Monday, February 7, 2011

Upcoming reading: Charles Baxter at UC Irvine

Who knew?

I didn't.

Charles Baxter at UC Irvine next week.

Check it out - and GO:

The MFA Programs in Writing present

Charles Baxter
Monday, February 14
6 PM in HIB 135

Charles Baxter is the author five novels, five collections of short stories, two books of essays on fiction, and a volume of poetry. His novel The Feast of Love was a National Book Award Finalist. He teaches at the University of Minnesota and the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. His Gryphon: New and Selected Stories was just published by Pantheon.

Free and open to the public. For more information, please contact or (949) 824-6718.

I have been reading and teaching Charles Baxter's stuff for years. I first discovered him in Jim Krusoe's writing workshop in the early 80s. Jim, like Baxter, was still writing poetry then. (I hope they still are.) I have grown to especially love Baxter's essays on writing, Burning Down the House.

In the St. Louis Dispatch, Chuck Groth writes:

Since 1984, Minnesota writer Charles Baxter has been producing work to acclaim. Although an accomplished poet and novelist, Baxter first made his mark as a writer of short stories with the collection "Harmony of the World." His latest book of stories, "Gryphon," offers seven new pieces along with work culled from "Harmony" and two other collections, creating the strongest representation yet of Baxter's work in the form.

The evenness of the writing is remarkable. The early stories are terrific, and the new stories are terrific. Often, in this type of retrospective, it is obvious how much a writer has matured and developed. Rarely, but as demonstrated in this collection, we're struck by the realization that the writer has always been this good.

Throughout the book, characters struggle with the demons of their daily lives, trying to make sense of where they find themselves — like travelers who have forged on too long without a map. In "Poor Devils," the narrator and his ex-wife are cleaning their recently sold home in preparation for the new owners — a young, happy and hopeful couple. The occasion brings out the kind of conversation that the symbolic end of a relationship can afford.

"She's not speaking to me so much as she's meditating aloud in the direction of the wall a few feet above my head," the narrator says. "It's as if I've become a problem of linear algebra."

Baxter's well-known "Gryphon" serves as the fitting title piece for the collection. These stories are threaded together by ghosts, devils, quirks and affectations, but they are mostly the spirits of the characters' own design. Like the Gryphon — mythical beast half-eagle and half-lion — they are, if not unnatural, wholly man-made.


Baxter's short story, "Poor Devil" is available on on Storyville. Here's the set up:

Jeremiah Chamberlain, in Fiction Writer’s Review said: “Poor Devil” is one of the most moving stories in the [GRYPHON] collection, as it shows not only Charlie’s exquisite language and his ability to render dialogue saturated with subtext, but also the magic of being able to reveal what it’s like to be human. On the surface, it is the simplest of plots: a divorced couple has returned to the home they once shared in order to clean it for the new owners.

Baxter remembers well the genesis of “Poor Devil:” I don't keep notebook entries anymore, but I once did, and these entries consisted of story ideas and anecdotes that I had heard. The story's heart has to do with fleeting love--the kind you feel when you see a stranger whose image stays with you for days--but that heart is surrounded by notebook-entry stories that seemed to have the same emotional weight. I remember whale watching when there were no whales. I once got a strange unsigned postcard. A friend in the Bay Area told me about someone who wanted to have his picture taken when he was still handsome. The rest of the story, like most stories, came to my rescue out of thin air.


Now go.


Leightongirl said...

I got to hear him read at Bread Loaf. It was fantastic. Can't wait to hear what you think.

Anonymous said...

Wish I was able to go.... :-(

the other L

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