Chris: Tell us a little about yourself. What was it that directed you to a life dedicated to books?
Nancy Pearl: I spent most of my childhood and adolescence at the Detroit Public Library branch closest to my house, primarily to get away from a not very happy home. The librarians Miss Whitehead and Miss Long were the nicest people I knew. It’s due to them, especially Miss Whitehead, that I became a children’s librarian, because I wanted to give other children the gift that she gave me the wonderful world of books and reading. I knew when I was 10 that I wanted to become a children’s librarian, and I only wavered from that very briefly. In my senior year of college I became infatuated with Noam Chomsky’s theory of transformational grammar. I thought maybe I should go to MIT in order to study with him and get a PhD, but then reason prevailed. I really don’t have that kind of mind and would never have been happy in academia. Robert Frost talks in “The Death of the Hired Man,” I think, about “when love and work are one” and I’m one of the few people I know who’s been able to make a career doing exactly what I love. Of course, it took a while to get to this place…
“‘When Love and Work Are One’ – Nancy Pearl Talks about her New Book Series, and Much More,” Shelfari
It’s always comforting when you realize that success didn’t come overnight for people that you admire.
Credit: Ball State English Department
“…when I arrived [at grad school], I hadn’t ever finished a publishable short story, and the types of discussions I was used to having about literature were more of the dead-important-people variety. At Arizona State there was suddenly this community of people swapping the names of up and coming writers, hero-worshipping authors I’d never even heard of. They revised their stories and them put them in envelopes, sending them out to editors. They collected rejections on little slips of paper and put them on the wall like trophies. I wanted to have those little slips of paper. I wanted to know the authors they talked about. This never felt competitive to me—just participatory. For three years, I was in the type of club I wanted most to join, and things like getting rejected were the way to know that you were in the game.” — Caitlin Horrocks, author of This is Not Your City. From an interview on PhD in Creative Writing.
I’m an admirer of short story writer and novelist Rebecca Makkai, who works as an elementary school teacher, in addition to writing. In a recent Millions interview she said: “I’ve read out loud to children for half an hour every school day for the past eleven years, and that daily engagement with children’s books has kept them very much a part of my literary landscape. And part of my job is to be a book-pusher. At times I feel a bit like some skeezy drug dealer, hanging out at the edge of the playground, going, “If I can get them to try it just this once, I’ll have them hooked!”
Doubt there are few librarians or teachers who can’t relate.
V.V. “Sugi” Ganeshananthan (Zell Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Michigan and author of Love Marriage, long-listed for The Orange Prize) gave a great workshop last Saturday at 826michigan on what fiction writers can learn from journalists. I’m happy to report that there was a record turn-out for the “How To Write Like I Do” series. Below are some quotes (somewhat paraphrased due to handwritten notes) that I found useful:
On how a journalist’s work ethic is useful for writing fiction: “Being a journalist demands a serious output. You can’t be scared [and procrastinate] or you won’t get any work done.”
Why would anyone be interested in being interviewed by a fiction writer?: “People don’t get to talk about themselves much anymore in this age of social media. And experts love talking about themselves. […] It can also be novel for [experts] to be interviewed by a fiction writer. It reminds them how much they enjoy reading fiction.”
The journalist’s unofficial motto: “The worst thing that can happen is they’ll say ‘no’ and you’ll be in the same place you started. So why not ask?”
If you’re a writer living in SE Michigan, make sure to mark the next “How To Write Like I Do” workshop on your calendar. Doug Trevor, winner of the 2005 Iowa Short Fiction Award, will be teaching “The Richness of Place: Setting in Fiction” on May 5.
University of Michigan's Law Library
As more materials are digitized and the necessity of the academic library building is questioned, the theory of the library “as place” is gaining ground. That is, the campus library is not just where students get books for research. It’s also a neutral, maybe quieter, space where students can meet to socialize and study together. The general perspective is that an academic library’s physical collection (books, bound journals) may not be as important in the future but the library building will always be needed. In a recent College & Research Libraries article, “Serving Higher Education’s Highest Goals: Assessment of the Academic Library as Place,” Heather Lea Jackson and Trudi Bellardo Hahn, University of Maryland, propose a different version of the library “as place.” They used evaluation methodologies from the psychology of religion and the architecture of sacred spaces to explore how the academic library connects students to the scholarship of their predecessors. It’s an interesting read.
This excerpt in particular provokes thought:
If asked, students may not state that they want visible stacks in the library; in fact, if asked whether they intend to use the books on the shelves, they may say they have no intention of using them. However, if the stacks are taken completely away, they may feel a keen detrimental effect. Therefore, it is important to examine the academic library from this affective perspective prior to planning new construction or making any drastic changes in the design and model of the traditional library, rather than relying on student input in the simplistic form of “Please let us know what you’d like to see in the new library.” While students may request a coffee shop, computer stations, and the latest technology, this cannot reflexively be considered to be a wish for those things to the exclusion of more traditional design and items. Traditional and modern elements can happily coexist, but careful planning and sensitivity to these subtle, but significant, desires are required.
C&RL recently decided to provide open access to their issues. You can read Jackson and Bellardo Hahn’s complete article here.
I’ve always thought of Paul Simon’s songs as musical short stories. If you know me, I might have talked your ear off about his brilliance at some point or another. Probably in a car, on a road trip, when you can’t escape. (Sorry about that.) My annoying proselytizing aside, there’s no doubt that Simon is a genius at capturing character and emotion in a single line or phrase. I think “Slip Slidin’ Away” rivals Carver or Hempel at their best. This verse, in particular, stands out:
And I know a father
Who had a son
He longed to tell him all the reasons
For the things he’d done
He came a long way
Just to explain
He kissed his boy as he lay sleeping
Then he turned around and headed home again
Or take this verse from “René and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War,”
René and Georgette Magritte
With their dog after the war
Were strolling down Christopher Street
When they stopped in a men’s store
With all the mannequins
Dressed in style
That brought tears to their
Needless to say, I was happy to find Phil Sandick’s in-depth exploration of Simon’s storytelling in the Fiction Writers Review archives. I can die happy. Someone else understands.
It’s no secret that creative types are prone to jealousy when their rivals succeed. But, in a recent post on his blog, Cockeyed Caravan, screenwriter Matt Bird argues that spite is the incorrect response. Instead a rival’s success should be celebrated because it’s a win for the creative community at large.
“Every success story helps all of us. The danger is not that people will see the other guy’s movie instead of your movie. The danger is that people will stop going to the movies. Anyone who gets people into theaters is creating a bigger audience for everybody. There is almost no limit to the potential demand for movie tickets. When people see good movies, then they want to see more good movies. When people see bad movies, they want to see a good movie next time instead. If you want to sell movies to people, then anyone who gets people into theaters is your friend.”
He’s addressing screenwriters but I think it’s a viewpoint from which all writers could benefit. Just replace “movies” with “books,” etcetera.
Read the full post here.