St. Albans

05Mar09

On Tuesday I spoke to a class of seniors studying “very recent fiction” under the expert tutelage of Gene Campbell at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C. I definitely was not reading sophisticated lit crit when I was that age! We talked about The New You Project and YOU or The Invention of Memory and Jonathan Baumbach as a gateway into a larger conversation about publishing as both an industry and a culture and books and literature and access and technology and the pace of change and life in general. It was really, really fun. I was very impressed by the quality of the questions that the students asked, such as, Have I worked on poetry, and what are the relevant implications for that form? Indeed I have (Supermodel by David Breskin, and I am working on another poetry book this fall, Terese Svoboda’s Weapons Grade, which is all Sex & Death and I’m working with the publisher to create a digital galley so that it can reach as many people as possible). I also talked about the importance of making fiction of-the-moment and creating the perception of urgency which is a challenge when the narrative of storytelling exists beyond the news cycle which dominates our daily lives, and also how so much of what’s changed the world, and changing it, starts out in a novel, where the most dangerous ideas can first appear and subvert the status quo, e.g. Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Native Son, To Kill a Mockingbird. And how it was not so very long ago that books were censored and Henry Miller and Allen Ginsberg and their publishers were on trial to assert their right to express what they felt needed to be said. That’s living as an art form, and its truly powerful. And how publishing is not a meritocracy and the best voices might — indeed, are most likely to — be found outside the mainstream. And just all kinds of cool things and ideas and then they asked me what they should read next and I said I could tell them what I liked, sure, I do it all day, but the best books, the ones that will transform you, you have to go and seek them out yourself, so be curious, be bold, it will serve you well in life.

— LAUREN CERAND

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