have you ever learned anything about craft from reading a critic? AL Kennedy opines

Sunday, March 17, 2013

I spent most of this weekend reading a hefty book for review, then running to catch up on corporate work and student papers. Then, for about a half hour, I calmed down and read The New York Times. I found the interview everyone else has likely read by now—the one in which A.L. Kennedy talks to John Williams about The Blue Book, and other such matters.

I found this particular exchange quite nicely juicy. I juxtapose it with a photo I took of my own classroom chalkboard, when I was prepping for the conversation my students and I were about to have about Caroline Knapp's memoir, Drinking: A Love Story. 

You can teach reading. You can teach critique. But you should not, as Kennedy points out here, tell someone, especially an author, what to think.

Have you ever learned anything specific about your craft from reading a critic’s reaction to your work?

From a professional critic, no. I’ve never expected to. In the U.K., the critical culture can be fairly moribund and dominated by an oddly ill-informed set of academic assumptions. There’s less and less space or money for serious criticism. From critics — which is to say, people who look closely at my work and are true and wide-ranging readers — yes, I have. But paying too much attention to external opinion — fashions, theories, trends, friends — puts you a couple of years behind your own timeline, because critics only ever follow. That whole scene can take you away from your center and your voice, while making you self-conscious. It’s a toxic combination. And an adult writer can’t always be expecting this little fantasy undergraduate workshop to tell them what to think. If you’re the author, it’s your decision to find out what you think and what you want to say and then get on with it. If it were a group effort, your name wouldn’t be the only one on the title.


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