The Writer in Politics

The Writer in Politics

The Writer in Politics

The Writer in Politics


William H. Gass and Lorin Cuoco here present an edited but uncut record of the proceedings of the first international conference convened by the International Writers Center at Washington University in St. Louis. Major addresses were delivered by Breyten Breytenbach, a white South African who was an early critic of apartheid serving seven years in jail before being exiled from his homeland; Nuruddin Farah, the Somali author of a number of internationally recognized novels, including the trilogy Variations on the Theme of an African Dictatorship, who has also suffered exile; Carolyn Forche, an American poet whose experiences as a Guggenheim Fellow in El Salvador led to her noted second book of poetry, The Country Between Us, Antonio Skarmeta, the Chilean short story writer, screen writer, and novelist whose Insurrection deals with the Nicaraguan Revolution; Luisa Valenzuela, an Argentine novelist and journalist who fled her home country in 1979 and returned a decade later after the restoration of democracy only to find remnants of the former military regime still a legitimate target for her absurdist prose; and Mario Vargas Llosa, the widely acclaimed Peruvian novelist who founded Libertad, the political party under whose banner he unsuccessfully ran for president of his country. The Writer in Politics also includes edited transcriptions of the panel discussions that followed each of the six major addresses. Panelists included Irish poet Eavan Boland, author of seven books of poetry, including In a Time of Violence; Marc Chenetier, professor of American literature at l'Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris and translator of numerous american authorsincluding Gass - into French; RobertCoover, writer-in-residence at Brown University and author of such works as Origin of the Brunists and A Public Burning; Ron Himes, founder of the St. Louis Black Repertory Company, which produces African American and Third World


T he International Writers Center was established at Washington University in St. Louis in October 1990 with William H. Gass as director and me as associate director. It is not clear if the idea for it was like the conception, development, and birth of the skyscraper, that is, a construct simultaneously deliberated upon by many in disparate redoubts, but it grew up on the brink of a boom whose benefits include a renascent interest in writing, which we romantically hope means a renewed interest in reading. Something happened and not just in St. Louis. And it is still going on now, as writers centers, writers groups, open mike nights, and bookstore competition grow like so much pilobolus.

The Writer in Politics conference was presented at Washington University, October 18-21, 1992, with two panel discussions during the day and literary readings at night. Each day was devoted to one part of the theme: the Writer in Politics, the Writer under a Politics, the Writer with a Politics. What follows are the six essays composed for this conference, as well as the transcriptions of the panelists' and audience members' responses. There is a companion volume published by New Letters (vol. 58, no. 4) featuring writers who wrote on this subject.

This book would not have been possible without the transcribing powers of Mira Tanna who got it all, down to the stage directions. She captured the ether and put it on paper. Were I able, I would canonize her.

I am also grateful for the editorial assistance of Melissa Aptman, Ethan Bumas, Diana Kasdan, Anne Kemerer, and Kim Ketive, and to María Inés Lagos and Randolph Pope for expert consultation.

Without the writers, there would have been no conference. We are grateful to the six essayists and to the panelists for their contributions.

Without a conference, there would have been no book. We are indebted to the Harry Edison Foundation, the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the contributing university departments for financial support.

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