Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

Carole Maso: An Introduction and an Interpellated Interview

Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

Carole Maso: An Introduction and an Interpellated Interview

Article excerpt

a woman trying to translate pulsations into images for the relief of

the body and the reconstruction of the mind

--Adrienne Rich, "Planetarium"

Carole Maso came late both to writing and to the teaching of writing. Although she has directed one of the nation's premier creative writing programs since 1995, when she accepted her current position at Brown University, Maso herself never enrolled in an MFA program. Indeed, she taught the first creative writing workshop she ever participated in--at Illinois State University, where Maso served as Distinguished Writer-in-Residence during the 1991-92 academic year. Maso, who says she "was not a huge reader as a kid" (Cooley 32), didn't begin to write creatively until her final year at Vassar, when she submitted about fifty pages of prose poems as her Senior Honors Thesis. From that point on, however, Maso knew that she wanted to be a writer.

Following the advice of the professor who directed her thesis, Maso decided not to attend graduate school (she accepted a generous graduate fellowship from Boston University, only to change her mind at the last minute). Instead, after graduating from Vassar in 1977, she dedicated the next nine years of her life to what she has called her apprenticeship, learning to write by writing. During this period, Maso supported herself by working six months of each year at odd jobs (as a waitress, an artist's model, a fencing instructor); the rest of the year, she devoted to writing, living at artists' colonies or taking such jobs as house- or cat-sitting which provided ample time to practice her art. In the process, Maso invented assignments and exercises for herself which she now uses in her creative writing classes. The result of this near-decade-long immersion in the craft of fiction was Ghost Dance (1986), Maso's first novel.

Because of their unconventional nature, Maso's novels have often been described as experimental. According to Maso, however, her books seem transgressive, not because she deliberately flaunts the orthodoxies of traditional fiction, but because her models are not drawn from the novelistic tradition at all. The primary influences on her work, rather, come from the visual arts, from dance and music, from film, and from poetry (Maso and Vladimir Nabokov are the only fiction writers ever to be featured on the cover of American Poetry Review). Because of its perceived strangeness, Ghost Dance had difficulty attracting a publisher (since no agent would touch it, Maso had to send the manuscript out herself). After almost a year of futility, Maso submitted the book to North Point Press, a small independent literary press in San Francisco that had published Michael Palmer, a poet Maso admires. After keeping Maso's manuscript for ten months, North Point finally agreed to publish it.

A critical if not a commercial success, Ghost Dance established Maso as an emerging writer of rare promise. Shortly after its publication, she was awarded in quick succession a $25,000 NEA fellowship, a $15,000 Rose Fellowship for Vassar alumnae-artists, and a residency at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. For the first time since graduation, Maso was able to quit working and devote all of her time to writing. In its early stages Maso's next book, The Art Lover (1990), resembled Ghost Dance in its focus on a fictive family (the family that, in the novel's final version, are the main characters in the novel-within-the-novel written by Maso's protagonist Caroline). When Maso's friend Gary Falk fell fatally ill with AIDS, however, Maso began to write a different book, one whose textual strategies are even "stranger" than Ghost Dance's. Balking at its unconventionality, North Point insisted that Maso delete the graphics from her text as well as the transgressively straightforward autobiographical fifth section of the novel. Only when Maso threatened to withdraw the manuscript did the publisher agree to go ahead with the book's publication as Maso had written it. …

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