I was reared in 19th Century Russian literature and then the literature of American Jews (Roth, Bellow, etc.) and I always had difficulty with the relative lack of emotion in English lit.
Novelists, poets, and playwrights aren’t the only people who can call themselves writers. Don’t forget the oft begrudged screenwriters. The New York Times highlights 14 of this year’s best screenwriters, including Julie Deply and Seth Rogen, and asks them for writing advice and one original line of dialogue for some excellent short films. Our favorite short film is Robert Redford’s.
When I’m struggling with my own work, I’m often drawn to biographies of writers. Not only do I learn fun facts about prominent figures — Henry James suffered terribly from constipation, Kafka chewed every bite of food 32 times, Flannery O’Connor cared for a flock of around 40 peacocks, Montaigne never saw his wife with her clothes off, Balzac fortified himself with a paste made of unroasted coffee beans — I’m also reminded that there’s no single path for living a successful creative or personal life.
Experimental or mainstream, irrespective of genre, literature asks what motivates us, moves us, connects and separates us? Neuroscience asks not just how the brain works, but the mind as well. We’re not just an assembly of neuronal, neurochemical, and molecular actions transmitting electrical signals throughout the brain. True, we can now mimic those signals through externally generated electrical pulses to improve hearing, make a limb move, or stop tremor. But we cannot yet simulate cognitive experience, our sense of ourselves, of being.
Magdalena Edwards gets in the writing zone by cranking up Arcade Fire. What do you do?
No book is dangerous in and of itself. A book is only a collection of words in a certain order, pages, screens, a sequence of ideas. Ideas alone can never hurt us. People only make ideas dangerous by fearing and hating them, and by vilifying and persecuting those who disagree with them. In this way, the association of a writer with his ideas can be very dangerous, even deadly. You stand a reasonably good chance of denying ever having read a book, but it’s a great deal harder to hide from having written one.
No great hand reached down from the sky and made me a writer. I made myself one, by writing.
Until that moment, I hadn’t really understood what I was doing there, why I had written my play in the first place. Now I knew. I had loved my friend back home, and we had drifted apart, as friends do, and I was trying to work all that out, what it meant to love somebody and have that end. Here I thought I’d written a topical one-act with a trick ending, and really I had written a love story.
When an audience is with you, it’s like running a rapids, that same raw power and unpredictability, and even the best actors can do little but hold on for dear life and hope the boat doesn’t capsize.