Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lydia Davis on Anger, Workshops and Mentors

A few quotes from a recent Rumpus interview with the great Lydia Davis (italics mine)...

Rumpus: There are certain words that come up again and again in your work: “anger” and “disturbance,” and to some extent “upset” and “annoyance.” Many times the narrators and characters are walking around with loads of anger. From the story “Story”: “Finally I sit down and write in my notebook that when he calls me either he will then come to me, or he will not and I will be angry, and so I will have either him or my own anger, and this might be all right, since anger is always a great comfort…” I’ve found that in life anger is one of the most common yet hidden emotions. What is it about anger that makes you reference it so? How would you define it? Would you consider it central to your work?

Davis: I would hope that I wouldn’t have to say anger was central to my work—that sounds so sad. I suppose people are more likely to turn to writing when they’re filled with a negative emotion than with a positive one, so the stories might be disproportionately negative—angry, sad, upset, etc. There is simply less of a need to “frame” or “distance” a positive emotion. I read somewhere that anger is always a secondary emotion; i.e. the primary one might be fear, or frustration. I found that very interesting. Now, I look beyond the anger to see what the primary emotion might be.


Rumpus: A few writer friends have expressed how they would prefer to have a mentor rather than go through a creative writing program. How important is a mentor for a writer trying to find their way? Did you have one?

Davis: I would be wary of both the writing workshop and the mentor. Each is useful in small doses, but each can have too great an influence—dangerous. I would suggest working mainly on one’s own, with, as I said, occasional doses of mentorship and/or writing group situations. A friend with the same sensibility who gives useful feedback is also good—or several for different kinds of work.

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