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You Tell Me It’s the Institution: Creative Writing and Literary History by Kenneth W. Warren

lareviewofbooks.org – Sunday September 13, 2015

I SPENT SIX WEEKS during the summer before my senior year of high school attending a creative writing course called "The Composing Process" at the Phillips Academy Andover Summer Session. It was 1974 and Richard Nixon was being forced from office as a result of the Watergate burglaries and the subsequent cover-up, yet for me the most momentous aspect of that summer was not the nation's political crisis but the idea that I, a skinny black kid from a public high school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, might be on my way to becoming a writer of serious literature. We read In Our Time andAbsalom, Absalom!, among other classic work, and I tried my hand with Hemingwayesque short fiction and imagist-inspired poetry, to the praise of my instructor and to what seemed like the admiration of my classmates. The reading was a revelation, and the fact that some of the pieces I wrote took on, to my eyes, the aura of "real" literature gave me some assurance that I, too, might also some day become a "real" writer. Perfecting artistic craftsmanship felt as important as knowing what was up politically, and that feeling helped me justify my as yet unspoken belief that once I got to college I could treat the sciences and social sciences as barely tolerable nuisances while I pursued matters of real importance on the pages of novels, poetry chapbooks, and anthologies.

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