For the third time, the New York State Writers Institute is offering a special autumn treat for local writers.
It’s called the fiction master class, an intensive five-session workshop intended for advanced writers that will be conducted by acclaimed fiction writer and French literature translator Lydia Davis.
The class is free and open to the public, as well as University at Albany students enrolled in the English department’s master’s or doctoral programs, yet will be limited to a selection of 10 writers who have had at least one publication in a literary journal.
Suzanne Lance, assistant director of the Writer’s Institute, said the class was created specifically for advanced writers to give them the chance to work with an accomplished writer, she said.
Davis, who is teaching the class for the third time, is famous in literary circles for her short stories. In fall 2003, she received one of 25 MacArthur Foundation `Genius` awards, and she was named Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters for her fiction and her distinguished translations of works by Maurice Blanchot, Pierre Jean Jouve, Michel Butor and others. Davis’s most recent collection of short stories, published this past May, titled `Varieties of Disturbance,` was featured on the front cover of the Los Angeles Times Book Review and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.
Another one of Davis’s notable collections from 2001, `Samuel Johnson Is Indignant` was praised by Elle magazine, and another previous work, `Almost No Memory,` was chosen as one of the `25 Favorite Books of 1997` by the Voice Literary Supplement and one of the `100 Best Books of 1997` by the Los Angeles Times. Another collection of stories, `Break It Down,`(1986) was selected as a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, which contributed to Davis’s winning of the prestigious Whiting Writer’s Award in 1988.
Past students have said they felt privileged to have an opportunity to have their writing critiqued by such an accomplished writer.
`I’ve admired Lydia’s fiction for years, I think she is an amazing writer,` said Susan Bernofsky, an author and college teacher who took the class last fall.
Bernofsky, who holds a master’s in writing from Washington University and a doctorate in comparative literature from Princeton, was a German teacher at Bard College when she decided she wanted to get back to writing fiction after a 10-year hiatus. She said Davis’s class helped her to learn how to read her own work critically as well as others in the class.
`Lydia was able to respond to work that has so many goals and strategies and aesthetics, she’s a very sensitive and intelligent reader,` she said.
Bernofsky also commended the Writers Institute for making the fiction master class available to the community for free, since otherwise, it may not have been affordable for everyone.
`It’s a complete blessing; a lot of good writers profited from it,` she said. Lance said most of the writing workshops are made affordable for members of the community, and result in a `a whole range of people who are turning back to writing.`
The New York State Writers Institute was founded in 1984 by novelist William Kennedy, and is considered one of America’s premiere sites for celebrating the art of the written word. Its central aim is to celebrate literature and to enhance the role of writers as a community within the larger community.
Bernofsky said the level of diversity she observed in the classroom, which consisted of people of all different education levels and backgrounds, made for a more interesting workshop.
`It was great to be able to meet other writers, people I would have never met,` she said. ` It was a wonderful experience, I feel very privileged.`
The Fiction Master Class Workshop is scheduled for Tuesday evenings on Oct. 23, and 30, and Nov. 6, 13, and 20. The classes will be held at the University at Albany’s Uptown Campus. Those interested in being considered for acceptance into the class have until Sept. 19 to mail in manuscripts, or Sept. 24 to deliver them in person.
For a complete list of guidelines and additional info about the fiction master class, call 442-5620 or visit the Web site at www.albany.edu/writers-inst. “