The Writer’s Room with Charlotte Wood
The Writer’s Room with Charlotte WoodDec 18, 2019
Episode 9: Joan Silber
A mini-masterclass on character, point of view, narrative time and ‘weight in fiction’ with the acclaimed American writer, Joan Silber.
Joan was raised in New Jersey and received her B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied with the renowned teacher and writer Grace Paley. Joan has published nine books of fiction. Her new novel, Secrets of Happiness, has just been released in Australia. Her previous book, Improvement, won The National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award. She also received the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in the Short Story. Joan’s other works of fiction include Fools, The Size of the World, Ideas of Heaven, Lucky Us, In My Other Life, In the City, and Household Words, which have almost all won or been finalists for many prestigious awards.
Joan has taught fiction writing for many years, in the Warren Wilson College MFA Program, Sarah Lawrence College, also Boston University, the 92nd Street Y and New York University as well as writers’ conferences at places like Bread Loaf and Aspen.
I met Joan at Adelaide Writers’ Week in 2020, days before the pandemic cancellations and closures began in Australia, and kept in touch periodically throughout the strange year that followed. As soon as I began reading Improvement I knew I was in the company of one of those artists whose every work I now needed to read. I ordered all the books I could get my hands on, and loved them all.
This recording took place over Zoom, in a conversation joined by some of my writer friends – a kind of mini-masterclass. Joan spoke to us from her apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where she lives with her dog Lucille.
Episode 8: Painter Jude Rae on the still life and the artist's path
What can a writer learn from the visual arts? Plenty, in Charlotte's case. In this episode, one of Australia's finest painters, Jude Rae, answers Charlotte's questions about the still life genre, and why it remains so compelling. Jude discusses how she likes to explore the spectrum between 'description' and abstraction, her search for 'density' within a picture, and how true beauty always involves some difficulty or pain. She and Charlotte discuss the artist's need to keep 'the stone in the shoe', how movement and energy can be found in stillness, and the tensions involved for an artist in 'pleasing' an audience.
Picture by Maria Stoljar, host and producer of the Talking with Painters Podcast. Thanks to Maria for her kind permission to reproduce it.
Episode 7: Ruby Hamad on persuasive writing and cultural criticism
This episode features non-fiction writer Ruby Hamad about persuasive writing, cultural critique, and how to weather the storms of public opinion while holding on to your writerly hat.
Ruby is a journalist, author, and academic, currently completing her PhD in media studies at UNSW. She’s a former columnist at Fairfax's Daily Life where she wrote about issues as varied as feminism, veganism, and Middle East politics. She’s also written for The Guardian, The Saturday Paper, Crikey, SBS, and The New York Times. Her Guardian Australia article, headlined, “How White Women Use Strategic Tears to Silence Women of Colour” became a global flashpoint for discussions of white feminism and racism and grew into her first book, White Tears/Brown Scars. It was published in 2019 by Melbourne University Press, and will be released in North America and the UK later this year.
This episode was recorded at Charlotte's house in inner Sydney, with its attendant suburban background soundtrack. Oh, and please enjoy Charlotte's embarrassing bungle in which she confuses Aristotle & Plato ...
Episode 6: Actor Heather Mitchell on finding & inhabiting character
What can fiction writers learn from actors about character development? One of Australia's finest actors, Heather Mitchell, draws on her four decades of experience to share how she moves from reading a script outline to fully inhabiting a character on stage or screen. In this extended hour-long conversation, Heather and Charlotte discuss how actors use close observation, props and bodies, careful listening and attention to absence as well as presence in a scene to develop character. And Heather explains how knowing why you're an artist is key to sustaining a long career in the arts.
Episode 5: Long Litt Woon on mushrooms, mourning & memoir
In Episode 5 we’re talking memoir with anthropologist and writer Long Litt Woon. We discuss the tricky questions involved in making a book about yourself. What to put in, and what to leave out, for example. How long after an experience should you wait before writing about it? And is a memoir only about the self, or is it just as much about other people?
After 32 years of marriage and without warning, Long Litt Woon suddenly became a widow. She was, of course, paralysed by grief. But eventually, almost by accident, she signed up for a beginner’s course in mushroom hunting – and found a way back to life. All this is detailed in her first book, The Way Through the Woods: on Mushrooms and Mourning.
We recorded this interview in early March, during Adelaide Writers’ Week. That now seems a blissfully innocent time - we had no idea then of the scale of the catastrophe unfolding across the world, and that even a week later this interview would have been impossible.
We hope you enjoy this pandemic-free conversation about writing, grief, translation, anthropology and the healing capacity of the natural world.
Episode 4: Jerry Saltz on How To Be An Artist
In Episode 4, we hear from Jerry Saltz about how he went from life as 'a failed artist' to long-haul truck driver to renowned art critic, and about his new book, How To Be An Artist.
Jerry Saltz is the senior art critic at New York magazine and its entertainment site, Vulture. He won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Criticism and a 2019 National Magazine Award. Before joining New York in 2007, he was art critic for The Village Voice where he was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. A frequent guest lecturer, he has spoken at the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, the Whitney Museum and many other major galleries.
How To Be an Artist formed out of a story in NY magazine in 2018 - which has now been read now by more than 600,000 people - which contained 33 rules for life as an artist. The book has 63 rules: warm, funny, sometimes brutal truths about what it takes to make a life in art, and why it's so rewarding.
This conversation was recorded online via Zoom so the sound quality is a little variable - but Jerry's enthusiasm is so infectious you won't notice.
Episode 3: Vicki Hastrich, Night Fishing & artistic cross-pollination
What does a writer do when a novel in progress seems to die under her pen? Keep pushing on? Throw it out and start a new one? Vicki Hastrich, author of the acclaimed NIGHT FISHING, did neither of those things. In her words, she ‘went fallow’ – she stopped making her own art, and instead spent time absorbing other people’s. In Episode 3 we’re looking at artistic cross-pollination – the way one art form can speak to and inspire another, completely different one. This conversation was recorded at Charlotte's home in inner Sydney, so you’ll hear some aircraft noise and bird squawks in the background (and listen out for Charlotte's bizarre spooneristic mispronunciation of the great Zane Grey's name! ).
Episode 2: Finding your creative tribe
How can you write while the earth is burning? Sarah Sentilles on why making art matters
Every artist comes up eventually against some big, scary questions, like: what’s the point? How can I justify making art in the face of the world’s catastrophes – a burning planet, endless cruelty, broken politics? And yet we know other people’s art has saved each of us, again and again. Art clarifies our thinking, challenges our ideas, illuminates our darkest moments. In this episode of The Writer's Room, novelist Charlotte Wood speaks with PEN-award-winning author and theologian Sarah Sentilles, cutting through the despair to talk about why artists should keep showing up to make something meaningful, ethical, and beautiful.