Uncategorized | April 20, 2004

As was noted earlier on this blog, last week Elizabeth Strout was here at the University of Missouri-Columbia as a Writer in Residence. On Thursday night we were treated to her reading a wonderful short story, and on Friday afternoon Ms. Strout gave a lecture on an important and complicated element of writing, the authority of the author. By this she was referring to the way in which a writer earns and keeps the reader’s trust in a story or novel. There are, of course, innumerable ways one can do this: by quickly positioning the reader in a scene, by engaging the reader with voice or (this is perhaps the most nebulous and most difficult to accomplish, or even aim for) by having narrative statements the reader recognizes as true. It is (as is perhaps evidenced by this list) difficult to identify exactly how one goes about establishing authorial authority, but we know it when we see it (Elizabeth Strout provided examples from writers such as Sinclair Lewis and Michael Chabon and mentioned Alice Munro). I think it’s useful for writers to consider the difficult question of authority when drafting, revising and finally submitting their work. The Missouri Review is full of wonderful stories that, through voice, humor and description root us firmly in a rich fictional world. But the question remains: how do we establish authority? The answer, it seems, is the same as it always is: we can read widely and work and work on our own writing.

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