In the Absence of Mentors/Monsters

Notes on Writerly Influences

by Joyce Carol Oates

Fascinating and invaluable to read these words about writers, such as Gardner, and books still so influential today. This might be the most interesting article I've read this year.

Joyce Carol Oates touched my heart as a child and teenager. She speaks with such honesty . . .

Here, Oates has shocked me. In my childhood, she seemed to me to be an almighty in the literary world. But like her, I am without someone I can go to in times of trouble. When I cannot put together a plot, I often feel like running around our local Starbucks, calling out, "Sensai, sensai! Where art thou!" I suppose both of us can only return to our stacks, searching for a wise and guiding hand.

I suppose many writers these days go to MFA programs for the exact reasons suggested in this piece. In an MFA, the writer might find, at least temporarily, both the community and the mentor Oates talks about in her article. But isn't it always a matter of chance? You may find your mentor in a program or in your family, or you may find that there's no reassurance out there, just the occasional reminder from fellow writers that the artist's life is often lonesome.

Thank you, Joyce Carol Oates, for making this writer feel a little less alone.


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