Daily Notes on Literature, Pop Culture & Media, and Academia

Lan Samantha Chang’s Novel “All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost”

Posted by litdaily on October 8, 2010

Lan Samantha Chang’s new novel All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost charts the dynamics between two poetry students and their teacher in a creative writing workshop, and through their lives beyond the MFA program…more>>

Chang is the first Asian American and the first woman Director of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and she discusses the process of writing her new novel in interviews here and here.

Students love to hate creative writing workshops, even as they find something addictive and compelling about the specific chemistry between students and teachers that propels the workshop in either productive or destructive directions. Thus, the writing workshop is a perfect setting for heightened drama between characters. Also, the novel seems to be an appropriate form for assessing the influence of writing workshops on a writer’s work over many years. While Lan Samantha Chang might be right in asserting that reports of the homogenizing influence of writing workshops are “greatly overrated,” the workshops do make demands that the stories be written in a particular way. As a graduate student of color in a creative writing workshop, I was asked not to use “foreign” words while at the same time I was repeatedly asked to explain “foreign cultures” in my writing. I would argue that the most prominent feature of the people and the writing in workshops is not the tendency to homogenize, but something else, that according to Brenda Wineapple’s review in The New York Times, defines the characters in Chang’s novel: “a prepossessing narcissism.” In writing workshops, we write “songs of ourselves”. Some of the writers realize the trap within this narcissism while others find liberation in it.


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