Friday, July 17, 2009
Every modern writer I have liked – from James T. Farrell when I was 17 to the one so on my mind all these years later, Frank McCourt – every one of them has been damned up and down and sideways by so many smug prissy critics. McCourt never should have told those things about his mother, and Farrell never should have written about having adolescent sexual feelings for inappropriate girls. There are some things that people just should not say.
We are in a kind of cocoon here, Marta and I, in Authentic Writing, for we don’t have to put up with English Department chairperson prudes – mine when I was in college damned Hemingway for writing about things no gentleman should discuss – mine when I taught at a community college one precarious year said that English 101 students might learn to write by learning the 17 basic rhetorical modes but most of them muffed it anyway by writing about things that interested them that nobody should be allowed to write about – football and worse.
I was once damned in the ponderous New York Review of Books for writing that a famous Reagan-backed dictator I knew all about at first hand, was, well, a dictator. How culturally insensitive this pompous reviewer said.
Marta and I are not entirely sheltered in the cocoon, and wouldn’t want to be, for we do move in worlds other than our own and want to move that way, and know what sheltering does to academics and genteel authors. So we are out beyond cocoon walls a lot – and this sometimes brings us up against the sort of people I usually think are in some suitable hell from which they cannot reach us.
A writing teacher came to Woodstock and announced that she would help people write memoir, making sure they did not say anything bad about their betters, like Frank McCourt reporting sounds of his mother’s fucking, because, she said, “I always tell my students, when you say something not nice about someone it just make you yourself look bad.”
This teacher hires herself out to other writers who are doing nice books.
And then another woman, who lives in a nearby white glove town, was also hiring herself out to fix up other people’s memoirs – work for which her main credential was that she herself once wrote a prophalactically expurgated family memoir.
Such people came to our Woodstock Memoir Festival and heard Marta field a question about how you should go about hiring an editor to fix up your manuscript – as if that’s what real writers commonly did. I had already come under attack for saying I had never found an editor at any company that was publishing me who was of in any real help, but this question now was about hiring an editor before the manuscript is even submitted. Then they heard Marta answer it with a quick eloquent series of fine one liners, such as, Did Faulkner hire an editor? Did Rembrandt hire an editor to fix up his paintings?
And then a teacher/ghost writer and her clients tried get us banned from our own memoir festival..
So we are clearly doing many things right. But I’m suddenly as furious as I ever was when I was 17.