Both of my AWP panels could not have gone better, and I owe a debt of gratitude to my fellow panelists (Nick, Rahul, Aimee, Alexandra, Cyndi, and Nava) all of whom had thoughtful and provocative things to say. At the end of both panels there was a Q&A, and during said Q&A some questions came up that deserved a more sustained answer than I could give off the cuff. I figured I’d blog my expanded responses.
From the Wreckage of Reason panel, the final question asked each writer to cite her influences, the more obscure the better.
My (ever expanding, incomplete) list of favorite experimental women writers (beyond the women writers featured in the two Wreckage of Reason anthologies, which is certainly a great place to begin) would include Joanna Russ, Jean Rhys, Anaïs Nin, Maguerite Duras, Kathy Acker, Lydia Davis, Joyelle McSweeney, Clarice Lispector, Lynne Tillman, Susan Steinberg, Kate Bernheimer, Anna Joy Springer, Megan Milks, Shelley Jackson, Shirley Jackson, Kij Johnson (especially Fudoki and her story collection, At the Mouth of the River of Bees), Kelly Link, and theorists Hélène Cixous and Donna Haraway. I’m trying to avoid the totally obvious (Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, Woolf), though many of these authors are anything but obscure (Nin, Acker, Jackson). I know I’m forgetting many luminaries, but perhaps this can serve as a starter kit.
From the Give Us Your Fae panel, several audience members wanted more in-class exercises. Here’s another two:
1) For practicing sustained attention/observation, I give students an entire class period to wander the campus by themselves and return with one sentence. This sentence should be rhythmically beautiful, with attention paid to assonance, consonance, alliteration and other rhetorical devices. It can involve metaphor or simile so long the comparison is fresh/unusual. The sentence should be a single observation of an object or event that also contains an emotional charge. Note that descriptions can contain melancholy or joy or rage (feel free to provide examples — I use ones from a text we’ve recently read in class). Aim to describe something that gives you an emotional charge, in such a way that other might feel it too. The idea here is to focus students’ perceptions. One sentence. Thirty minutes, for one perfect sentence. Tell them to jot down ideas, take notes, observe many things and then pick the best one. Tell them to revise the sentence. Mix up the order of the words. Try writing a long sentence with lots of punctuation. Then try to condense it. How does the length of the sentence alter how it makes its meaning? Try to surprise yourself; try to take a risk, connecting an image to a very far distant emotion. Then we return to the class, circle up, read our sentences, and offer brief reactions to them.
2) I also run a retold fairytale exercise. First we read two to three riffs on a single tale. [I recently taught Angela Carter’s Bloody Chamber, Joyce Carol Oates’ Bluebearded Lover, and Helena Bell’s Variations on Bluebeard and Dalton’s Law Along the Event Horizon; Theodora Goss’s The Rose in Twelve Petals alongside any Sleeping Beauty variant would also work. Retold fairytales are legion.] The exercise asks students to retell the story from the perspective of any other character or object appearing in the tale. Free them from the constraints of sticking to plot and setting — how would the plot change with a different protagonist, or if the story took place somewhere unusual? Ask them to consider how the main character might gain agency — what does this peripheral character want? How might they get what they want? Fairytales seem to provide enough scaffolding that students can work freely inside their constraints; just make sure the scaffolding doesn’t become a cage. I encourage them to work with lesser-known fairytales, too, and I’ll sometimes bring in several large anthologies and let them choose a story (Calvino’s Italian Folktales is excellent for this, as are all the colors of Fairy Book. Perrault and Grimm are also standbys).
If you are stopping by the blog because we met in person at AWP, I’m pleased to meet you, and thanks for looking me up/attending one of these panels/stopping by The Account table.
Here is a picture of the view out our Seattle hotel room, along with about half of the books I bought (they wouldn’t all fit on the sill). Reading material for the next few months.