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Sunday, April 8 • 10:00am - 11:15am
9A: Establishing Authority FULL
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From the first sentence, we know if we are in confident, capable hands. The best writers establish authority immediately. By authority I mean that there is a clear sense of control, and that this confidence is earned with particular language, tone, detail, cadence, and, most importantly, by creating urgency, a simple question of “why should I keep reading?”
Take the opening of Jim Shepard’s story “Boys Town”: “Here’s the story of my life: whatever I did wasn’t good enough, anything I figured out I figured out too late, and whenever I tried to help I made things worse.” Immediately we realize that this is a masterful writer using words as a weapon, that each word is placed exactly where it is intended, that the rhythms speak to a musicality that is in concert with the narrator and the action. We are propelled sentence to sentence by this musicality and we want to know more about the narrator and why he considers himself such a fatalistic mess.
No matter the form or genre, first, second, or third person, past or present, speculative or hyper-realistic, fiction, poetry, or non-fiction, establishing authority is the first and most important task of the writer. We will look at numerous first pages across forms, including work from Karen Russell, ZZ Packer, Joe Wenderoth, Lydia Davis, Helen McDonald, Carmen Maria Machado, and many more, subjecting the texts to the same cold reading standard I have at Tin House, where we receive upwards of 20,000 submissions a year.

avatar for Rob Spillman

Rob Spillman

Editor, Tin House
Rob Spillman was the Editor and co-founder of Tin House, the seminal literary magazine that published from 1999 to 2019. He is the 2017 recipient of the CLMP Energizer Award for Exceptional Acts of Literary Citizenship, the 2015 PEN/Nora Magid Award for Editing as well as the 2015... Read More →

Sunday April 8, 2018 10:00am - 11:15am EDT
Charles River Room - 4th Floor