Jeffrey Eugenides’s Advice to Young Writers

Jeffrey Eugenides in The New Yorker:

Eugenides-writer-233In his 1988 book of essays, “Prepared for the Worst,” Christopher Hitchens recalled a bit of advice given to him by the South African Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer. “A serious person should try to write posthumously,” Hitchens said, going on to explain: “By that I took her to mean that one should compose as if the usual constraints—of fashion, commerce, self-censorship, public and, perhaps especially, intellectual opinion—did not operate.” Hitchens’s untimely death last year, at the age of sixty-two, has thrown this remark into relief, pressing upon those of us who persist in writing the uncomfortable truth that anything we’re working on has the potential to be published posthumously; that death might not be far off, and that, given this disturbing reality, we might pay attention to it.

It’s not very nice of me to bring up death tonight, as we gather to celebrate ten emerging writers. Talented and accomplished as you all are, you’re just getting going, so why should I rain on your parade? Here’s why: because Gordimer’s advice about writing posthumously may be the best way to help your writing in the here-and-now. It may inoculate you against the intellectual and artistic viruses that, as you’re exposed to the literary world, will be eager to colonize your system.

More here.

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