Close Reading

Good Essays
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ATLANTIC MONTHLY

CToSE READIiYG
Learning to rarite bg leant;ng to read
BY FRANCINE PROSE

say. Because if what people mean is: Can the love of lauguage be taught? Can a grft for storytelling be taught? thenthe enswer is no. Which may be why the'question is so often asked in a skeptical leng imFlying that, unlike the multiplication tables or the principles of auto mechanics, creativity can't be tansmitted from teacher to student Lnagine Milton enrolling in a graduate program for help virh Paradire Lost,orKa{ka enduring d1s semirlsl in which his classmates irrforn. him thaq franklp they just don't believe the part about the guywaking up one morning to find he's a giant bug. VLrat confuses me is not the sensibleness of the question but tJre fact that, when addressed to me, it's being asked of a writer who has taught writing, on and off, for almost twenty -What years. would it say about mq my students, and the hours'wete spent in the classroom if I said drat any attempt to teach the writing of fiction is a complete waste of timl? I should probably just go ahead and admit that lve been com mi tting criminal fraud.

to

f-l an creative *iting be taught? t ] rt" " r."roo.6l" qu"Jtiorr, but no matter how \-/ often I've been asked it, I never krrow guite what

That's the experience

I

describe, the answer

I

give to

people who ask about teaching creative writing: A workshop can be usefirl. A good teacher can show you how to edit your work. The right dass can encourage you and form the basis

of a community that will help and sustain you. But that dass, as helpful as it was, is not where I learned to write.

*itirg

ike most-maybe all-vriters, I learned to write by and, by example, from reading books.

Instead I answer by recalling my owu most valuable experienee not as a teacher, but as a student in one of the few fietion workshops I have ever taken. This was in the 1970s, during ny brief careLr as a graduate student in

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