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A Short History of Creative Writing in America

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Abstract

The teaching of the crafts of fiction, nonfiction and poetry in degree-bearing institutions has its distant antecedent, at least in spirit, in the unofficial atel—ier or ‘school’, such as one might regard the Transcendentalists’ Brook Farm to be. But just as the combination of shoptalk, mutual editing and critical theory is exemplified by Wordsworth and Coleridge in England, surely the nexus of Hawthorne, Emerson, Fuller, Thoreau and other New England writers of the 1840s exemplifies an American school ‘without walls’. Writers talked back to writers about vision and craft. Livelihoods came from second jobs as churchmen, teachers, editors or clerks in customs houses; seldom from publication. Interestingly, as portrayed by Perry Miller in The Raven and the Whale (1956), claims for a national literature emanated from such magazines in New York as the Knickerbocker Magazine, The Democratic Review and Poe’s The Broadway Journal.1 Edgar Allan Poe, of course, first in Baltimore, then Philadelphia, then New York, was a central figure; and just as his famous review of Hawthorne, in laying out principles of craft, is often cited as the birth of the American Short Story, so too, it presents the American idiom of poet and critic.2 Like a nineteenth century Aristotle, Poe offers his poetics.3 Here are works we value. Here are their characteristics. (For a different historical perspective, see D.G. Myers’s Elephants Teach: ‘The search for origins is a historical error.’)4

Keywords

  • National Literature
  • Writing Program
  • Fiction Writer
  • Modern Language Association
  • Young Writer

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Notes

  1. Edgar Allen Poe, ’Review of Hawthorne – Twice Told Tales,‘Grahams Magazine (May 1842): 298-300.

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  2. Edgar Allen Poe,‘The Philosophy of Composition,’Grahams Magazine (April 1846) 163-7.

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  3. D.G. Myers, Elephants Teach: Creative Writing Since 1880 (New York: Prentice Hall, 1995).

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  4. Andrew Levy, The Culture and Commerce of the American Short Story (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

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  5. Henry James The Art of the Novel: Critical Preface s (New York: Scribners, 1934).

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  6. E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1956).

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  7. George Garrett, ‘The Future of Writing Programs,’Creative Writing in America: Theory and Pedagogy, Joseph M. Moxley, Ed. (Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1989).

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  8. Tom Grimes, Ed., The Workshop: Seven Decades of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (New York: Hyperion, 1999).

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  9. The AWP Guide to Writing Program s(Paradise, CA: Associated Writing Programs, Dustbooks, Annual, 2008).

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  10. Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones (Boston: Shambhala, 1996).

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  11. Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter, Eds., What If? (New York: Harper Resource, 1991).

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  12. Amy Hempel, ‘Captain Fiction,’Vanity Fair (December, 1984), 90-3, 126-8.

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  13. John W. Aldridge, Classics and Contemporaries (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1992).

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  14. William Goodman, ‘Thinking About Readers,’ Daedalus (Winter, 1983), 65-84.

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  15. Debra Spark, Ed., Twenty under Thirty: Best Stories by America’s New Young Writers (New York: Scribners, 1986).

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© 2012 DeWitt Henry

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Henry, D. (2012). A Short History of Creative Writing in America. In: Teaching Creative Writing. Teaching the New English. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137284464_3

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