Win a Free Copy of 3Ms

Write a piece - fiction or nonfiction - set at Christmas time. It needn't be about Christmas, about Christians, or in any way pro-Christmas. For details, see my latest Huff Po piece, "Don't Get an MFA-Write a Story, Win a Prize."


The Improper Bostonian Weighs in

"Whatever justified, or deluded, fascination these writers have toward their teachers, and however much or little reciprocity is granted, they weave riveting tales of their own evolution, sometimes outstripping their mentors." - Mopsy Strange Kennedy, issue dated Nov. 18, 2009.


Talking & Signing Books B&N Dec. 7

Photos by Nick Wheeler

Thanks to 3M contributors & B&N

EB, Mary Gordon, Lily Tuck, Sigrid Nunez

photo by Carol Goldberg


Listen In & Come See Us

Click to listen to us on Leonard Lopate's Show 93.9FM, Mon. 12/7, talking with Elizabeth Benedict, Sigrid Nunez on Susan Sontag, Lily Tuck on Gordon Lish.

Later the same day. Panel: Benedict, Mary Gordon, Sigrid Nunez, Lily Tuck. Barnes & Noble. 150 E. 86th St. 7PM.


The News from Lake Wobegon

A rave in the San Francisco Chronicle. And "A Day in the Life of...." well, me, on Cynthia Newberry Martin's lovely literary blog, Catching Days.


Mentors, Muses & Monsters at Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn, Nov. 23
Elizabeth Benedict, Lily Tuck, Alexander Chee, Martha Southgate, Mary Gordon


Martha's Vineyard Likes Us

Book reviewer Brooks Robards, in the Martha's Vineyard Times, loves Mentors, Muses & Monsters. She writes: "The essays are not simply worshipful tributes to literary lions. Each writer shades in the nuances of character and experience that make his subject come to life, and each reads like a short story. ... For the reader aspiring to sharpen his own craft, gem after gem emerges from this book's pages.

"The patterns among writers and influences emerge regardless of the order in which the essays are read, and I confess I haven't finished reading all the essays. In truth, I am reluctant to complete it, so deliciously rich and illuminating have I found each offering. I suspect any writer or serious reader will feel the same way."


Do Writers Need Mentors?

Your thoughts?

Teasers for Monday's Panel-Nov. 23-Brooklyn

Monday Nov. 23 @ 7.30pm
Greenlight Bookstore
Fort Greene, Brooklyn
718 246-0200
Elizabeth Benedict, Alexander Chee, Mary Gordon, Martha Southgate, and Lily Tuck

From Alexander Chee's essay on Annie Dillard:
“If I’ve done my job, she said in the last class, you won’t be happy with anything you write for the next ten years. It’s not because you won’t be writing well, but because I’ve raised your standards for yourself. Don’t compare yourselves to each other. Compare yourself to Colette, or Henry James, or Edith Wharton.”

From Mary Gordon's essay on Elizabeth Hardwick & Janice Thaddeus:
“This is how I think of them: the tiger and the pelican: Lizzie the tiger, brilliant, careless, destructive, and exciting, crashing through the underbrush heedless of the damage in her wake. And Jan the pelican. In medieval iconography and legend, the pelican plucks her own breast and feeds her young with her own life’s blood. My gratitude to them both is complex and contradictory…”

From Martha Southgate's essay on Harriet the Spy:
“When I first read Louise Fitzhugh’s novel [Harriet the Spy], I had no interest in being a writer. I wanted to be a psychologist – or failing that, Jermaine Jackson’s wife. But now I know that there are only a few books that have influenced me as much as this one did, that have, in a sense, mentored me into being the writer I am…. My mentors have been the books I’ve obsessed over and had crushes on.”

Lily Tuck's essay on Gordon Lish:
“’Tuck, Tuck’ – for some reason, Gordon [Lish] calls us all by our last names, he also is in the habit of repeating it – “don’t strain for a trope. Keep the object term as close to the subject term as you can manage without producing a tautology. Listen to this,’ he says, giving an example from a story he likes, ‘Quiet as a church.’
“I, too, am quiet.”

Elizabeth Benedict is the editor and moderator. It will not be a quiet night. Please join us.


We're on our way to Brooklyn & Greenlight Bookstore

The next stop on the 3M book tour is the just-opened and much celebrated new idie, Greenlight Bookstore, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, where we'll put on a panel on Monday, Nov. 23, with Alexander Chee (on Annie Dillard), Mary Gordon (on Elizabeth Hardiwck and Janice Thaddeus), Martha Southgate (on HARRIET THE SPY), Lily Tuck (on Gordon Lish), moderated by EB. It's at 7.30. Please join us. Bookstore phone is 718 246-0200.

I'll be blogging about our extravaganza at the Brattle Theatre on Dec. 1, for Cynthia Newberry Martin's lovely literary blog, Catching Days, for a column she runs every month called "How We Spend Our Days." I'm honored she invited me to write about the Cambridge event, and look forward to pulling my thoughts and impressions together.

Thanks for checking in.


The Book Tour is Underway

Contributors John Casey and Maud Casey joined me on November 9, in Washington DC, for the kick-off panel, at the DC Public Library in Chevy Chase, DC. They're the only father-daughter set in the book, and it was fascinating to see how they interact as players in the family business.

Friday November 13, is a very different sort of panel at the Brattle Theatre, Cambridge, MA, at 6pm. I'll be talking to contributors Jay Cantor (on Bernard Malamud), Chris Castellani (on Bread Loaf), Julia Glass (on her editor at Pantheon), Margot Livesey (on her adopted father), and Jim Shepard (on John Hawkes). Stay tuned for more.

If you'll be in Brooklyn on Monday, Nov. 23, please join us at the brand new Greenlight Bookstore- Mary Gordon, Lily Tuck, Martha Southgate, Alex Chee, and me.

If you'll be on the Upper East Side - 86th and Lex - on Dec. 7, please come to Barnes and Noble to hear hear Mary Gordon (on Elizabeth Hardwick), Sigrid Nunez (on Susan Sontag), Lily Tuck (on Gordon Lish), and me, asking questions.


A Rave in the Christian Science Monitor

"Mesmerizing book of essays by famous pens ... beautifully captures the experience of being a literary aspirant..." And an on-line interview with the editor. Read and listen here


Pub date's today & Huff Po too

Pub date means that the book should be for sale in 3-D bookstores and on-line. For the occasion, I did a slight revision of the introduction to the book for Huffington Post, which you can read by clicking right here.


"The Scholars and the Pornographer" - Really

Carolyn See's English professor from England and her father - who turned to writing hardcore porn at the age of 70 and cranked out 73 books before he died - are the subjects of her remarkable essay, which The Rumpus has brought to you on-line right here. Impossible to read without laughing out loud and crying.


Editor's Choice - Chicago Tribune

It concludes: "Every one of the essays here ... is wise and full of heart."


Elle Likes Us

3Ms is in good company in the November Elle, appearing with Philip Roth's new novel and a Louisa May Alcott biography.

Alexander Chee's essay on studying at Wesleyan with Annie Dillard caused something of a sensation when it appeared on The Morning News three days ago and then on Facebook. When you read it, you'll see why.

Samantha Hunt's amazing piece on Breece DJ Pancake just came out in the print edition of Poets & Writers.


A Rave in Booklist-Just Out

To die for, from Booklist 11/1/09:

"Even when writing teacher Benedict is writing fiction, she’s writing about writing—her novel Almost (2001) is about a best-selling novelist. So the subject of this irresistible anthology was a natural for her. People become writers by virtue of literary inspiration, be it a book, a place, or a mentor, so why not invite writers to write essays about their literary influences? The response was overwhelming and avid. Benedict reports, “I seemed to have hit a nerve.” What’s more, these exceptionally animated essays feel as though the writers couldn’t get the words down quickly enough. And what an array of experiences and voices. Mary Gordon remembers Elizabeth Hardwick. Sigrid Nunez shares vivid memories of Susan Sontag. Joyce Carol Oates ponders the “singular” book of her childhood, Alice in Wonderland. Carolyn See portrays her father, who at age 69 began writing hard-core pornography. Julia Glass, Dinaw Mengestu, Caryl Phillips, Jane Smiley, Jonathan Safran Foer––all share profound and moving tales of transformation that encapsulate the entire collective experience of literature, a living force tapped into, handed down, cherished."


Oprah and AARP Like the 3Ms

There's a spread about the book in the November issue of Oprah's magazine, "O", (p. 148) and a review in the November/December issue of AARP.

And ... Maud Casey's essay, about the influence of her writer parents, "A Life in Books," is in the current issue of the Oxford American (paper, not on-line), and a reader sent me this comment about the book yesterday, "I just wanted to say I'm adoring your anthology, content-wise a triumph! There are other books out there like this, but here the quality is so much higher than usual.... I think writing instructors should start ordering paperback versions for their workshops. It's that varied and rich.

Later today I'll post information about the book tour-events in Washington, DC, Cambridge, MA, New York City, and Charlottesville, at the Virginia Festival of the Book.


More Sneak Peaks at Mentors, Muses & Monsters

It's usually bad form to brag about a book, but in the case of "Mentors, Muses & Monsters," I'm not so shy: 29 of the 30 essays are written by someone other than me, and, well, they're really, really good. So good that a bunch of them, as you can see, have been reprinted in other publications and one, Edmund White's piece on Harold Brodkey, appears in White's latest memoir, just reviewed in the New York Times.

Arnon Grunberg's splendid essay, "The Moment" debuted in August in "N+1", and you can wait to read it in the book, or you can take a look here.


Sneak Previews of 3M Essays

Check out Jim Shepard's piece on studying writing with John Hawkes on The Rumpus, Sigrid Nunez's essay on Susan Sontag in Tin House, Evelyn Toynton's piece on her mother in the American Scholar, and Joyce Carol Oates' essay, "Notes on Writerly Influences: In the Absence of Mentors and Muses" in Narrative Magazine.

Cheryl Strayed's essay on Alice Munro appears in the Summer issue of the Missouri Review.

Margot Livesey's piece on the influence of her adopted father, a Scottish school teacher, appears soon in The Normal School

Some essays are only available in the print version - All are available in the book on Oct. 27.


About the Book - From S&S

For Denis Johnson, it was Leonard Gardner's cult favorite Fat City; for Jonathan Safran Foer, it was a brief encounter with Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai; Mary Gordon's mentors were two Barnard professors, writers Elizabeth Hardwick and Janice Thaddeus, whose lessons could not have been more different. In Mentors, Muses & Monsters, edited and with a contribution by Elizabeth Benedict, author of the National Book Award finalist Slow Dancing, thirty of today's brightest literary lights turn their attention to the question of mentorship and influence, exploring the people, events, and books that have transformed their lives. The result is an astonishing collection of stirring, insightful, and sometimes funny personal essays.

In her communications with contributors, Benedict noticed a longing to thank the people who had changed their lives, and to acknowledge them the best way a storyteller can, by revealing the intricacies of their connection. These writers look back to when something powerful happened to them at an unpredictable age, a moment when a role model saw potential in them, or when they came to understand they possessed literary talent themselves. As most of these encounters occurred when the writers were young -- unsure of who they were or what they could accomplish -- several pieces radiate a poignant tenderness, and almost all of them express enduring gratitude.

When Joyce Carol Oates describes her public-rivalry-turned-wary-professional-acquaintanceship with Donald Barthelme, we are privy to the fascinating sight of one of today's most important writers being directly, personally affected by another influential writer. When Sigrid Nunez reveals what it was like to be Susan Sontag's protégé, we get a glimpse into the private life and working philosophy of a formidable public intellectual. And when Jane Smiley describes her first year at the Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1974, she offers an intimate portrait of a literary milieu of enduring significance for American literature.

Rich, thought-provoking, and often impassioned, these pieces illuminate not only the anxiety but the necessity of influence -- and also the treasures it yields. By revealing themselves as young men and women in search of direction and meaning, these artists explore the endlessly varied paths to creative awakening and literary acclaim.

Free Press, October 2009
eBook, 256 pages
ISBN-10: 1-4391-2785-9
ISBN-13: 978-1-4391-2785-8