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2003-07-29 11:16 AM
Odyssey Fiasco Update
Okay, well it appears we didn't have the entire story so I have to swallow and retract a bit today.
Harlan Ellison, upon hearing about the fiasco, got on the phone with Gene Wolfe and Jeanne Calvos to get the story straight, so here it is:
It seems that there was an elderly gentleman in the Odyssey class this year who's wife had recently died and who, well, to put it gently, had difficulty playing with others. This gentleman didn't like the way Gene Wolfe was critiquing the manuscripts of the class--his in particular--and took it upon himself to act as the spokesman for the rest of the students WITHOUT THEIR KNOWLEDGE OR CONSENT. Now, to speak for fifteen other writers, to speak for fifteen other writers and CHASTISE Gene Wolfe for his teaching methods, to speak for fifteen other writers and chastise Gene Wolfe and make a mockery of the workshop process in front of the whole damned world, is hubris on a krakatoan scale. This gentleman deserves ninety percent of our scorn.
You see, he presented the letter to Gene Wolfe before the other students had arrived for class. The letter stated that the students were going to boycott class until Gene Wolfe left. Gene Wolfe took offense. An argument between Mr. Wolfe and the elderly gentleman took place and well, it escalated into something rather loud. The other students, arriving at the classroom, witnessed this shouting match and decided to let the two have their privacy in order to work out whatever disagreement they had. Gene Wolfe looked up and saw an abandoned classroom and assumed that the class was boycotting, so he made the determination that he was the problem and left.
Now, in the class' defense, they have since written a formal letter of apoligy to Mr. Wolfe and seem to be genuinely abashed at their classmates behaviour.
These are the facts of the matter, as told to Harlan Ellison.
Now, for my two cents:
Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. Had the students given a rat's ass about Mr. Wolfe, they would have come to his defense in their on-line journals. Instead, they have lambasted him, referring to him as "the moustache," and "the walrus." They whine about his critiques. They whine about how he was a terrible teacher. They whine about how they are going to be great writers one day reguardless of the harsh criticism they received.
Feh. Because of it, maybe, had they bothered to open their ears. But no, this new generation of self-christened Hemmingways and Austins don't need that kind of criticism. They don't want to hear that their prose needs work. They want a fuzzy, cuddly teacher who tells them that one more re-write and they'll be hailed as the savior of science fiction.
You know, you're not always going to like your instructors at these workshops. But friends, when experience speaks, LISTEN! You have to learn the rules before you can break them. You have to understand that sloppiness isn't an option when it comes to the written word. Literature is ART, God damn it! If you're not bleeding all over the page, wondering whether or not you've got every word perfect, go into a different line of work. Mediocrity is the only intolerable sin. Good enough, my friends, never is.
But to tell the truth, I have to agree with Harlan's take on this one. Workshops have gotten soft. They only hire writers who they know will keep the peace. Now, I'm not saying that there aren't some tough instructors out there. Howard Waldrop, for one. But for every Howard Waldrop, there's a Joan Vinge. (Don't get me wrong. Joan is a fabulous human being and an incredibly talented writer. But Joan was dissuaded from pursuing her career as a painter when an art instructor told her she had no talent, hence, getting a critical word out of Joan is like asking Barney the dinosaur to piss on the little toe-headed kid.) For every Michael Swanwick, there's a John Crowley. (I tried to pick a fight with John Crowley, just so he would open his mouth and beat me down for disagreeing with him. I might have actually learned something during his week if he had.)
And then, of course, there's Harlan. You know, everybody and their second cousin involved in the workshopping process has been coming out after Harlan's denoument, stating that he's wrong. Workshops haven't gone soft.
Yeah? Really? Prove it.
Bring Harlan in next year. If Jeanne Calvos wants to make a stand and fix the reputation of Odyssey, bring Harlan back. You will, in no uncertain terms, be laying down the law that yes, Clarion and its progeny are boot-camps for writers. We don't coddle. We give you what you pay for, and then some.
If you're spending your summer pretending to be a writer, you're not going to want to come to this workshop. If you're serious about your craft, you'd sell your fuckin' kidney to spend a week with Harlan.
And gee, isn't this the kind of student you want?
Joseph Haines, signing off from The Edge of The Abyss.
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