Blog recommendation: MFA in a Box

Friday March 18, 2011 @ 10:41 AM (UTC)

My first advisor in graduate school had a huge influence on me. I had several fabulous teachers in the program, but working with John Rember set the foundation of my writing life. He got me to state with confidence “I’m a writer” and taught me that being a writer is a continuous state of being and seeing, not something you just do when you write. The books I read at his behest and discussed with him in my correspondence semester helped give definition and certainty to things I had felt as instinct and hunch: things about the importance of writing, writing as survival strategy, writing as making meaning.

John’s craft talks at the program were also rich and valuable. They were the sort of lecture where you scribble notes intensely, and you can’t keep up with all of it that you want to get down, and you also want to be writing your own notes about all the things in your own writing and life that hook into what he’s saying, all the ideas this gives you. Luckily, many of the rich, layered craft talks that he wrote for the Pacific program are now available to me in a more complete and much more legible format than my own scribbles: printed essays in book.

John has written a writing book, MFA in a Box, which I am reading. To be honest, I’m reading it very slowly. That may sound like an odd endorsement, but it’s an honest one. I started reading the book on the plane to a convention. Every chapter is an essay, one of those rich interconnected thought-weavings that we got to listen to as Pacific students, with the addition of a top ten list at the end of each — valuable for focus and review, but also often funny. I found, reading on the plane, that when I was done with the first essay, I didn’t want to read the second. I wanted to write. So I dug out my carry-on and switched activities. On the plane ride home? Same thing. One essay, and then writing.

Obviously, this is a rare writing book. I have read quite a few, and I don’t remember any of them making me want to write that moment like this does. The cover says it’s “a Why to Write Book”, and the evidence says it’s convincing.

So the good news about John’s splendid craft talks is that you can buy the book, and the bonus good news is that you can read his blog while you’re waiting for the book to arrive. It’s a relatively new blog that he’s started in support of the book (hence the name!) and it is chock-full of the stuff John Rember specializes in as a teacher: thoughtful, mordant, lucid non-fiction about things which are important and hard to tackle.

Here are some of his posts:

I don’t think I’ve ever written a blog post just to recommend another blog before. Maybe John’s blog isn’t the blog for you, if you’re not a writer or interested in writing, or don’t like hard questions. But I am so glad it’s there, that someone with so much experience and so much willingness to examine it honestly is sharing in this way. John as teacher is challenging, wise, and dryly, darkly funny. John as blogger is much the same.


John’s book is a gift to writers. It needs time, so I’ve been carting it around too.

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