June 09, 2024

Cut off, alone in the provinces

I just discovered Maud Newton's blog on "The Literary Establishment" today, and I'm already in love with it, especially her interivew with Brigid Hughes, editor at The Paris Review. Maud's position to the establishment is similar to mine: peripheral (yearning / striving / gleaning). Since I've been finding bookslut a bit meh lately, I'm glad to find a blog that speaks my pain.

Her interview with Hughes asks the question on all our lips: just how many "undiscovered" writers does The Paris Review actually publish? If you can break through the tempered steel of lawyer-cum-editor Hughes' answers, the answer seems to be that the claim to publish undiscovered writers is more marketing tag than Paris Review practice. Most "undiscovered" writers publishing in the big little magazines come from either Iowa or Columbia (big surprise) and often have a couple other projects forthcoming in the big guns -- including those whose stories came from the slush pile (the Paris Review receives 15,000-20,000 submissions a year).

Maud's questions, I would guess, are driven by a bit of anxiety. I know the feeling. Sometimes I feel so cut off out here in the provinces, no mfa to my name (I made a conscious decision not to pursue one) and while my job in publishing here in Minneapolis provides the perfect backdrop with which to hone my craft, I nonetheless feel I'm missing out on...something. What? The chance to talk to Mark Bibbins in some Williamsburg bar? The right to attach an mfa to my credentials? The opportunity to be a part of a "movement"?

It reminds me of a conversation I had with a playwright last week here in Minneapolis. He teaches in a playwrighting mfa program in New York City, and we had been discussing my own pursuits, and I had mentioned the juncture I found myself at a few years back when I decided not to do an mfa. His response was definitive: Good. You don't need it. His interpretation of mfa's boiled down these programs to artificial bohemias. For a few years, you're placed in a constructed community of like-minded artists, and from them you learn infinetely more than you would from four years of mundane b.a. lectures. But to him it didn't matter where this happened, as long as the stew of individuals came from the right recipe. Thinking that you should move to New York to have drinks with Mark Bibbins is more romantic than possible. When I asked him the million-dollar-question: do you think Frank O'Hara could have been the poet he had been if he had lived in Minneapolis? His answer was yes and no. It was the people O'Hara surrounded himself with rather than the city itself that provided the catalyst for his poetry.

Which begs the question: where are my people, here, right now, in Minneapolis? I suffer from belatedness -- I always arrive too late to the party. I'm in love with artistic movements, and I come to them through biographies, which inevitably smooth out the inconsistencies and luck and unawareness of the times to present a pure evolution, a destiny. The Beats, Tim Miller in NYC in the 80s, The New York School, Bloomsbury, Foucault and the summer of 1968. Where is my moment? My movement? Where are my people? Are they here? Have I been to any footnotable parties yet? It could happen here, couldn't it? I could happen, couldn't I?

Posted by Jason at June 9, 2024 12:08 PM

Literary publishing is like most other things in our equal-opportunity society: it's who you know. Or, in some cases, who you blow.

My impression is that writers get successful first and then they move to Minneapolis and get cushy faculty appointments teaching creative writing. Provided that they don't jump off a bridge, they'll have a very pleasant life.

Though I don't think I'd hold my breath for Charles Baxter to publish another decent novel.

Posted by: glen at June 9, 2024 02:24 PM
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