Creative-Writing Classes

Gordon Lish was a highly influential editor and creative-writing teacher, now retired, who edited or taught a wide variety of contemporary authors, including Reynolds Price, Don DeLillo, Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, David Leavitt, and Cynthia Ozick. He may especially be associated with the minimalist strain in contemporary fiction, as with Carver, Ford, and Amy Hempel. Anthony Bourdain, who has a travel and food show on cable television and is also a writer in the irreverent vein, took Lish’s writing workshop in Columbia’s School of General Studies in the 1980s, and has this to say about it:  

“It was very cultlike. You didn’t even go for a p***. You sat there and listened to the great man,” Mr. Bourdain remembered about the class. “You had to read aloud and only as far as he could bear it, which was usually about a sentence and half before he’d go, ‘Oh, it’s horrible, I can’t stand it, stop, stop,’ at which point everyone in the class would tell you what sucked about it.”

On the other hand, Flannery O’Connor took the famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa in the mid-Forties, and to great profit, it would seem. But when she was asked if creative writing workshops discouraged young writers, she replied, “not enough of them.”

In a quick judgment, I’d say that creative-writing classes are responsible for a lot of well-written fiction with very little to say, and a lot of reasonably vivid poetry capturing small moments with no larger resonance.