James Robison‘s stories have appeared in the New Yorker and the Mississippi Review, and his first collection was awarded a Whiting Grant. His novel, The Illustrator, won a Rosenthal Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His story “Mars” is on Fictionaut.

When I say I teach writing, I’m still and often challenged by even the nicest civilians, and asked if such is possible. The question sharking under the surface here is, “Can anyone make anyone into a major artist?” with the attached sub-query, “And if not, why are colleges wasting time with this?”

My answer, in few, is, Nope, students can’t be made to produce literary art. Nor can they be turned into concert pianists, opera divas, prima ballerinas nor internationally famous actors. But that’s no reason to board up the tents or fold down the campus. Schools teach violin, dance, song, and writing because to ignore them is to ignore the ground-level elements of the spirit that animates a time and a place and its people.

Any class anywhere engaged in the project of writing stories or poems is a worthwhile enterprise, by my lights. And from such classes, literary artists of great pitch and moment do arise. I’ve seen it happen. A lot.

But there is always the naggy pestering question of quality control. Just because ten folks and a class leader in a room somewhere agree that a text is sublime, or anti-or un-sublime, where is the hard science to back up their opinions? What if they all go violently wrong?

So one looks for a setting where those problems have been pre-solved. A community of trusted and truthful writers who will encourage, or discourage, one’s efforts. Such a place is a luxury. A graduate’s graduate writing program which, if found, is a site to be treasured, no less.

Fictionaut is that. How and why it’s so, I’m not sure and don’t care and I feel only a slight trepidation, a very vague and smuzzy concern about its continuing high standards. It’s presently a test track and a display room and a destination and it urges one on when one has lost faith in the story underway. “Maybe, I’ll run this one up on Fictionaut,” you think, and that compels the next sentence and stops you from scan-blacking three pages and punching delete.

I don’t mean it represents an intermediate step, I mean that it’s an audience. Writing into a void is miserable, like telling jokes to a wall. Fictionaut provides a round-the-clock, faithfully attentive audience. Bless its founders.

Aside from all these writer-helper/practical assets, the place is a trove of good writing, great reading.

  1. Marcus Speh

    it is odd to come in as the only human commenter after a bunch of pingbacking tracing web bots. still, it’s worth re-reading this wonderfully written review of fictionaut as a whole, as a community, and checking where we got to.

  2. Hilary Swenson

    Cool post. Will be back soon.

    Hilary Swenson
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