Sweet Clarity: Zinsser on Mitchell and Ruff

The jazz pianist Dwike Mitchell died this week, and I thought of Willie Ruff, his playing partner for almost 60 years, but mostly of William Zinsser, the teacher of all of us in the matter of writing well. Zinsser, of course, gave us On Writing Well, Writing to Learn, and other classics on craft. ButContinue Reading

From Our Amalfi Coast Writers Retreat

Several nights ago, a pleasant panic seemed to break out among our writing students. On previous afternoons, they had explored the town of Praiano. They’d had lunch overlooking the Ligurian Sea. But on this day most of them scurried back from the morning workshop to the Hotel Margherita to change everything. It would be theContinue Reading

Italy For Writers

  Questions for writers: How can you benefit from Amazon? How do you develop arcs for your characters? How do you create irresistible beginnings for novels or memoirs? And how can you resist Neapolitan paccheri con la zuppa di pesce? Well, then… Be a part of the first Praiano Writers Conference with novelist Wally Lamb, poet Suzanne LevineContinue Reading

A Book Unwritten

There are many books, I’m sure, on your must-read list. Sheldon Ocker’s is not among them, because it doesn’t exist. I’ve said to him, “Sheldon, you’re witty and experienced. And readers would be interested in such a book.” His answer through the years has always been the same: “No.” This is in stark contrast toContinue Reading

Bill Bryson’s Shakespeare: Elizabethan Juxto

The never ending speculation about who wrote Shakespeare’s plays includes the distinct possibility that it was a man named William Shakespeare. If you accept this as a premise, see if you can find a 2008 Recorded Books release of Bill Bryson reading his biography (of a sort), entitled, Shakespeare: The World as Stage. Unlike mostContinue Reading

Munich Memoir: Jim McKay’s Olympics

When the International Olympic Committee declined to allow a moment of silence during opening ceremonies in London to mark the fortieth anniversary of the violent deaths of eleven Israeli athletes, I dug back into chapter seventeen of My Wide World, the late Jim McKay’s memoir. McKay, the most eloquent sports anchor of his day (orContinue Reading

Writing Eulogies

One of the most reliable places to discover good writing is at a memorial service. Not in the first minutes of course. The first minutes usually require adequate solemnity and, in many cases, an array of adjectives that can test credulity. But be patient. A son or daughter (or in the present case a brother-in-law)Continue Reading

Carlos Eire: A Writer’s ‘Insanity’

The backstory of a National Book Award reveals the mindset of the writer, and such a deep sense of purpose that “insanity” became a key to success. When Carlos Eire spent a day recently with students at Fairfield U’s MFA Creative Writing program, he traced his transformation from writer of academic works (he teaches EuropeanContinue Reading

Morley Safer: The Interviewer Interviewed

Last week, I gave a seminar on “making the ask,” the art of the interview. My first question to the students in Fairfield University’s MFA in Creative Writing program was, “Are you shy?” I asked them to raise their hands if they are. Some were too shy to do so. The art of the interview,Continue Reading

Natasha Trethewey’s Call

This is how it’s done. In the early 1990s, you go off to graduate school in Massachusetts, though you are from the south.  You study poetry there, because this will help you make sense of your mother’s murder by her second husband, and other matters including being the daughter of an interracial couple. You comeContinue Reading