Last week, we shared an interview with Ernest Suarez, president of the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers (ALSCW), the society who publishes Literary Imagination. Today, we continue the conversation, and with it, we are able to get an even closer and more personal look into the life of a literary academic.
1. How would you describe Literary Imagination in three words?
Engaged, evolving, and necessary.
2. What are you reading right now?
Kate Daniels, who directs the creative writing program at Vanderbilt University and who will be our new VP, sent me her poetry-manuscript-in-progress. It’s titled Reading a Biography of Thomas Jefferson in the Months of My Son’s Recovery. It is a stunning piece of work, one of the best and most original books of poems I’ve read in years. It’ll be out in a year or so. I’ve also been reading Greg Fraser’s verse. He has several fabulous new poems in the current issue of Literary Imagination. This fall I’m co-teaching a graduate seminar on Lionel Trilling and Robert Penn Warren with Michael Kimmage, a brilliant historian who has written books on Trilling and on Philip Roth—so I’ve been reading Trilling’s essays and I never stop reading Warren’s poetry, fiction, and essays. My son, who is a graduate student in literature at the University of Maryland, and I read lots of poetry together. We’ve been feasting on Wallace Stevens and Yusef Komunyakaa’s verse lately.
3. Where is your favorite place to read?
We have a cabin on a mountain top in West Virginia. There are sixty mile views from the deck. I love to read and write there, though I tend to hunker inside by the fireplace in the winter.
4. What do you consider to be the best source of inspiration for creative writing?
I think that strong emotion is the best inspiration for any type of serious (which can include comic) writing. Strong emotion can come from a passionate response to someone else’s writing, be evoked by a work of art, another person, natural phenomenon, a social disturbance, a moment of transcendence, or anything within the realm of human experience. But the writing needs to be controlled, considered, arranged, and tempered, even if what you’re after is the impression of spontaneity. If you’re not moved by what you’re writing about, how can you expect someone else to be moved by it?
5. What are some of the literary works that have had the most significant impact on you personally?
That could be a long list, but Hamlet, Dante’s trilogy, Emily Dickinson’s Collected Poems, Moby-Dick, Middlemarch, Absalom, Absalom!, To the Light House, Invisible Man, One-Hundred Years of Solitude, The Fire Next Time, Roethke’s The Far Field, Dickey’s Poems 1957-1967, Robert Penn Warren’s Collected Poems, Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, and David Bottoms’ Under the Vulture Tree are works to which I keep returning.
6. What are some of the benefits your members get from reading the journal?
Most journals that publish literary criticism tend to focus on a particular era or literature written in one language. Literary Imagination is more eclectic. There might be an article on Homer and another on Natasha Trethewey in the same issue. We also value lucid and accessible prose, and shun jargon. Saul Bellow, John Updike, Ann Beattie, Mark, Strand, Derek Walcott, C.K. Williams, Brenda Hillman, and many other artists have contributed to our pages. When you read Literary Imagination you discover work about and by great writers.
7. Do you have any tips or thoughts for an aspiring contributor on what it takes to craft a contribution to Literary Imagination?
For essays: Write in a manner that’s accessible, lively, and thoughtful. Make sure your reader knows why your subject is important, especially in relation to literary history and/or aesthetics. For artists: Send your best work.
Featured image credit: Writing by Pexels, Public Domain via Pixabay.