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Hope They Get Into Your Work, Eventually

You can read Mailer or Hemingway and see—or at least I do—that what separated them from greater writers (like Chekhov, say) was a certain failing of kindness or compassion or gentleness—an interest in the little guy, i.e., the nonglamorous little guy, a willingness and ability to look at all of their characters with love.

[Tobias Wolff] was the first great writer I ever met and what the meeting did for me was disabuse me of the idea that a writer had to be a dysfunctional crazy person. […] Toby was loving, gentle, funny, kind, wise—yet he was producing these works of great (sometimes dark) genius. It was invigorating to be reminded that great writing was (1) mysterious and (2) not linked, in any reductive, linear way, to the way one lived: wild writing could come from a life that was beautifully under control. Watching him, I felt: O.K., nurture the positive human parts of yourself and hope they get into your work, eventually.

A work of art is something produced by a person, but is not that person—it is of her, but is not her. It’s a reach, really—the artist is trying to inhabit, temporarily, a more compact, distilled, efficient, wittier, more true-seeing, precise version of herself—one that she can’t replicate in so-called ‘real’ life, no matter how hard she tries. That’s why she writes: to try and briefly be more than she truly is.

—George Saunders, from Margo Rabb’s essay in the NYT, “Fallen Idols

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