lawn chair feeling refreshed. And while I'm glad we moved away, the chance occurrence confirmed a suspicion I'd been havingthat I'd probably missed out on literary community simply because it wasn't convenient to me, and my perceived fiction desert was at least partially a product of my own laziness/busyness.

In addition to the tumbleweeds, the big Columbia crawls silently through those cities, and it is good if you take some time and go down to the water.