Edited and with a contribution by Elizabeth Benedict, thirty of today's brightest literary lights turn their attention to the question of mentorship and influence.
For Denis Johnson, it was Leonard Gardner's cult favorite Fat City; for Jonathan Safran Foer, it was an encounter with Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai; Mary Gordon's mentors were two Barnard professors, writers Elizabeth Hardwick and Janice Thaddeus, whose lessons could not have been more different. In Mentors, Muses & Monsters, edited and with a contribution by Elizabeth Benedict, author of the National Book Award finalist Slow Dancing, thirty of today's literary stars discuss the people, events, and books that have transformed their lives.
When Joyce Carol Oates describes her public-rivalry-turned-wary-professional-acquaintanceship with Donald Barthelme, we are privy to the sight of one of today's most important writers being directly affected by another influential writer. When Sigrid Nunez reveals what it was like to be Susan Sontag's protégé, we get a glimpse into the private life and working philosophy of a formidable public intellectual. And when Jane Smiley describes her first year at the Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1974, she offers an intimate portrait of a literary milieu of enduring significance for American literature.
Rich, thought-provoking, and often impassioned, these pieces illuminate not only the anxiety but the necessity of influence—and also the treasures it yields.
Elizabeth Benedict is the author of five novels, including the bestseller Almost (which Fresh Air’s Maureen Corrigan chose as one of her top five novels of 2001), The Practice of Deceit, and Slow Dancing, which wasshort-listed for the National Book Award and The LA Times Book Prize. She is also the author of The Joy of Writing Sex: A Guide for Fiction Writers, which is used widely in creative writing programs in the US and abroad. She writes regularly about books and culture for The Huffington Post and has just launched a regular Huff Po column, “Read Any Good Books Lately?” Her nonfiction also appears in The New York Times, Esquire, Tin House, Harper’s Bazaar, The American Prospect, Allure, Salmagundi, and many other publications. She’s taught fiction and non-fiction writing at Princeton, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Swarthmore College, and the Harvard Extension. She lives in New York City and Boston.
"Even when writing teacher Benedict is writing fiction, she's writing about writing.... So the subject of this irresistible anthology was a natural for her. People become writers by virtue of literary inspiration, be it a book, a place, or a mentor, so why not invite writers to write essays about their literary influences? The response was overwhelming and avid.... these exceptionally animated essays feel as though the writers couldn't get the words down quickly enough. And what an array of experiences and voices." -- Booklist
"A mesmerizing book of essays by famous pens who themselves were once helped -- or hurt -- by established talents as they tried to climb their way up the literary ladder. [Mentors, Muses & Monsters] beautifully captures the experience of being a literary aspirant -- wide-eyed, enchanted by words, and eager for the tutelage of a mentor -- one who's already scaled the temple wall and emerged, shining, in a turret." -- The Christian Science Monitor
"Every one of the essays here -- from Benedict's own remembrance of Elizabeth Hardwick to Christopher Castellani's "Coming of Age at Breadloaf" is wise and full of heart." -- Chicago Tribune
"Michael Cunningham relates his discovery of Mrs. Dalloway, the happy result of failing to impress a girl during high school.... Joyce Carol Oates tells us that she had no mentor but books.... And in terrific essays on the New York Review of Books and the Iowa Writers Workshop, Neil Gordon and Jane Smiley give us a sense...of how institutions conspire to turn ordinary human beings into award-winning authors." -- Bookforum (Robert P. Baird Nov. 5)
"Enthralling.... [a] lovingly compiled collection of essays." -- The Errant Aesthete
"This anthology is that rare gem, a collection whose whole is greater, even, than the sum of its parts. Where else could you read musings-about-muses, accompanied by juicy tales from deep inside the writing life, by 30 of the best minds of our generation, all between the covers of one book?" -- The San Francisco Chronicle
"The essays are not simply worshipful tributes to literary lions. Each writer shades in the nuances of character and experience that make his subject come to life, and each reads like a short story.... For the reader aspiring to sharpen his own craft, gem after gem emerges from this book's pages.... I haven't finished reading all the essays. In truth, I am reluctant to complete it, so deliciously rich and illuminating have I found each offering. I suspect any writer or serious reader will feel the same way." -- MV Times