AWP2014: The End of Long Form Reading?
February 27, 2014 § 5 Comments
On this, the first day of AWP, I woke to find that a friend in India had posted to my Facebook wall another attack on creative writing by the infamous Anis Shivani. Shivani was asking if the great noise of the AWP conference masked a drought of great writing in the contemporary world. As I ran through crowded halls and down unmarked escalators, coffee spilling on my hand, searching for room “LL4,” being directed back the way I had come, learning that I had to follow the “blue carpet,” excusing my way through lines and lines of writers, I was sure of one thing, at least: there is a lot of noise at AWP, both outside and in me.
The panel “Teaching Brief, Sudden, Flash, and Very Short Prose” described many methods and benefits for teaching flash-length pieces to writing students. To Raul Moreno, brief prose offers a cognitive challenge suitable to undergraduate students’ actual writing skills, meeting them where they are. Sara Henning explained how she turns her own lessons into flash segments, forcing her students to speed up, pushing them to meet five minute deadlines, to write “shitty first drafts.” She suggested that brief prose provides a way past students’ technological dependencies and over-thinking anxieties. Meagan Cass argued for the use of poetry and short prose even in traditional fiction classes: such assignments better teach the skills that all teachers want their students to develop, from revision to risk-taking. Steve Pacheco talked about how he simply named cross-genre forms and required students to figure out, from that mystery, how they could enter new spaces of writing. Finally, Damian Dressick praised the sense of community that a flash classroom produces: students read more of each other’s work, see more pieces revised and developed, come to understand the sources of their classmates’ inspiration.
I loved the teaching lessons described by the panelists. But I questioned their picture of today’s reading world. All the panelists agreed that technological change has ended long-form reading and conventional narrative: our great-grandchildren, they seemed to imply, will find Twitter outrageously lengthy and verbose. But such a view seems to ignore the kind of reading young people apparently love to do: Twilight, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, books that are not simply long but come in multiple volumes. And what about House of Cards? Given the huge success of these long forms, these narratively dense and rewarding fictions, might the apparent chaos and chitter-chatter of the outside world, its bewildering technological acceleration, be merely a sign of our subjective alienation from it, not an actual diminishment of meaning and cohesion? Or is something even more complex at work?
Daniel Wallace is studying his PhD at the University of Tennessee. His first novel is represented by Inkwell Management. He was the Toni Brown scholarship winner to the 2012 Winter Getaway and has been a finalist in several writing contests. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in McSweeney’s, Tampa Review, Fiction Writers Review, and HTML Giant.