Cover image for Eleventh draft : craft and the writing life from Iowa Writers' Workshop
Eleventh draft : craft and the writing life from Iowa Writers' Workshop
Conroy, Frank, 1936-2005.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : HarperCollins Publishers, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiii, 235 pages ; 22 cm
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PN187 .E44 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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"My instructions to them were deliberately vague--they were to write about writing, any aspect or approach that caught their fancy. Leaving it open seemed to me to heighten the chances of getting the strongest and least predictable work. And so it was. They came at it from different angles, using different techniques, and each piece is unique. Perhaps the only common tacit assumption is that writing is difficult."-- From the "Introduction" by Frank Conroy

Since its inception in 1936, the Iowa Writers' Workshop has been perched atop the creative writing landscape, producing some of the greatest writers of the century. Though no one claims that writing can be taught--the Workshop itself professes no method--there is no disputing the success of the program and its celebrated attendees. Of the 20 Pulitzers awarded for fiction and poetry in the ?90s, nine have gone to University of Iowa graduates.

For "The Eleventh Draft, " present-day director Frank Conroy invited 23 former professors and students of the Iowa Writers' Workshop to pen essays on their craft. As he hints in his Introduction, he was looking for an eclecticism, and The Eleventh Draft is nothing if not diverse. Some pieces are deeply personal; others might have been scripted for the first day of class. They are sometimes prescriptive, often contradictory, but always eloquent and provocative.

"The Eleventh Draft"is an invaluable resource for aspiring and established writers, for lovers of literat

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Many of the nation's best-known writers cut their teeth in the Iowa Writers' Workshop, a profound legacy that is examined and celebrated in two new books. Edited by Conroy, the program's current director, The Eleventh Draft contains animated and provocative essays about the writing life. In the title piece, Chris Offutt describes the obsessive process of revision. Barry Hannah's caroming piece includes the wily observation that "working writers are happy like unprosecuted felons." Stuart Dybek remembers writing his first metaphor in fourth grade, and Doris Grumbach, now 80, derides the speed and clamor of today's literary world. Francine Prose considers what makes even the most outlandish fiction believable, and Marilynne Robinson sums it all up: "when I read . . . I feel sharply the privilege of being human." If Conroy's essay anthology isn't enough to convince readers of the stratospheric talents of Iowa writers, Grimes, himself an alumnus, provides overwhelming evidence. The Workshop collects 42 stories by workshop veterans accompanied by Grimes' musings on the teaching of writing and the role of the writer in American society. This impressive retrospective not only makes for stimulating reading, it provides a key to understanding the evolution of contemporary American fiction. Each writer is succinctly introduced, beginning with Wallace Stegner, followed soon after by Flannery O'Connor. Moving forward in time, Grimes presents Raymond Carver, Bharati Mukherjee, Gail Godwin, Richard Bausch, Jane Smiley, Michael Cunningham, Gish Jen, Marly Swick, and Elizabeth McCracken--rich and diverse voices that will sustain readers and literary scholars for years to come. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Pity the poor writer anthologized alongside Barry Hannah. There is much to commend in the 22 other contributions to this collection by writers who've taught at Iowa, including Margot Livesey, Francine Prose, James McPherson and Deborah Eisenberg. But few write such startling sentences as this whiplash-inducing hairpin turn from "Mr. Brain, He Want a Song," a meditation on the writing process: "Mr. Brain, he sick of sickness. He want a song, Jack. May I suggest that writing itself is freedom from consciousness as much as stimulant to it." Other highlights include Doris Grumbach's charming, if curmudgeonly, essays on her own beginnings as a writer and as a teacher, and grumblings about the publishing industry and celebrity authors: "It might help the level of prose if they would stop `appearing' and performing and become the private persons their craft requires them to be." Scott Spencer expresses disappointment with his students' carefulness, their fear of embarrassing themselves. A writer unwilling to express potentially risky and humiliating and hurtful truths, he warns, "is finally no more effective than a firefighter who will not smash in windows." A few of these essays stray into dry, vague disquisitions on the act of writing, highlighting the shortcomings of any such book: the process of writing is nearly always less interesting than what the process produces. Still, a compelling account of a writer's thinking, such as Abraham Verghese's eloquent and heartfelt "Cowpaths," drawing elegant connections between his work as a physician and his work as a writer, is a fine addition to any canon of literature. Never pompous, never dull, he closes his essay with the plainest, most inarguable truth: "That is why I write: because I still find comfort in words, because I find safety in the structures one can build from words, and because it is only by writing that I discover exactly what it is I am thinking." (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

These complementary titles offer a range of writing from and about the influential Iowa Writers' Workshop, the first creative writing program in the country. Conroy, the current director of the workshop, asked former students and faculty to write about writing. Chris Offutt, supplying the title, writes that each of his stories results from "ten or eleven drafts over a two-year period." Physician Abraham Verghese notes that schools of medicine and writing both use the same aphorism: "God is in the details." Marilynne Robinson accepts a canon of literature that is regarded as a treasure by a population but objects to "treating such works as categorically different from anything we ourselves can aspire to." In The Workshop, Grimes, a novelist and graduate of the workshop, selected 43 stories, recollections, and essays by participants and organized them by decade. "The book," he writes, "can be read sequentially, as a narrative about the workshop" or as an anthology. Selections include pieces by Wallace Stegner (1930s), Jayne Anne Phillips (1970s), Ethan Canin (1980s), Charles D'Ambrosio (1990s), and many others. Both titles will be of interest to academic libraries, particularly those whose institutions support creative writing programs.ÄNancy Patterson Shires, East Carolina Univ., Greenville, NC (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

T. Coraghessan BoyleDoris GrumbachEthan CaninStuart DybekJayne Anne PhillipsFred G. LeebronTom GrimesBarry HannahSusan PowerMargot LiveseyGeoffrey WolffDeborah EisenbergWilliam LashnerFrancine ProseElizabeth McCrackenMarilynne RobinsonJames HynesScott SpencerJames Alan McPhersonJustin CroninAbraham VergheseChris OffuttCharles D'Ambrosio
Introductionp. xi
This Monkey, My Backp. 1
A View of Writing Fiction From the Rear Windowp. 13
Smallness and Invention; or, What I Learned at the Iowa Writers' Workshopp. 21
Ralstonp. 29
The Widow Speaksp. 41
Not Knowingp. 49
If I Could Be Like Mikep. 57
Mr. Brain, He Want a Songp. 67
The Wise Foolp. 77
The Hidden Machineryp. 85
Communal Solitudep. 101
Resistancep. 113
The Writing Lifep. 125
On Detailsp. 133
Lottery Ticketp. 145
Diminished Creaturesp. 155
Why I Botherp. 163
The Difference Between Being Good and Being a Good Writerp. 175
Workshopping Lucius Mummiusp. 181
The Dead Manp. 199
Cowpathsp. 209
The Eleventh Draftp. 215
Seattle, 1974: Writing and Placep. 223
Notes on Contributorsp. 231