Have you ever wondered what it would be like to go to school to learn how to write? There are many illustrious MFA (Master of Fine Arts) programs across the country, where aspiring writers go to learn their craft, but none is as famous or revered as the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. And with good reason: the place has produced an astonishing number of distinguished writers and poets since its establishment in 1936. Its alumni and faculty include twenty-eight Pulitzer Prize winners, six U.S. poet laureates, and numerous National Book Award winners. The program is famous for using the “workshop” method of classroom peer criticism.
The title of David O. Dowling’s fascinating history of the program, A Delicate Aggression: Savagery and Survival in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, pretty much says it all. Meant to simulate the rigors of editorial and critical scrutiny in the publishing industry, the workshop environment creates competition and community, cooperation and rivalry. Focusing on some of the exceptional authors who have participated in the program - such as Flannery O’Connor, Dylan Thomas, Kurt Vonnegut, Jane Smiley, Sandra Cisneros, T. C. Boyle, and Marilynne Robinson - David Dowling examines how the Iowa Writers’ Workshop has shaped professional authorship and the course of American literature. This is a fascinating insight into one of the most critical cogs in the publishing-industrial complex (OK, we possibly just made that thing up) and will be a highly informative and entertaining evening.