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A Community of Writers

Paul Engle and the Iowa Writers' Workshop

Dana, Robert

Publication Year: 1999

With these words, written long before his Iowa Writers' Workshop became world famous, much imitated, and academically rich, Paul Engle captured the spirit behind his beloved workshop. Now, in this collection of essays by and about those writers who shared the energetic early years, Robert Dana presents a dynamic, informative tribute to Engle and his world.

The book's three sections mingle myth and history with style and grace and no small amount of humor. The beginning essays are given over to memories of Paul Engle in his heyday. The second group focuses particularly on those teachers—Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Kurt Vonnegut, for example—who made the workshop hum on a day-to-day basis. Finally, the third section is devoted to storytelling: tall tales, vignettes, surprises, sober and not-so-sober moments. Engle's own essay, "The Writer and the Place," describes his "simple, and yet how reckless" conviction that "the creative imagination in all of the arts is as important, as congenial, and as necessary, as the historical study of all the arts."

Today, of course, there are hundreds of writers' workshops, many of them founded and directed by graduates of the original Iowa workshop. But when Paul Engle arrived in Iowa there were exactly two. His indomitable nature and great persuasive powers, combined with his distinguished reputation as a poet, loomed large behind the enhancement of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. This volume of fine and witty essays reveals the enthusiasm and drive and sheer pleasure that went into Iowa's renowned workshop.

Published by: University of Iowa Press

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Preface

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pp. vii-xii

"We do not pretend to have produced the writers included in this book. Their talent was inevitably shaped by the genes rattling in ancestral closets. We did give them a community in which to try out the quality of their gift." ...

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The Writer and the Place

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pp. 1-10

It was a vision.
By vision, I do not mean the abrupt and ecstatic experience of Saul on the road to Damascus, blinded by a light "above the brightness of the sun," and startled by a voice speaking from heaven. ...

Paul Engle, Impresario

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Recollections of the Iowa Writers' Workshop

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pp. 13-17

At war's end and a few years after, an unusually talented group of new writers began to hear of Iowa City and the Writers' Workshop. More often than not we were referrals from other regional colleges and universities where we had met local competition, or we had published something...

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Some Recollections

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pp. 18-23

In 1949, after receiving my A.M. in comparative literature from Harvard, I decided to postpone getting a Ph.D. I had been studying full time at Harvard and teaching Spanish language and literature full time at Boston University (neither Harvard nor Boston University knew of my double academic life). ...

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Paul at Stone City

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pp. 24-26

For a poet lucky as Paul believed himself to be, the pinnacle of his luck is to place himself simultaneously at the center of his world and at the center of his imagination. It seemed to me I saw him at these coinciding centers in the summers of 1949-1952 when he spent the hot...

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A Miranda's World

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pp. 27-33

We arrived on a bleak Saturday afternoon in late January of 1952, my wife Jean and I; arrived at the bus station downtown, for we had just completed an epic journey by cross-country bus from the winter sunshine of my hometown, Miami, Florida, to this midwestern wasteland-and, indeed...

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My Time

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pp. 34-36

A native New Yorker, when I came to Iowa at the urging of Verlin Cassill in 1954, I had never spent any time in the Midwest. On the train from Chicago I was delighted to hear the conductor sing out "Ioway City!" just the way they said it in the movies. ...

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When Literary Life Was Still Piled Up in a Few Places

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pp. 37-44

I first came to Iowa City in 1954, driving an old '42 Dodge which I had bought from a German exile in Boston for $65. I spent a couple of weeks on the way at the famous literary summer school in Bloomington, Indiana. John Crowe Ransom gave a talk on "A Litany in Time of Plague" by Thomas Nashe. ...

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A Crisis of Sorts

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pp. 45-51

If you believe yourself to be a writer but by age twenty-nine have nothing of literary merit to show for it, though you have been writing furiously for years, a crisis of sorts is upon you. While in my fourth year as instructor in English at Grinnell College, 1955-56, I was informed that I must finish...

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Dear Hualing

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pp. 52-56

If I may, I'd like to put my words about Paul and the workshop in the form of this letter to you. This will let me ramble, free-associate, and generally commit disorganization.
If I were to try to put my recollections of twenty-two years at Iowa in any more formal way, it...

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"I'll Make Your Career"

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pp. 57-62

Paul Engle's name caught my attention for the first time in, if my memory is correct, 1955, in a feature article in Life on Iowa's poetry workshop and Paul Engle. I was a graduate student at San Jose State College (now University), majoring in poetry. I had changed my major three...

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Engle's Workshop

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pp. 63-71

On Friday, the 23rd of May, 1986, my wife, Jean, and I drove from Oswego, New York, to Hancock Airport in Syracuse, forty miles away, in time for me to catch my flight to Chicago at about a quarter past eleven in the morning. I was on my way back to Iowa City for the first time...

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He Made It Possible

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pp. 72-77

In 1960, the word "Iowa" signaled a place beyond my imagining. Having grown up in a small town, in an area of eastern Long Island which few citizens left unless it was to retire to Florida, I felt venturesome just to have made it as far west as Chicago. University of Chicago professor...

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Every Shut-Eye Ain't Asleep

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pp. 78-88

I graduated from L.A. State College in winter 1961 and applied for a passport with intentions to visit Paris; I got a draft call to take my physical instead and had to get into graduate school immediately. Henri Coulette and Wirt Williams were teachers of mine at L.A. State, and both...

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A Tale of Two Fathers

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pp. 89-92

This is a love letter to Iowa, and to Iowa's favorite son, Paul Engle, who, in the spring and summer of 1961 (when I was a very proper young woman in Calcutta, writing escapist short stories in lined notebooks while a suitable bridegroom was being handpicked by my father)...

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The Fellowship

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pp. 93-106

About to enter the celebrated Clinton Street group therapy center, Kenney's, I met Rod Terry, on his way out. After we'd spilled ideas on some weighty matters — night, the stars, Thelonius Monk, tyranny — he dipped to the mundane and asked if I planned to apply for a writing fellowship. ...

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Thank You, Paul

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pp. 107-108

Paul played a pivotal role in shaping the course of my literary career. I would like to pay my tribute as a testimony to his boundless magnanimity and love for thousands of aspiring writers like me. lt was in 1962. I had my master's degree in English from Taiwan, having just completed...

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"Next Year You Can See for Yourself"

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pp. 109-112

Paul Engle changed my life.
I'd begun reading American poetry in the early sixties, first in Helsinki, at the U.S.I.S. Library, and then back in England after my year in Finland. In the poems of James Wright, Theodore...

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New World Symphony

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pp. 113-115

I want to scold the state of Iowa at least a little bit.
You did not accord Paul Engle a minor fraction of the honors he deserved.
But you were simply being human. Saint Matthew said: "A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country." ...

Mentors, Fomenters, and Tormentors

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Mentors, Fomenters, and Tormentors [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 119-146

Most everyone agrees that the period just after World War II, when the colleges were full of GI Bill veterans, was the Golden Age—or Golden Moment—of American education. Still, there were times when with its overcrowded classes, long lines registering in field houses...

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Far from the Ocean: Robert Lowell at Iowa, 1953

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pp. 147-159

I last spoke with my oId mentor, Robert Lowell, in the spring of 1974. He was to give a reading that evening in a plain, somewhat dingy little room above the bar at the Queen's Elm Pub in South Kensington, a working-class section of London. The event took place under the auspices of the Writers Action Group. ...

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Mine Own John Berryman

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pp. 160-185

I can't say if all poets have had actual mentors, actual living, breathing masters who stood or sat before them making the demands that true mentors must make if the fledgling is ever to fly. Some poets seem to have been totally self-starting, like the cars they used to build in Detroit...

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Improvisations on Donald Justice

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pp. 186-192

Only critics, as Don himself once observed, should be fulsome in their praise. Still, I would like to make a few observations. There was, I felt, always a concentration, always a kind of fierce intensity in his demeanor—a seriousness that spoke to the seriousness of his calling. ...

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R. V. Cassill

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pp. 193-195

Even back in 1947, when I first knew him, R. V. Cassill seemed to have read all the fiction in the world. That is my first memory of him—talking about fiction. He was an Iowa boy, and ex-GI, and I knew him as both graduate student and teacher at the same time over the next two...

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Ray B. West, Jr.

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pp. 196-200

Ray was acting head of the workshop in my two Iowa City years. Paul, who'd corresponded with me about coming, was off—at Harvard, at the Harriman estate in New York, at—God knows where. When he did show up in Iowa City, Zeuslike, gift-bringing (Life would be doing a...

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Marguerite Young: Trying on a Style

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pp. 201-205

Ah, Marguerite. Marguerite Young. Miss MacIntosh, My Darling.
Iowa City, fall 1956. I have set out from New Haven, Connecticut, in a '48 Chevy coupe for Iowa City (Ohio? Idaho?) having been accepted by Paul Engle into the graduate fiction and poetry workshops. ...

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Vance Bourjaily

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pp. 206-212

Vance came to the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1957 and left in 1979. I came in 1957 and left in 1968. The crucial years for me as a student of Vance's were the first three or four, from 1958 to 1961. No doubt the contexts of his teaching at Iowa changed. ...

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Kurt Vonnegut: Waltzing with the Black Crayon

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pp. 213-222

My side of this story begins in London in the summer of 1966 when my English husband of less than one year was running an experiment on me in our Chelsea garden. We were sitting in the shade of a mulberry tree so ancient its branches had to be propped up with stakes. ...

Myths and Texts

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The Emergence of the Writers' Workshop

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pp. 225-228

George Cram Cook, the eccentric poet and offbeat teacher—and former member of the Tabard writing club probably deserves the honor of offering the first creative writing course at Iowa. In the spring of 1896, he offered a "Verse-making Class" in which the students practiced writing...

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Flannery O'Connor in the Writers' Workshop

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pp. 229-234

My first impression of Flannery O'Connor was that she looked too young and too shy to be a writer. We were graduate students at the University of Iowa and members of Paul Engle's Writers' Workshop during the fall and spring semester of 1947 and 1948. ...

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Chicken à la King

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pp. 235-236

My wife and I came to the writing program at the University of Iowa in 1949. After a semester in a farmhouse in Coralville we were invited to live with Paul and Mary Engle in the house on Friendly Avenue, with my wife as a part-time babysitter for Sara and Munchie Engle and an...

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Snapshots of Paul

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pp. 237-240

Memories of Paul approach the quality of snapshots in a family album. He seems always to be traveling like a favorite uncle touring the world. Capturing a view of the man is more like sorting through postcards he has sent from one country or another. ...

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Dylan Thomas at Iowa

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pp. 241-259

I had never met Dylan Thomas. I had read his poems and knew him only through the Augustus John portrait that appeared in the New Directions volumes of his work. As I waited that early spring afternoon, in 1951, on the platform of the Santa Fe station in Iowa City, I wondered, as...

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So Began the Happiest Years of My Life

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pp. 260-261

The mass was still in Latin; the Dodgers still in Brooklyn. It was late August, 1952. A man named Paul Engle had offered me a fellowship, and I had said yes, and caught a big plane to Cedar Rapids, and a little plane to Iowa City, where I spent a long afternoon listening to a lone fly on a...

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Fair Days and Fowl

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pp. 262-272

I will never know how that envelope tracked me down, addressed as it was to an office I had vacated years earlier. Call it fate.
The envelope contained a brochure announcing the Iowa Writers' Workshop fiftieth anniversary celebration. ...

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Afterword

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pp. 273-280

Paul was a good storyteller. He described an event or a person with a storyteller's sense of details and twists. And a wicked sense of humor. I learned a great deal about his life and personality from the endless stories he told me. ...

Notes on Contributors

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pp. 281-291

Acknowledgments

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pp. 293-294


E-ISBN-13: 9781587292767
Print-ISBN-13: 9780877456681

Publication Year: 1999