Friday February 11, 2005 - Shambaugh House
Transcribed from a shitty tape
SER: All right. So here are a few questions some of the alumni are wondering, the distant alumni who can’t be here. One question that’s come up a lot is that short stories are not as widely read or published as they were in the first decades of the workshop. How do you think the workshop can or should accommodate students’ growing interest in writing novels as opposed to short stories. And can you workshop a novel effectively?
RB: You can, but it’s harder, because you end up workshopping chapters. I’m teaching a course in novel writing right now. It’s different.
SER: How is your novel-writing workshop structured right now?
RB: Everybody’s got a first reader, so you turn your chapter in to them. We did some mapping. I showed them a little bit about how to do that. Just, you know, ways of planning out the immediate stuff. You don’t really know where the whole thing’s going, usually. You’re just sort of brainstorming with yourself.
SER: How many chapters are people turning in.
RB: Probably... not more than three or four chapters.
SER: Have you noticed in your program that people are more interested in novels these days, or is that more particular to here?
RB: Yeah, I think people -- they’re listening to the prognosticators who say the short story’s dead, and of course the short story will be at their funerals. It always shifts. It’ll shift back. In five years people will be talking about this beautiful rush of short stories. Story writers in this country right now are writing stories as good as anybody ever wrote them. And we have more of them than we ever did before.
SER: Who do you think some of the best ones are?
RB: The usual suspects. Andrea Barrett, Tim O’Brien, Ann Beattie, Richard Ford, Grace Paley... Eudora just left us, but Eudora. Can you imagine all these people -- these people? -- Barry Hannah -- alive at the same time and writing stories? There are many of them. I mean, you guys name a couple. Jayne Ann Phillips, Charlie Baxter, Allen Weir (sp?), George Garett(sp?) is still alive and writing stories. Ellen Gilchrist. It just goes on and on.
G: Another one is about approachability and student/faculty interaction outside the classroom. How would you make yourself available?
RB: Tell them to contact my students at George Mason University. They’ll tell you every class is actually a six-hour class. We meet for three hours and then we go to a bar for another three hours.
G: That leads into another question...
SER: Which is would you go out drinking with the workshop students and if so what would you drink?
RB: It’s a matter of course. Every single time. So much so that at this restaurant they named an entrée after me.
SER: What’s your drink of choice?
RB: Red wine, and then seltzer water if I have a long way to drive. If I’m out with a student who has a problem with drink, I just drink seltzer water. But we’ll sit and have a bite of food and talk.
SER: What’s your entrée?
RB: It’s called Richard Bausch Mountain Trout.
SER: What criteria would you look for in visiting faculty? What matters more, their resume as teachers or as writers?
RB: Um, I know so many writers, and I know the ones among them who are really good teachers, so that’d be who I was interested in bringing. There others who are not such good teachers. I’m not going to name names, but I’ll guarantee that no one would sit in the room and not feel [unintelligible].
G: What about the admission process? Would you change anything from the way it’s done now, with the students reading them all? Frank apparently read every one. That was the legend anyway.
RB: I wouldn’t involve myself. I’d look to faculty involvement, have them read some of those and make some decisions. I think one of the biggest problems is when the TA’s actually can say no. Two of them can block someone out. And I think that’s kind of risky and subject to sensitivities, especially when you’re a TA and you’re crowded with things like that anyway and you’re scared. I would think that at least one faculty member ought to be involved. The trouble is there are so many manuscripts. But I would think that faculty involvement would be ... certainly what Frank’s has been. But the great thing is we get to pick who we work with. Being part of that is fun, I mean, you see a great writer and get excited and say get that person.
SER: I know you’ve only been back here for a couple days, but what differences in student camaraderie and environment from when you were here do you see?
RB: It seems more generally involved. We tended to be kind of incestuous when I was here in the sense that the novelists hung out with the novelists, and the poets with the poets, and there wasn’t a lot of crossing the line. One of my best friends, who died a few years ago, named Michael Maguire, was a poet. But there tended to be a little less than what looks to me like a lot of mixing. Everybody seems very comfortable with anyone.
SER: Do you have any horrific workshop stories or workshop experiences that are legendary from your time? Either happening to you or to someone else?
RB: Well, there was -- there was the [Gordon] Lish visit, but I wasn’t there for that.
SER: What happened during that?
RB: Called up some guy who wrote a story, threw it down, and said, “Piece of shit.” Then Robert Grossman, who was in that workshop, went to interview for a job at Esquire, and [unintelligible!]
SER and G: (Laugh)
SER: What do you think the best book of fiction published in say the last three years was?
SER: Uh-huh. We’ll put a link to Amazon on there for you.
RB: I, uh, I don’t know, I don’t think in terms of best... the last couple years?
SER: Well, the recent past.
RB: My brother’s novel A Hole in the Earth came out a couple years ago.
SER: What’s your brother’s name?
RB: Robert. It’s a hell of a book.
G: Aren’t you twins?
RB: Mm-hm. Identical. My friend Stephen Goodwin’s novel Breaking Her Fall. Wonderful book. And there’s the poet Alan Shapiro’s The Dead Alive and Busy. And C.K. William’s The Singing.
G: Cool. Thanks very much.