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A Week With Roya in Italy

roya photo

 

A few years ago, the director of Fairfield University’s MFA in creative writing called me into a meeting on Enders Island, where we held our residencies. He’d also summoned fellow faculty member Roya Hakakian. Each of us had been scheduled to deliver writing seminars in about thirty minutes’ time. Michael C. White told us that an important writing issue had turned up during the residency that seemed to beg for a seminar all its own, and asked us to address the subject together instead of hosting individual sessions on the subjects for which we had prepared well. Sure, we said.

Roya and I huddled afterwards, but, if anything, were less ready thirty minutes later to address the new topic than at the time of the meeting. However, once it all began, and the room was full of faces eager to discover our wisdom, I watched Roya’s magic at work. Her introduction to the seminar, and the warmth and generosity with which she delivered her newfound message set a tone that made it easy for me to also weigh in. It was as if we had rehearsed a dozen times.  As it turned out, we knew a lot more than we thought about Michael’s emergency subject (what it was, I can’t recall — it was that important.) I thought, well, I’d love to teach with Roya again.

Now, several years later I have that chance. Not in Fairfield’s fine program, but the one that Suzanne Levine and Clo Davis established three years ago in Praiano, Italy, with the help of Wally Lamb. Wally’s movie and writing duties prevent him from joining us next spring, so we thought about who would be an ideal replacement. It’s difficult, certainly, to measure up to Wally’s generosity and wisdom, but when I recalled Roya’s seminar triumph and her two highly regarded books, and that in our Praiano workshops we talk about scenes from her eloquent writings, the answer seemed obvious to us. I won’t repeat here her credentials. See for yourself what all the enthusiasm is about in regard to the memoir Journey to the Land of No: A Girlhood Caught in Revolutionary Iran, and the richly reported book, Assassins of the Turquoise Palace, at www.royahakakian.com. Once you do, then call up www.praianowriters.com, and fill in the blanks, whet your appetite (the food is, of course wonderful), the view is great, and seminar is warm and encouraging, and we’ll a raise a glass to our new faculty member.

 

Goldfinching: Four Ways to Experience a Masterpiece

The endurance course titled “The Goldfinch,” Donna Tartt’s modern 784-page masterpiece, tests the standard of making every word count. I won’t argue here that she did. The ending alone — a long discourse on the Meaning of Something or Other — may inspire a reader to ask, “I’ve come call this way for this?” OnContinue Reading

Klinghoffer and Artistic Freedom Die

If you write fiction, nonfiction, poetry or any combination of these, the recent tragic aria sung at the Metropolitan Opera House should make you shiver. Those of us who create for a living already face sufficient obstacles – the demands of the work itself and the fickle nature of the marketplace immediately come to mind.Continue Reading

25 Books I Love To Hear (Part 1)

I listened to my first unabridged audio book in 1989 while commuting. In all over the last 25 years, though that commute ended long ago, I’ve heard more than 200 novels, memoirs and nonfiction books. Brilliant actors such as Henry Strozier, Barbara Rosenblatt, Simon Vance, George Guidall and John McDonough have made great books jumpContinue Reading

Fearing a Poet’s Power

Ricky Greenfield died last month. He was an accomplished businessman who, steadfast in his intolerance, became my literary benefactor. And for that I remain grateful. Many years ago, Greenfield bought the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, a weekly that circulated around the state and once — in the golden age when people actually read newspapers — hadContinue Reading

Make Lunch, Write a Book

How do books come about? The most common way is when a writer gets an idea and then slaves over that idea for anywhere from ninety days (the remarkable achievement of memoirist Carlos Eire, in “Waiting for Snow in Havana”) to a decade (Chad Harbach’s “The Art of Fielding”) or more. Another method of creation:Continue Reading

The John McPhee Reader

John McPhee’s work appears in nearly every writing class I teach. I offer it as a prime example of the carefully constructed and compelling narrative, though I have little interest in the subjects he writes about. I was never curious, for example, about the geology of the Grand Tetons or the intricacies of cattle brandingContinue Reading

Writing, Italian Style

They’ve gone. They’ve packed their laptops, narratives and memories of a week together on the Amalfi Coast. Here, they read and critiqued (with love) each other’s work. They laughed and cried and hugged and, when parting, swore to stay in touch. We all ate meals so irresistible it seemed we could raise funds for theContinue Reading

Writing LBJ

An hour before the curtain of “All the Way” at the Neil Simon Theater, two middle-aged women walked past the marquee and saw the oversized photograph of Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Baines Johnson. “Look,” said one. “It’s Mr. White. I didn’t know he was on Broadway.” Referring, of course, to Cranston’s breakout role in “Breaking Bad”Continue Reading

Amalfi Calls Wally Again

That’s Wally Lamb and yours truly looking at something in Praiano. Our gazes are upwards, obviously, so it’s not likely we’re peering at the unrepentant goat that ate Suzanne’s silk scarf. It may just be that we’re admiring the hillside town itself where Wally, Suzanne and I spent  a week last March with the firstContinue Reading