The holidays and start of the New Year is a time when my writer friends and fellow bookies start exchanging lists of favorite books we recommend to put on our reading lists for the upcoming year. This year I am excited to begin my MFA graduate program in Creative Writing. Yes, I’m trading in my journalist’s perspective for a slightly more free-ranging take on the world— to include fiction in all its many shapes and forms.
At the Stonecoast Writing Program through the auspices of the University of Southern Maine, my declared genre is “fiction” but I’ll have the option to participate in seminars on poetry, creative nonfiction, and popular fiction. As to what is the difference between what is literary versus what is popular, that’s open to interpretation. An excellent piece of sci-fi, fantasy, or a mystery can still be a fine piece of literary writing. Think about the speculative fiction of Margaret Atwood or the thought provoking yarns by Ray Bradbury. I’m not a purist and I doubt I’ll be penning a “best seller” any time soon, but I’d certainly like to write stories that are accessible and entertaining while also being well constructed and memorable, a tall order for sure, which is why I’m back in school.
Several writer friends have inquired how I came to choose Stonecoast over some of the other low-residency MFA programs. One reason was the format of a split of two writing workshops per residency as well as their policy to encourage student participation in helping to select the focus and theme of upcoming workshops offered each semester. They also have some fine writers,, committed to mentoring others, serving on the faculty.
In order to prepare for my first residency, (this is what is called a low-residency program where 10 days per semester are spent on campus and the remainder of the work is done long distance) I’ve read some wonderful books in the past two months.. These, I’d like to share, so here they are: Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft & Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon, Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome, Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, Little Children by Tom Perrota, The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, Transformations (poetry) by Anne Sexton as well as selected chapters from Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose, The Half-Known World on Writing Fiction by Robert Boswell, The Classic Fairy Tales edited by Maria Tatar, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley ( the 1831 edition) along with several John Cheever stories available in The Stories of John Cheever, an old favorite short story by JD Salinger “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and poetry by James Wright.
Although it is over 500 pages in length, I highly recommend Romantic Outlaws. It is available as an audio book and makes for delightful listening while preparing dinner or doing those mundane tasks of folding laundry and filing bills. Before and After you’ll have to read the old fashioned way, but it is a thought provoking and well crafted novel that I highly recommend. Rosellen Brown is an excellent author, who deserves more recognition for her work.
I never saw the movie, but the novel, Little Children, is fast paced and by the author of The Leftovers, the tale that inspired the HBO series by the same name. It’s a fun read.
In a few weeks I will have completed by first residency and will have a whole new list of readings to complete in the upcoming months. And yes, I’ll be doing plenty of writing. Ray Bradbury consistently wrote 1000 words per day throughout his life. I’m going to try to do the same when not in class. So here is to a literary writing 2018 with a little home renovation thrown in for good measure! (More about old houses in another blog post) Happy reading.