Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Senior Writer's Thoughts #4
Fourth in a series of reflections from our writers aged 70 and up, The Permanent Press presents: "Senior Writer's Thoughts"

From Christopher (Kit) Davis (from WORKING WORDS, essays addressed to writing students): This is what everyone will tell you or should: The art of writing can be learned but can't be taught. It is learned by reading the best works of literature in your own language and the best translations of the best work written in languages you don’t know, by doing this regularly, and by writing, as nearly as possible, every day.
       What can be taught is how to read as a writer. You are already a constant reader of good work. You will have thought, with the hope we correctly call inspiration, that you might be able to do such a thing yourself, that it might be worth a try. If you do not read constantly with a passion for reading and have never felt the passionate hope to write, you shouldn't be trying. 
       Reading from this point of view is a job—still a pleasure but now of the kind associated with pain. (Parker, in Flannery O'Connor's story Parker's Back, has his first tattoo and feels just enough pain to make it appear worth having done: “This was peculiar too for before he had thought that only what did not hurt was worth doing.”) Such work is not to be confused with criticism, which is for other study. On your own or in the classroom, learning a new way to read, you will put your hand on James Joyce's and Leo Tolstoy's and O'Connor's as they write, and you will begin to ask yourself what they did to make you believe in the worlds that explode out of these marks on paper, to understand what happens to bring about such beautiful final drafts.
       The work is difficult, both the reading and the writing. People will say they love to write. Even good writers say so, but I think they are talking about desire and expectation. They mean they love good art and, because they have sometimes made it happen and because they love their creation, they hope (it is a desperate and pessimistic hope) to do it again. Since this creative work involves instinct and thought in a contest that is resolved by means of the manipulation of words (instead of paint or clay or sound), and since the language we use as a medium in the art is derived from the language we use in our ordinary lives and gives a false appearance of being the same thing, writing is one of the hardest jobs men and women do.
       “Career awards of significance: A Peep Into the 20th Century was a NBA nominee, and Dog in Dog Horse Rat was the novel the National Academy of Arts & Letters chose to represent my work in the lifetime award they gave me.”

Photograph of Christopher DavisChristopher Davis has taught creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania; at Bowling Green State University in Ohio; at Drexel University in Philadelphia; at Indiana University of Pennsylvania; at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania; at Rider College in New Jersey; and, from 1977 to 1995, at Bryn Mawr College. He is Senior Lecturer in the Arts emeritus at Bryn Mawr College. 

He has published eleven novels, three books of non-fiction, a book for children, and numerous articles and short stories in magazines such as Esquire, Holiday, Travel & Leisure, and The Pennsylvania Gazette. His short story "A Man of Affairs" was an O'Henry prize story and was the basis for a play produced by the Actors Theater of Louisville. His novels have been published in England, Sweden, Germany, France, Norway, Denmark, Italy and Holland as well as the United States. His novel Lost Summer was adapted for the stage under the title "There was a little Girl" and produced on Broadway with Jane Fonda in the principal role. His adaptation to the stage of his novel A Peep Into the 20th Century was given staged readings at the Long Wharf Theater and at the Annenberg Theater, and was produced first by the Seattle Repertory Company, and later by the Philadelphia Festival of new plays. The text has been published by Plays in Process, Volume Ten Number Eight.
Look for Chris' next novel The Conduct of Saints coming from The Permanent Press in May 2013!