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Lucius
Posted on Friday, August 01, 2003 - 02:19 pm:   

I'm starting a new GW thread, because I have a friend who's going to post tomorrow concerning Harlan Ellison's misapprenension and, ultimately, misuse of something that happened at a Clarion I talk a few years ago regarding Chip Delaney's week there. Harlan's uses this latter incident to support a thesis that he applies to the Wolfe incident and yet it has no bearing on that unfortunate occurrence. It involved two students, both off whom I had lobbied against admitting, one of whom had recently been homeless and was on serious meds, and the other who fell into the category of someone who wanted to attend the workshop for all the wrong reasons.

In any case, I'll let the poster illuminate the situation when he posts tomorrow.
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Lucius
Posted on Friday, August 01, 2003 - 02:55 pm:   

make that " a Clarion I taught a few years ago..."
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Bob Kruger
Posted on Saturday, August 02, 2003 - 03:11 pm:   

Lucius, associates, voyeurs, et al,

In his recent post at Locus Online (locusmag.com), Harlan Ellison refers to an event that took place at Clarion West on Chip (Samuel R.) Delany's watch, likening it to the recent Odyssey workshop incident where a student upbraided Gene Wolfe. Here's how the Clarion West thing went down.

In í97, on the last day of Chip's class, after everyone had already met with him one-on-one during the week and he'd given them feedback on their work, and after everyone had received public, candid criticism on at least one story -- on the last day, AFTER the story critiques were finished and only a brief time remained in the final hour -- Chip said out of the blue that he would tell each of us right then in front of everyone else what he thought of our career prospects. He said if this made us uncomfortable, we could leave but that in the interest of academic honesty, he wanted us to know whether he saw anything of interest going on in our work. He referred to an incident where a grad student had assumed Chipís endorsement on a novel when in fact Chip hadn't thought it was publishable and some confusion resulted with an editor. (If I'm getting any of this wrong, I invite Chip and my fellow students to correct me.)

The message I got was that he was going to tell each of us whether he thought we had a career and should be in the workshop in the first place. At first, I thought okay, fair enough, but then looked around and realized that I was likely about to witness a breakdown, because at least one of the students really, really adored him and if he gave them the mark of shame, they'd go nuts (youíve probably noticed Iím using ďthemĒ as a singular pronoun). I didn't want to watch anyone squirm under an ad hominem attack -- I didnít need to know what Chip thought of them -- so I left, and so did a couple of other students.

After it was over, people told me that it had been no big deal, and a couple said they wished they'd walked out too, not in protest but because they'd felt they'd wanted to stay for the wrong reasons. Also, it wasnít quite the blessing/excommunication exercise Chip seemed to suggest it would be. I gather he intended a dialogue with the class to focus a coherent group message at each student. He knew what he was doing; I knew what I was doing.

No one accused me or the others of avoiding criticism.

Chip is a great instructor and not in the least petty. He probably could have set up the experiment better, but I donít know about any big recrimination he suffered or anything like that. Chip still teaches at Clarion West. I had a nice visit with him just last night at one of the local parties for the í03 class.

Nobody wimped out, and none of the instructors were handed kid gloves for the subsequent weeks, and I doubt Chip would put up with a situation where he felt unwanted.

I wish I could say none of us went nuts. They did, though, not right then but by the end of the workshop. I donít know if Chipís experiment was any kind of catalyst; I just know that it became very apparent there were one or two mentally ill people among us -- and no, not the people who walked out. These people had a miserable time, and developed such acute crises of ego that they couldnít work or critique. And thatís really what bears on the Odyssey incident with Gene Wolfe. Even aside from issues of talent and prospects for a writing career, some people should not go to Clarion, just like some people shouldnít eat peanuts or shellfish. And instructors and administrators, for their part, should be alert to this.

I donít know how you could adjust the screening process, except to give more weight to the input of dissenting instructors. Iíve seen Lucius get the lay of someoneís emotional terrain in five seconds, from clues that Sherlock Holmes would have missed. (The barmaid in Florence, Colorado, comes to mindÖ) However, Iím sure that he couldnít peg everyone who should stay away from Clarion, and shit like this is gonna happen. Clarion has to stay rigorous, or itís no good. When people have their bullshit stripped away, theyíre really fascinating. I donít want to get too weepy or sound cultish, but Clarion West took away some of my cynicism. When people lay themselves bare to criticism and work really hard at something they care about, they earn your respect. The whole ego thing is just about insecurity. The class pounds everyone hard and fast. Everyone loses their swagger. At some point, you make a decision to give in to the process and get better, your selfishness drops away, and you start to really see people, and even the sick people are pretty wonderful. They still shouldnít be there. Theyíre drowning, gasping for breath. Itís really like scuba. Those of you who dive know what I mean. You take someone down to thirty feet on their first real dive and have them fill their mask, and instead of breathing in through the regulator and calmly out through their nose to displace the water, they start thrashing around in a claustrophobic panic, pop out the regulator, and claw toward the surface while holding their breath. At that point, the instructor sends them home to choose some other sport. It may have been gruesome and traumatic, but what can you do? This is life.


Best,
Bob
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Bob
Posted on Sunday, August 03, 2003 - 07:17 am:   

Thanks, Other Bob. It's nice to get a first hand account, for once.
Lucius? Perceptive? When did that happen?
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Lucius
Posted on Sunday, August 03, 2003 - 07:35 am:   

This was about 6 years ago. Bob, despite the ignominy attaching to his name, speaks the truth. And that's why I've been hammering on the selection process as key. Both students Bob mentioned were ones I sought strenuously to avoid admitting -- it was obvious both would be trouble. I got outvoted abd some bad things ensued. But becauseClarion West keeps close tabs on the students, it was never allowed to get to a level of crisis.
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Bob Kruger
Posted on Sunday, August 03, 2003 - 01:34 pm:   

Yes, Lucius makes a point that I should have made. Once things started getting weird, the Clarion West administrators did a great job of managing the situation. These people work hard at a relatively thankless job. One of the especially good ones has since moved on, unfortunately; we were very lucky to have him.

As for the Bob thing, Lucius, it's actually an honorific. Many have pretended to the name, but we got their number. How about that Leslie guy who called himself "Bob" Hope?

Bob K.
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Rob Furey
Posted on Sunday, August 03, 2003 - 01:53 pm:   

Hello all,

There has been a lot of noise lately concerning an incident at the recent Odyssey writersí workshop. I canít really comment on the circumstances since I wasnít there.

But surprisingly enough, I find that for some reason a fairly innocuous event that occurred at Clarion West some six years ago has been used to stoke the flames from Odyssey. Much of what has been said is inaccurate. I can say this because I was there. That was my Clarion Class.

July 4th, 1997: This was the last day of Chip Delanyís week. It had been a good week. Chip had given his private critiques to all of us and today was to be our last meeting together as students and instructor. Sometime during class Chip announced that he wanted to give each of us a long-range critique of our potential as professional writers. Honestly, it seemed a little redundant to me since I had already discussed my writing future with him during our private meeting. Several students asked him not to do that in public, and his response was that anyone could leave without prejudice. As Bob has stated, he was one of those that chose to leave. I know and understand why he did, but those reasons are his and since he has already stated them I will not repeat them here. I chose to remain, mostly hoping to glean more from Chipís critique of my work.

I took notes of what he said about me and bits of things that I felt were useful that he had said to others. I still have these notes.

There was no explosion after this session. No one snubbed Chip or disparaged him in any way. As far as I know, no one made any official complaints at all. Were some people stung? Sure they were. But we were there to learn and learn we did. There was no social collapse. We didnít have time; we had stories to write.

Clarion West remains one of those defining times in my life. They were happy times. I am speaking out now about something that is essentially a non-issue because through misinformation and hyperbole my Clarion is being turned into something that it wasnít. I donít want that to happen.

In any case, the ending to this story may be from a World Con that followed and Chip shared a table with the Clarion West 97 class. If it doesnít bother Chip or any of us, why should it bother anyone else?

Rob Furey
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M. Bishop
Posted on Monday, August 04, 2003 - 05:23 am:   

Amen to Rob's final comment.
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Bob
Posted on Monday, August 04, 2003 - 10:04 am:   

Yup. Though I would have been more receptive if he called himself "Bob"....
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Lucius
Posted on Monday, August 04, 2003 - 10:14 am:   

Yeah, but there's no such thing as robble-head dolls.

:-)
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Rob
Posted on Monday, August 04, 2003 - 10:29 am:   

Sorry about the Rob-Bob fiasco. Maybe someone should write a letter! But yes there are robble-head dolls. I send mine in to teach my classes every day.

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