Author: Sandra Kotta

With Stories Like These, Who Needs Talent? Part IV: The Sadia Shepard Incident

This is the final part of a 4-Part series of essays by the author, entitled “With Stories Like These, Who Needs Talent?” Part Three can be found here. The New Yorker was founded in 1925 as a humour magazine with an arch, self-consciously sophisticated, cosmopolitan tone. It soon evolved into a general-interest weekly with a focus on fiction, literature, ‘high culture’ in general, and what is now known as long-form journalism. Under William Shawn (1907-1992), who edited the magazine from 1952 to 1987, the New Yorker became the best-known, most prestigious venue for short stories in the English-speaking world. Writers still aspire to have their work published there, even though fiction now rivals the poetry as the element of the magazine most frequently skipped by its 1.2 million readers. Occasionally the New Yorker features stories by authors of genuinely classic stature: Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), Italo Calvino (1923-1985), Alice Munro (1931- ), Sir V. S. Naipaul (1932- ), and – most recently – Primo Levi (1919-1987), whose “Quaestio de Centauris” was published in the annual Fiction …

With Stories Like These, Who Needs Talent? Part III: The Spirit of the Age

This is the third part of a 4-Part series of essays by the author, entitled “With Stories Like These, Who Needs Talent?” Part Two can be found here. Ben Lerner is arguably the most distinguished young writer in America, equally well-known as a poet, critic, essayist, and novelist. His oeuvre may be the single most critically-acclaimed, award-winning, institutionally-validated body of work by any living English-speaking writer under the age of fifty. Lerner was born in 1979 in Topeka, Kansas. His parents are well-known psychologists; his mother Harriet Lerner’s book The Dance of Anger (1985; revised 2005) has sold millions of copies. Lerner earned a BA in Political Science from Brown University, as well as an MFA in poetry from the same institution. He won the Hayden Carruth Award for Emerging Poets for his first book (2004); a Fulbright Scholarship to travel to Spain to write his second book of poetry; the Believer magazine’s Believer Book Award for his first novel Leaving the Atocha Station (2011); the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Prize (2011); a …

With Stories Like These, Who Needs Talent? Part II: English as a Dead Language

This is the second part of a 4-Part series of essays by the author, entitled “With Stories Like These, Who Needs Talent?” Part One can be found here. It would be fair to characterise poetry as dead, at least in English-speaking countries. Right now it might be easier to meet people who write poetry as an emotional outlet than it would be to encounter anyone who regularly buys books of poems or reads verse for pleasure. Amateur poets rarely entertain any reasonable hope of being read by anyone; but nor do ‘professional’ poets, whose readers tend to number in the dozens at best rather than the hundreds. Most of these readers end up being other poets. Poetry occupies a diminished status in ‘high culture.’ Very few educated people under seventy have been compelled to learn poems by heart at school; committing even stray lines of Shakespeare or Shelley to memory has become a rare, eccentric habit. This means that contemporary poets can rely on little or no shared poetic tradition with such readers as they …

With Stories Like These, Who Needs Talent? Part I: A Cautionary Tale for Writers

This is the first part of a 4-Part series of essays by the author, entitled “With Stories Like These, Who Needs Talent?”  Contemporary American literature has been transformed into a university-based activity which is increasingly alien to the needs, desires, or tastes of readers and audiences not directly involved in academic culture. The practices of institutionalised Creative Writing workshops decisively influence the style, form, and format of literary works; intellectual trends in universities determine the worldviews of writers long after they have finished formal studies. Most major professional writers now teach ‘Creative Writing’ in colleges and universities, and this has serious repercussions for literature. Not merely in terms of what is published and circulated, but even with respect to the work that fledgling authors aspire to produce. Literary writing has always been a precarious means of earning a living. The slow collapse of the newspaper and magazine industries since the 1990s has reduced journalism’s potential as a reliable source of regular income for writers. Creative Writing might seem at first glance like an ideal solution …

Bald Men Fighting Over a Comb: Arguments About the Classical Tradition

Part II: A review of The Lesbian Lyre: Reclaiming Sappho for the 21st Century by Jeffrey Duban. Clairview Books (30th June 2016). The classical tradition in literature is essentially dead. The English poet Alice Oswald may be the only prominent contemporary writer who has read deeply in Latin and Greek poetry. A few other poets (Ruth Padel, Anne Carson, Alice Stallings) have made names for themselves as classicist-poets; though their contributions to literature and scholarship have been uninspiring; their work is more often praised than read. Most of the praise comes only from Classics teachers, or others easily impressed by a thin veneer of learning. It is impossible to name a novelist, short-story writer or playwright active today who engages seriously with classical history, myth or literary form. Jeffrey Duban tries valiantly to revive the tradition in his ambitious, pugnacious, eccentric, sprawling new book The Lesbian Lyre: Reclaiming Sappho for the Twenty-First Century. This is not all Duban tries to do: he also provides a learned introduction to ancient Greek lyric poetry, offers translations of …

Bald Men Fighting Over a Comb: Arguments About the Classical Tradition

Part I: A review of Classics, The Culture Wars and Beyond by Eric Adler. University of Michigan Press (1st November 2016). Classics, the study of Greek and Latin literature, involves philosophical and historical texts as well as literary works. Classicists may also be interested in the systematic study of language and expression, and (to a lesser extent) art history and archaeology. In fact, Classics encompasses virtually every aspect of ancient Greek and Roman culture between the first Olympic Games in 776 BC and the fall of the Roman Empire in AD 476. Still, classicists have traditionally focussed their attention on Athens between 508 and 323 BC, and Rome between the mid-first century BC and the late second century AD: most of the important classical texts, monuments and works of art were created in those places during those periods. Classics requires a long training: there are two ancient languages which take years to master, and a large body of impressive but often difficult literature in Greek and Latin that cannot be avoided. If you have not …