Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Zipping my lip (because I'm not Gordon Lish)

What can I say to my Creative Writing students? They're writing marvelous stuff and offering terrific suggestions during workshops, making all the points I would have made if I hadn't zipped my lip. By the time they're done, I have little left to say but "Carry on."

My writing workshop is very different from the one Carla Blumenkranz describes in "Seduce the Whole World: Gordon Lish's Workshop" (read it here). The legendary Lish "asked students to write to seduce him," explains Blumenkranz, and "if he really liked what you were doing, he might sleep with you, or he might publish your book."

That's not happening in my class,  and not just because I have no power to publish anyone's books and I cherish certain moral standards that disallow sleeping with students. I want my writing students to lure reluctant readers into their essays, but any seduction that takes place is strictly metaphorical. Of course, I'm not Gordon Lish, who, according to Blumenkranz, liked to keep his students off balance:
He created a situation in which each student had to approach him, like a stranger at a party or a bar, to see if she could catch his attention. Lish shot down these nervous suitors one by one, not even bothering to hear out the pickup lines they fretted over. Then he shifted in an instant to a masculine role: talking endlessly, enacting his charisma, awing his listeners into submission.
Again, not happening in my class. A writing workshop is where we work on writing, so if I'm "talking endlessly," something is wrong. I like to set them loose on a task and then get out of their way and let them run with it, which doesn't leave much room for "enacting charisma" or "awing listeners into submission." If they're going to be in awe of anything, it should be the power of words.

Lish seemed to love the aura of authority conferred by the professorial role, but I'm happiest in my writing classes when I'm sitting quietly as my students carefully read each other's work and offer insightful suggestions about how to improve. If they leave me little so say, so what? I may control the gradebook, but ultimately, they're not writing for me. They're writing because they are writers.


Bardiac said...

Lish sounds like a privileged male who likes enacting privilege. And thus, he sounds like someone I wouldn't want to interact with at all.

What is it with some male professors having this seducing students/being seduced by students thing? Really troubling.

Bev said...

I agree, and I sincerely hope that Lish would not be able to get away with those shenanigans if he were teaching today. But maybe I'm dreaming.