Sunday, July 17, 2005

'This is the Teacher for Me'

On the first day of my workshop with Angela Carter, in my sophomore year, Carter was charged with reducing the number of would-be participants in her class to 14. Maybe 30 people were in the room, and she stood before us and tried to take questions. Some young guy in the back, rather too full of himself, raised his hand and, with a sort of withering skepticism, asked, "well, what's your work like?" You have to have heard Carter speak to know how funny the next moment was. She had a reedy and somewhat thin British voice, toward the upper end of the scale, and she paused a lot when she spoke. There were a lot of ums and ahs. Before she replied, she cocked her head and said "um" once or twice. Then she said, "my work cuts like a steel blade at the base of a man's penis." The room emptied out at the break, and I'm not sure a quorum of 14 returned. Maybe only 11 or 12. Carter did not conduct her workshop in the manner now familiar. She didn't care if anyone brought in work, and she was content to give disquisitions on how Mozart's The Magic Flute made it impossible to imitate folkoric material in fiction. She was proud of having seen Pink Floyd play back in swinging London, she liked the Doors, and she thought Franklin Roosevelt was the only American President worth talking about. I remember that she also once boasted that she rarely made eye contact. I thought, "this teacher is for me."
--Author Rick Moody, recalling a late writing teacher at Brown University, in a piece on writers and their mentors in the new Atlantic Monthly fiction issue.


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