Author: Ryan Blacketter

A Raft of Books

In my workshop with Frank Conroy at the University of Iowa in 2002, he uttered a caveat on the first day that was astonishing to hear at a university. “Let’s not have any political correctness here. If characters can’t think and talk like people—if writers can’t—then what’s the point of literature?” A casual leftist and no friend of the right, Conroy disdained manipulative politics of any brand. His workshop was a godsend. I had just graduated from an Oregon Master’s program in which most professors taught absurd essays and opened the books rarely. For two years we explored Melville’s “homosocial environments” and Hemingway’s “repressive maleness,” etcetera. At the end of it, we were indeed masters—of an academic lunacy that doesn’t matter and won’t last. It’s a rare English department that respects great books and authors. No wonder Conroy had moved the Workshop out of the English department a few years earlier, declaring its independence. He enjoyed discussing literature and how to write it, without any of the identity politics that attends the standard English course. …