the unbelievable smugness of apologizing to nabokov in your title

Posted: May 26th, 2017 | No Comments »

from nicole cliffe, via carrie frye’s newsletter:

When I was a shamefully and hopelessly callow Harvard undergraduate, I managed to claw my way into Zadie Smith’s fiction workshop, an opportunity I then squandered by being myself (lazy, self-absorbed, and not that good a writer). Zadie did not like us very much, with good reason. You’ve read “On Beauty”? That’s basically what she was dealing with. Mostly, when I think back on that workshop, I writhe with embarrassment, but I also think fondly of a very kind and generous thing she did for us a few weeks into the semester.

With a slightly grim expression, she walked around our table carefully setting down individual copies of a stapled short story, titled “Picnic, Lightning (with apologies to Nabokov.)” She informed us that this was a bad story that she had written, herself, in one of her own terrible undergraduate fiction seminars. She let us read it, and talked about how everyone writes bad things on the way to writing anything good. She talked about the unbelievable smugness of apologizing to Nabokov in your title. She talked about the necessary apprentice work of trying to sound like a much better writer, one that you love, and how as your own voice develops, you can let those avatars fall away.

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