“I’d rather reject the terms optimistic and pessimistic. They suggest a calculation of how things are going to evolve, and if it’s going to evolve in the way you want, you’re optimistic. That has very little to do with despair and hope. Hope is not a form of guarantee, it’s a form of energy, and very frequently that energy is strongest in circumstances that are very dark.”
Robert Cohen on co-editing a new anthology where established writers discuss their practice and vocation
How did you come to put together The Writer’s Reader?
[Jay Parini, my co-editor, and I] both taught workshops for emerging writers — here at Middlebury, at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, at Iowa and Harvard and elsewhere — for more years than we care to think about, and all that time we’ve been Xeroxing certain essays we love, essays that seem particularly well-suited to providing consolation, instruction, and the muscle of inspiration, not just to the small-w aspect of the practice but to the larger, more long-term, capital-W sense as well. At a certain point it became almost physically painful, not having these essays between covers (especially the ones out of print), not being able to share them in an easy, accessible way. It just seemed somehow stupid and wrong that there was no way to introduce a new generation of writers to Natalia Ginzburg’s piece, say, or Tillie Olsen’s, or Ted Solotaroff’s, or Danilo Kis’ — to name just three of the wiser, more over-arching essays about the writer’s life you’re ever likely to find. (more…)
Is there one book that’s affected you tremendously or changed your life?
Let me suggest a book called Here Is Where We Meet. It’s by a writer called John Berger. It was pretty life-changing for me. It’s a collection of short stories; it has eight and a half short stories. They’re all based on life, but they’re all fiction. It’s the way that he handles that fictionality that really affected my writing.John Berger is quite an old man; he’s in his eighties. What he does in these stories is, he’ll write a story about someone he once knew who is now dead. He tells true stories about how he knows them or what they mean to him, but the stories are about encounters he has with them after they’ve died. Things like meeting his long-dead mother in Lisbon and going for a walk with her. It feels very diaristic and very real. The porousness of that border between what we can prove, what’s easily accessible, and what takes more face and openness — it was really interesting to me, how he handled that. He doesn’t take it from a religious point of view at all. [Read More]
Part of Sheffield Doc/Fest, which takes place from 10—15 June 2016
A series of film essays about British art critic John Berger directed by four of his close friends, including Tilda Swinton and Bartek Dziadosz, will feature at this year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest. The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger is billed as “an appropriately innovative portrait of an intellectual giant,” and its screening will be followed by a Q&A with Tilda and Bartek. [Read More]