Conversing with the contributors: Studying Creative Writing – Successfully

Niyousha writes: We’re thrilled to announce the publication of  Studying Creative Writing – Successfully this month. Edited by Stephanie Vanderslice, this book offers a practical guide through the creative writing landscape for both undergraduate and graduate studies. To give you a glimpse of what’s inside, we’re interviewing some of the contributors about how to study creative writing, successfully. To start off the interviews, we conversed with Garry Craig Powell, who contributed the chapter “Reading as a Writer, Writing as a Reader.”

DSC_0276Garry Craig Powell was educated at the universities of Cambridge and Durham. (He also has an MFA from the University of Arizona.) He has lived in Portugal, Spain, Poland and the UAE, the setting of his collection of linked stories, Stoning the Devil (Skylight Press, 2012). Praised by Naomi Shihab Nye as “mesmerizing”, and compared by George Singleton to “the best of Conrad, Orwell and Achebe”, Stoning the Devil was longlisted for the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award and the Edge Hill Short Story Prize in 2013.

If you could only give your creative writing students one piece of writing to study, what would it be, and why?

Perhaps Garcia Marquez’ The Incredible Tale of the Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother. I always try to expose my students to non-North American models, partly because Latin Americans have a dramatically different worldview, but also because they’re simply better, in my opinion. Kafka’s Metamorphosis or Conrad’s Heart of Darkness would do just as well, though.

Your chapter in this book is about presenting creative writing. For those of us who tremble at the very thought of public readings, why do readings matter?

It’s inarguable that from a practical point of view, it’s a good way to promote your work. Not everyone agrees, of course. Elena Ferrante doesn’t give readings. Neither does Colm Toibin. I enjoy doing them because you get an immediate response to the work, which people don’t fake.

Just the thought of reading your own work can incite a whole slew of emotions for writers. How has your experience with readings changed throughout your time as a writer?

Definitely. You get better at it, for one thing. There’s a bit of tendency to over-dramatize these days – what I call the Selected Shorts tendency, after the NPR radio program – but the best readers don’t try to be actors. They can give you an insight into the work that you might not have got from simply reading it in silence.

What’s the most useful advice you’ve received regarding reading creative work out loud?

Slow down, I think. Actually I’m not sure anyone gave me that advice; it’s something I figured out for myself. I hope this is all in my chapter. Look at the audience, talk to them. Read your words as if they mean something to you. Let your voice show some emotion. And don’t read from your damn phone.

What’s made studying creative writing worthwhile for you?

I didn’t learn much in my graduate program. What I have learned, I’ve learned mostly by myself, by reading very carefully, by learning to read as a writer. That’s what the best programs teach you to do, anyway; it’s the time-honoured way to learn to write. The other thing grad school gives you is time to write (and read); that’s invaluable. With luck you find lifelong writer friends who support you throughout your career too. I did get that.

You can find out more about Garry Craig Powell’s work here.

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About Anthony Haynes

Director, Frontinus Ltd Communications Associate, FJWilson Talent Services

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