Hank Lewis' Visit
Hank's visit was wonderful. He's an clear-headed & wide-ranging thinker about writing, story & the cultural role of the fiction writer. He's also a beautiful writer (check out these "Missives" on Blackbird), but a writer who always brings both the story & the lyricism back to both cultural & personal commitments. The best way to speak the hard truths in his work is to have characters as fully realized as possible. Writing for him is importantly entertainment for both the writer & the reader, but an entertainment that immerses in the lived experience.
It reminded me of why it is useful to talk intensely about writing with writers, why schools bring writers in. These visits at their worst are simply collecting big names to list on the university websites. I tend to see an inverse relationship between the public standing of a writer & their ability to convey anything of actual interest to a group of writers.
Last week I attended an event that was billed as a reading at another university; it featured a National Book Award Winner of considerable standing & significant talent. Instead of hearing a fiction reading i sat through a lecture about writing that featured a long build-up to platitudes such as "A good story tells a story" & "Trust the imagination." He made a reference to going out to the bars later, in an attempt to garner some college town cred. He seemed almost ashamed of the kind of intellectual writing that had made him famous.
I know he was angling toward an undergrad crowd, a crowd that probably was not excited to be there upon entry. And the crowd generally enjoyed it. But I feel like the pleasure was one of pop entertainment rather than anything that asked them to think in any useful way. It is a writer's responsibility in public events to avoid the reiteration of trite messages, to provoke, rather than aim toward a flaccid mean.