GAIL WOODS writers listed by Pilkington or Herndon or the others has sold 25,000 hardbound copies of all their titles, or if all of them put together had achieved that figure. Larry McMurtry, Texas’ best-known professional writer, has averred publicly that no book he wrote prior to Lonesome Dove sold more than 10,000 copies total and some fewer than 5,000. I recall that several surprised reviewers of that Pulitzer winning novel often implied if they didn’t state outright that they had never heard of McMurtry before, in spite of 12 previous books, three of which were turned into movies with nationally known stars and directors. One El Paso reviewer of Taking Stock, my collection of essays on McMurtry, suggested that such a volume was all very well, but then asked if it wouldn’t be better for all of these “college professors” to wait until McMurtry had published something besides Lonesome Dove before elevating him to literary status? For a brief, painful period of time the only “professional” writer known to be associated with Texas was probably James Michener. He certainly derives a wonderful income from his writing, likely making considerably more than McMurtry in any given year. But, unlike the Archer City author, Michener also derives considerable benefits from his university associations. He also teaches a bit, here and there, and is actively interested in university writing programs. McMurtry doesn’t teach and isn’t interested in supporting college writing. He does make a living from his writing, nevertheless. But he’s also stated that he’s made more money writing screenplays that were never produced than he did from his published work. He also derives some income from his rare book business. Pilkington is correct to state that most “pros” also make some money from freelancing and from other activities related to “literary reputations” they wouldn’t have if they weren’t “pros.” But how do those “associated activities” differ from teaching creative writing in college? Botstein asserts that the difference is in technique, approaches to fiction, and commitment to art: “The journals and quarterlies of literature, even the better magazines that publish fiction \(with some prominent excep within the confines of the university. The Wagnerian ambitions that sought to elevate art and artists to the status of religion and priests are realized within the academy for a tiny minority whose political influence is itself limited. Those authors who receive journalistic fame and commercial rewards are embraced briefly by the public at large exclusively for the amusement they provide. Serious consideration of literature has deteriorated into a professional enterprise framed and legitimated by the university.” Botstein believes, then, that because creative writing teachers also teach literature, their approach to fiction, their attitudes toward it, and even their philosophy with regard to letters and art generally is colored by a devotion to canonical texts, to those “Great Books” of Western Civilization. They are, in short, traditionalists, conservatives, curmudgeons, as incapable as they are unwilling to expand the perimeters of contemporary literature, unless, of course, they want to be branded “experimentalists.” To experiment in prose, however, is a lesser risk for them; after all, they often have tenure to back them up if their sojourns into the literary unknown fail. Jim Sanderson, a teacher of creative writing at Lamar University in Beaumont, and one of the not so well-known writers included in New Growth, responded to the several reviews of the book this way: “I find it ironic that us “writing teachers” aren’t real writers but as Tom Pilkington points out, our stories are the ones that have ‘raw energy’ and are traditionally Texas mainstream. And yet, the most experimental type stuff in this collection, Daryl Scoggins, who has the endorsement of Gordon Lish is not from the creative writing teachers. [It] seems the creative the experimental, cutting edge stuff that tional, non-stimulating, rigid, staid, traditional stuff that ensures tenure. On the other hand, [it] seems Rick Bass, a geologist, writes good but unusual stories as implied \(What does an oilfield man who writes sharp stories do to these arguBarthelme is dead, who will take his place? Barth probably wouldn’t submit. No one can find Pyncheon. Is Elmer Kelton indeed just a cowboy and cow shit writer? Did Bob Flynn do nothing classical or worthy with North to Yesterday? Is Clay Reynolds’ stuff just more Texana warmed over? Does Larry McMurtry smell of the vaginal secretions of young heifers? What is Texas lit. to do?” \(Quoted with the The one thing most creative writing teachers, Texans or otherwise, probably won’t do is give up their tenure and teaching. Publishing THE TEXAS OBSERVER 21
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