Holy moly, this is really one of the best yet, a real maze of time and history. I'm cutting out slices from just one perspective, but there is so much more here. Read the rest!
ON BEING A WRITER IN 1979:
"'What’s an "MLA?"' I asked. The person I was asking was William Baer, a graduate student poet in The Writing Seminars of Johns Hopkins University. He stood in my office doorway. I was nearing the end of the first semester of my year as a lecturer there. Bill, who was older than I though a year behind me in the program, had asked me, 'Going to the MLA?' In 2013, Bill retired from the Creative Writing Department of the University of Evansville where he had taught for nearly 25 years. 'The MLA,' he said, 'is where you go to interview for creative writing jobs.' I did not know then what an MLA was. I had no idea, then, that there was a way to get a job teaching creative writing."
ON BEING A WRITER IN 1984:
"I return to Johns Hopkins in 1984. I visit the current seminar class, gave a reading. I ask my former teacher, John Barth, how things are going. In four short years the number of creative writing programs has grown from two dozen to over one hundred. I have been teaching at Iowa State University those four years, growing a graduate program, an MA, so as not to conflict with Iowa’s MFA program down the road. In the last four years, Iowa State has hired four new writers—Steve Pett, Jane Smiley, David Milofsky, and Mary Swander—adding to a staff of five already there. 'It is more and more difficult to attract students,' Jack tells me. I ask him where they are going. 'To Syracuse,' he says, 'to work with Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff.'"
ON THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS in 1986:
"Michaela Sullivan, an in-house graphic designer for Houghton Mifflin...shows us the new powerful Apple computer in her office and the tools onboard that allow her to create the covers and page layouts. She shows me the cover of a new annual series—Best American Essays—published under the Ticknor and Fields imprint in a boxed set with the established series of Best American Stories."
ON BEING A WRITER IN 1992:
"What was a writer anyway? The greater culture seemed to be moving to clearly define the role through certification, an MFA degree and course of study, though neither one of us had the papers our students would soon possess. As I idle and thrum at high, pidgins circle the obelisk, dive bomb the crumbs scattered on the adjoining plaza. We conclude that we are the last or maybe the first of an old order or a new phylum, the schooled writer, the writing school."
ON BEING A WRITER IN 1995:
"I can only access the World Wide Web from a machine in my office at school. Every house in Syracuse, it seems, had a typewriter, and everyone seems, overnight, not to need them anymore. What to do with the old machines? Take them to the curb. Over time, I bring a few of the carcasses home with me. Walking the streets looking through the heaps for a new model, a different color, a better box, I see a few others scavenging. I tell myself the surplus would be for parts if nothing else, unable to image writing without a typewriter in the uncertain future."
ON BEING A WRITER IN 2000:
"John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, published in 1983 had been wired into workshops and emphasized transparency and unselfconscious storytelling. This aesthetic insists that a text not call attention to itself, that it create a sustained dream. Its conventions are clear and teachable as craft, and its message coincides with the rapid and vast expansion of writing programs. Ironically, the principle of transparency becomes enforced at the very moment that the machine writers use to compose their writing becomes expansive and expressive. Writers in workshops are encouraged to rig their powerful typesetting machines, now connected to the Internet, to produce finished copy that looks exactly like the product of an early 20th Century typewriter. E. J. Levy is in the class, composing prose from prompts of paint sample strips, photo booth photos, and other graphic interruptions. The time is ripe."
ON BEING A WRITER IN 2001:
"There is a great unease with the complicated communities the great sorting engine of the university tolerates. Writers, I think, think of themselves sometimes as individual agents, unique, original but at the same time long for inclusion, connection."
ON BEING A WRITER IN THE BEST AMERICAN ESSAYS IN 2005:
"The Best American Essays of 2005 is an anniversary issue, the 20th, and the series editor, Robert Atwan, looks backward to the book’s inception in 1986. I consider my contribution, 'Contributor’s Note,' the only time I have ever appeared, to be a fictive essay. I was surprised that it was considered. The piece, in the form of a contributor’s note, traces the biography of a 'Michael Martone' and his life performing public readings of his own work or attending similar literary readings by others in the vast network of creative writing programs and conferences that have emerged in the preceding twenty years. As the piece of writing attempts to defamiliarize the author’s note, the whole volume makes me re-see the history of creative writing program culture. My whole life turns strange for me. In order for a life to have meaning, one must get outside of that life to see what matters in all the stuff that happened. The memoirist, I think, often draws a closed parenthesis, simulates a death, so that the time before can begin making a sense. Think my junior year abroad. Think my childhood. The book for me draws such a parenthesis. I can look back over the cultural shifts and aesthetic arguments I lived through and survived. The 2005 edition also balances on an edge of another era, marking, perhaps, the moment the essay was changing. In what way would the essay and its practitioners enter into an academic setting as the new discipline there—'creative nonfiction.'"