” He’d been rewriting the 2006 murder of Sean Bell.
Use as few words as possible to move the story forward as fast as we can.
Never be sentimental, and avoid “purple prose.” Great emotion manifests only indirectly, we were told.
We encourage writing as a process of self-discovery and self-expression—a celebration of the individual voice.
Our classes provide a unique setting in which honoring each other’s words enriches participants’ lives.
But when I remember that workshop, I can’t help but feel that I joined in an effort, by a group of white readers, to muffle and ignore a story of anti-Black violence.
Back then, I still believed race-blindness might be a virtue, and what my criticism boiled down to was this: The racism in that story was too overt.This is what Claire Vaye Watkins unpacks in “On Pandering”: the troubling discovery that her “hard, unflinching, unsentimental prose,” and the details she wrote—like a “nubile young girl left for dead in the desert”—reflected her teachers’ ideals, not her own.As Tajja Isen describes in “Tiny White People Took Over My Brain,” such men had become the “imagined judge and jury”—if not also Watkins’s actual judge and jury, writing her first glowing reviews.He had come to Iowa especially to study writing, but had yet to meet a professor who seemed to respect the science fiction and fantasy he loved.He’d been silent in writing courses, he confessed, ever since a first-year instructor had told him she was tired of hearing his voice.I didn’t to believe it—that’s what “unbelievable” meant.Aesthetic values don’t only include “hard” syntax and imagery of “nubile girls,” but also the varied shapes of narratives that readers welcome and pursue—from the fairy tale’s arc toward happy ending, to stories like my classmate’s that progress toward an uncomfortable truth.We should grab readers by the collar and never let go, I learned.Write stories so transporting our prose becomes invisible.It wasn’t despite but the shame I experienced that the first creative writing courses I taught reproduced the canon of that program almost exactly.I wanted to shield my students from the embarrassing ignorance I’d discovered in myself; I thought they should know what “good taste” entailed.