Recordings of the lectures described here — and older lectures — are available as digital downloads from the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers’ digital downloads site. This link will take you to the Warren Wilson site where you can order and download the offerings described below:
If you have questions regarding these digital lectures or any other aspect of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College please contact them by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (828) 771-3717.
Desinence (July 2015)
“Desinence” is the answering lecture to my 2009 lecture on “Imminence” (the about-to-be-moment). “Desinence” addresses, with particular attention to the journals of Henry David Thoreau, the coming-to-an-end moment in reading experiences.
The Equilibrist and The Dynamist (January 2014)
This lecture presents ways in which writers can present the elements of their work that move it toward “dynamic balance” (verging on achieving balance and falling out of balance in the very same moment), while not moving it away from equilibrium. Through close consideration of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and C.D. Wright’s Deepstep Come Shining, this lecture addresses concepts of “the wolf tone,” “surroundability and directionality,” and the “altered instruments” of poetic syntax and story structure.
Focalization (January 2013)
The tensions of looking and being looked at are essential in all narrative. What asks to be focused upon? What resists focalization? At what moment does something come into focus, and at what critical moment does something elude focus? For some writers, a significant breakthrough occurs when they move past their first assumptions about “looking” behaviors. This lecture concentrates primarily on Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896), specifically to the editions that include the “Dunnett Landing” stories.
The One Reader (January 2012)
In this lecture I examine the influence an imagined reader, receptive or resistant, can exert on a writer. We can see this by exploring poems by Russell Edson, Matthea Harvey, Francis Ponge, William Stafford, and James Tate. These are works that are both mistakes and “the perfection of mistakes.”
Reflections on the Sentence and Poetic Line (January 2011)
In this lecture I consider differences and similarities between the prose sentence and the poetic line. If a sentence functions as “a train to a destination,” we can think of the poetic line as a kind of “pedestrian” whose guidance “invites discovery, not destination.” We’ll explore writing that creates points of intersections between the sentence and the line by drawing on poetry by Denise Levertov, Thom Gunn, and Jean Valentine; fiction by Angela Carter, Jim Crace, and Herta Müller; and critical studies including The Art of Syntax by Ellen Bryant Voigt and The Art of the Poetic Line by James Longenbach.
Opportunities for Imminence (January 2009)
If imminence is the state in which events are about to occur, isn’t it the fiction writer’s job to fulfill that “about-to,” and make things happen? In this lecture I argue otherwise. Through close readings of Grimm’s fairytales, James Joyce’s “The Dead,” Sherwood Anderson’s “Death in the Woods,” and Agha Shahid Ali’s “The Last Saffron,” I explore the power and possibility that can be produced when writers dwell longer in “about-to-happen” conditions.
Making, Masking, and Unmasking: God in Fiction (January 2007)
How can writers take up the unique challenges of portraying “God” as a figure in their fiction? This lecture draws on work by Simone Weil and on Tolstoy’s novels, but focuses on Tolstoy’s short story “Master and Man” to examine its distinctly sincere handling of religion. I argue that it marks Tolstoy’s development into the kind of artist he called “inartistic,” and serves as an example of how a writer can pursue innocence or simplicity instead of complication.
Laughter and the Laws of Nature (July 2006)
What makes fiction successfully, and complexly, funny? Reflecting on comedy’s foundation in the tragic and on laughter as an embodied response, McIlvoy draws on writing about the comic by Henri Bergson, Charles Baudelaire, Walter Kerr and F.H. Buckley, and focuses on comic strategies at work in Flann O’Brien’s novel The Third Policeman.
The “Something There” Sensation: Learning from the Work of Anaïs Nin (July 2005)
This lecture explores the work of Anaïs Nin, focusing on how she writes about the body. I argue that Nin elevates physical aliveness over intellectual awareness, and we’ll explore the ways her characters inhabit the present moment and the ways her writing emphasizes feeling and embodiment. Through close readings of a range of Nin’s writing we can see how her work offers a useful counterbalance to the theoretical preoccupations of much contemporary fiction.