August 6, 2009

a couple of exercises from professor Cheever

"Meeting his first class at Iowa, Cheever was terribly nervous, and the more nervous he got the more gargly his talk became (...) He launched his students on a regimen that some of them -already in the process of writing novels- thought unnecessarily fundamental. He asked them, first of all, to keep a journal for at least a week, recording their experiences, feelings, dreams, orgasms, and even such quotidian details as the clothes they wore and the food and drink they consumed. Second, he required them to write a story in which seven people or landscapes that superficially have nothing to do with one another are somehow profoundly allied. Third, and this was his favorite assignment, he told them to write a love letter from inside a burning building. This exercise 'never fails,' he maintained (...) He had but one standard for grading the results: 'Is it interesting or is it dull?'"

scott donaldson, an excerpt from John Cheever: A Biography (Random House, New York, 1988)

Further reading:

Times Topics: John Cheever (The New York Times)

The Art of Fiction no. 62. John Cheever (The Paris Review)

Basically Decent: A big biography of John Cheever, by John Updike (The New Yorker)

Our Illustrious Friend (LA Times)

John Cheever at the New Yorker Archive

The Enormous Radio (1947) and The Swimmer (1964), two short stories by John Cheever