Michael Sarnowski Visits Kingston

Michael Sarnowski

Michael Sarnowski

Michael Sarnowski earned his MFA in Creative Writing from Vanderbilt University, where he was a recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize. His poetry has recently been selected to appear in Potomac Review, The Adirondack Review, Underground Voices, and Foundling Review, among others. He currently lives in Syracuse, New York, where he teaches at Le Moyne College.


Thursday 28th February 4-6pm JG1004

Reading from his work and Question & Answer


All welcome

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Upcoming Literary Events

Jason Clifton, organiser of Ace Stories, sends us the following events coming up in March and April:

Sunday 24 March— a showcase of student writers from Kingston Writing School, plus music from Brighton group Simonne and the Dark Stars. Hotel Pelirocco, 6pm, £5 entry.

Monday 29 April— Hungarian Literature Night at the Creativity Zone, Sussex University (Pevensey 3).
In partnership with Speaking Volumes (our partner on the Poetry Parnassus event last July at Hotel Pelirocco), the Attenborough Centre at Sussex University and the ‘European Literature Night’ project, we present this exploration of Hungarian culture, history and literature…

George Szirtes, Hungarian poet (winner of the T S Eliot Award in 2004 for ‘Reel’) and Reader in Creative Writing at UEA, and (travelling from Budapest to be at this event) Hungarian novelist Noemi Szecsi are the guests of this event…
Entry £8 (£7 with student card).

Hope to see you there! (Jason Clifton)

Why Write?

Sebastian works full time and part-time as a freelance journalist. He wrote for five years the Secret Agent column in the Financial Times (www.ft.com/secretagent) and currently writes a monthly column for both Country Life and the London Magazine and a weekly blog for Spears. He’s working on a novel with the help of the Kingston MFA. Today he considers why we bother to write at all.
As I sit at my kitchen table, hot water and lemon beside me, light emerging through the remnants of the night-time sky, my lap-top faces me.  It’s 7am and I try and bring my mind to focus willing the words onto the screen.  Recently risen from bed I let reverie remain and there my fingers seamlessly flow across the keyboard and surprise me with their astute brilliance.  It’s not so.  Inevitably my gaze is distracted; I scan the room, Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ holds what seems like a prominent position on my bookshelf, as if to censure me.  His rigid discipline an example not easily followed.
There are times when one feels like writing and times when it feels like work.  And when you have a day job and struggle to achieve the zen-like nirvana of ‘balance’ it becomes about priorities.  If your writing is informed by observation and social commentary it’s important to be part of the world I tell myself; and this means socialising, eating out, going to see ‘Argo’ in order to comment reliably on Ben Affleck’s Iran hostage film.
It’s so much harder if relying on the imagination – to inhabit a parallel world of science fiction adventure, Cromwellian London or anywhere that takes us away from the here and now.  Or so I believe – but this could be that like many things different, in that vaguely self-flagellating manner we have, it’s because we’re incapable of accomplishing them that we admire them.  I remember my godmother some summers ago taking issue with me as I marched through an Italian city ticking off the tourist list – a Brunelleschi church, Piero della Francesca fresco, Donatello sculpture and some celebrated gardens.  ‘Why do you rush like this?’  She questioned while I wanted to ask what she’d achieved as she’d sat consuming a diet of espressos and Marlboro cigarettes for the last three hours.  My question was implied as she continued, ‘I’m a student of anthropology, I like to sit and observe, that’s how I learn.’  And I’ve come to understand the importance of that.
Observing is one thing but translating that into the written form is something else.  Why do we do this?  To share experience; to make a living; to educate; to entertain; to exorcise; to challenge; for personal development; as a creative outlet and so the list continues, morphing to the out-reaches of reason, need and desire.  I admire those who can write just for themselves – who don’t need the validation of acknowledgement – because it feels fraudulent to me as if the value of my words are somewhat diminished.  It’s wrong and a guilty truth but the needy in me requires affirmation.  So as I sit, I wonder why and what’s the point, in these busy lives we lead.  All of us who are endeavouring to try have our own reasons.  I return to E.M. Forster’s epitaph in Howards End ‘Only Connect’.  The universal emotions that hold us together and make us human; the sentence we read that expresses something in a way we’d never thought of before but which we implicitly understand.  The feelings and thoughts that bind us as human beings, that broaden our minds, speak of our differences and our similarities.  And so I tap on in the hope of achieving the smallest iota of connection.

Lamar Herrin – MFA Residency Profile

Lamar Herrin. Photo courtesy of Lamar Herrin

Lamar Herrin. Photo courtesy of Lamar Herrin

Lamar Herrin is an award winning author of numerous novels and his short stories have appeared in various publications including The New Yorker, Harper’s,  and Epoch. His latest work is a memoir entitled, Romancing Spain. In 1985, he received a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts and, in 1991, he won of the Associated Writing Program’s Award for the Novel for The Lies Boys Tell. He is Professor Emeritus of creative writing and contemporary literature at Cornell University where he has taught for twenty-nine years. He and his wife, Amparo, divide their time between Ithaca, New York and Valencia, Spain. Find out more at his website.

He will be reading from his work on Tuesday, February 12, 2013 in the John Galsworthy Building Room 3003 from 7:30-9 pm. The reading will begin promptly at 7:30pm.



American Baroque (1981)

The Rio Loja Ringmaster (1983)

The Unwritten Chronicles of Robert E. Lee (1991)

The Lies Boys Tell (1992)

House of the Deaf  (2006)

Fractures (To be published in 2013)                                            



Romancing Spain, A Memoir (2006)



“The Rio Loja Ringmaster” –  The Paris Review, Fall 1974

“The Rookie Season” – The Paris Review, Summer, 1976

“Our Lady of the Mediterranean” – The Bennington Review, September, 1979

“Age of Retirement” – Epoch, Winter 1979

“For Years Without War” – fiction international, No. 12, 1980

“Her Journey Westward” – The Virginia Quarterly Review, Spring 1981

“From Pure Products” – River Styx, #10, 1982

“A Life of Crime” – The Paris Review, Winter 1982

“Last Respects” – Harper’s Magazine, February 1983

“Monuments” – The New Yorker, October 29, 1990

“A Sweet and Sunny Life” – Columbia Review, 1993

“Casualties” – Epoch, 1998, vol. 47, nos. 2 & 3

“Song and Dance”  – Epoch, 2005, vol. 54, no 3

Source: http://www.lamarherrin.com/

“Everytime I read them, I want to write.”

The books and authors that inspire Lamar Herrin:

As I Lay Dying or anything else by William Faulkner

Thomas Wolfe – (not Tom Wolfe) author of num

erous works including Look Homeward, Angel, The Lost Boy and Mannerhouse: A Play in a Prologue and Four Acts

James Salter – author of novels, short stories, screenplays, poetry, memoir and other nonfiction. Works include Downhill Racer (screenplay), Light Years (novel) and Still Such (poetry).

Cormac McCarthy – author of short stories, screenplays and novels such as No Country for Old Men, All the Pretty HorsesThe Road and The Orchard Keeper.

What is the MFA Residency Series?

As we begin our new semester there are some exciting events coming up for second year MFA students and the wider community through the MFA Residency Series. But what is this series and how can you get involved?

The MFA Residency Series is a knowledge and teaching exchange set up by our course leader, Dr. Scott Bradfield, to enhance the writing and teaching education for MFAs. As many of you will already know, the MFA in Creative Writing is considered a “terminal degree”, which means that it is a qualification for teaching at the university level. In the second semester of course’s the second year students take a module called “Teaching and Writing Workshop.” In this class we have a weekly workshop, run by a variety of instructors who also speak about their teaching experience and strategies. It is designed to give students hands-on experience with different workshopping styles and methods that they can then implement in their own teaching.

The MFA Residents are select, outstanding writers who also have extensive teaching experience. They hail from various countries and often fly in specifically to be a part of this series. In addition to running a workshop, these writers and teachers also do private tutorials with all second year MFA students.

But what does this mean for you if you’re not a second year MFA? Good news: they also do readings that are open to the public. We encourage everyone to come meet these leading writers and hear them read from their work.

In the past, Dr. Bradfield has brought in writers including Fiona Sampson, former editor of Poetry Review, J. Robert Lennon, head of the MFA at Cornell University, and Brian Evenson, head of Brown University’s MFA program. And this year’s list is no less impressive with the following authors participating:

* Lamar Herrin, Professor Emeritus at Cornell University’s MFA program and author of novels, short stories, poetry and, most recently, a memoir entitled Romancing Spain.

* Wendy Cope OBE, Writer in Residence at Kingston University and poet renowned for her wit. Recent collections include Family Values and Two Cures for Love.

* Paul Maliszewski, editor and author of criticism, short stories, essays and poetry including the short story collection, Prayer and Parable, and the essay collection, Fakers: Hoaxers, Con Artists, Counterfeiters, and Other Great Pretenders. It is our great pleasure to welcome Paul back for the second time as an MFA Resident.

* Christopher Priest, prolific author of everything from children’s non-fiction to novels and biographies. The film adaptation of his 1995 novel, The Prestige, was directed by Christopher Nolan and received two Academy Award nominations.

The dates for the public readings are as follows:

Tuesday, 12 February 2013 – Lamar Herrin at 7:30pm at Penrhyn Road Campus in John Galsworthy room 3003

Tuesday, 16 April 2013 – Paul Maliszewski at 7:30pm

Tuesday, 23 April 2013 – Christopher Priest at 7:30pm

Locations along with author information will be posted on this site before each reading. We hope to have the profile of Lamar Herrin up very shortly so check back with us or follow this blog for updates via email (see box in at the top of the column on the right-hand-side of this page). Please come to the readings and enjoy the work of these fine writers from both sides of the Atlantic.

Middle-Aged Spread

Simon Fraser studied history at Oxford and spent twenty-odd years working in public relations and advertising in England and Sweden, before deciding to chuck it all in and try writing a novel.  He is about 80,000 words in but keeps getting pleasantly distracted by his wife, two children and dog.


In his rather excellent campus novel, Changing Places, David Lodge invents a parlour game which he calls Humiliation.  Players take turns to name a famous work of literature which they haven’t read, and score a point for each of the other players who have read it.  In the book, an American professor of English admits to not having read Hamlet.  He wins the game, but loses his job.

I am a great admirer of the English novelist John le Carré.  But until a few weeks ago I had never read his most famous book, and the one that established his reputation:  The Spy who Came in from the Cold (1963).

It was le Carré’s third novel, his first two having had little impact.  It won the Somerset Maugham prize, and its commercial success enabled the author to give up his foreign-office career and do whatever he liked.  By 1977, worldwide sales exceeded 20 million copies.  (For comparison:  Last time I looked, Fifty Shades had sold 60 million, in a world that contains more than twice as many people as there were in the 1960s.)

It was a big success then, and made le Carré’s reputation.  I read it over two or three evenings this winter, and a cracking read it was.  Just 240 pages; I estimate 65,000 words.

In 1977, five books later, le Carré published The Honourable Schoolboy.  The hardback first edition is 532 pages long, and (as was the fashion of the time) the pages are bigger, containing about one-third more words.  At about 190,000 words it’s almost three times as long as The Spy who Came in from the Cold.  Le Carré’s books got even longer, but have shortened again now as he reaches old age.

Both novels have similar themes and a similar plot.  The Spy who Came in from the Cold has 26 chapters averaging 2500 words; The Honourable Schoolboy has 22 chapters averaging more than 8500 words.

What does the extra length do?  Where’s the meat to sustain what is not going to be a short read?  Is longer better or worse?

A big clue comes right at the start: a two-page foreword in which le Carré thanks those who have assisted his research.  Much of the action is set in Hong Kong, with additional scenes in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam as the US was finally pulling out in 1975.  From the foreword one imagines a leisurely few months flitting around the Far East, chatting to people.  And there’s a lot of travel writing in the text that follows.

In contrast, The Spy who Came in from the Cold was set in London, the Netherlands and East Germany, and there’s no real attempt (or need) to establish a sense of place.

The other clue is people.  Each scene has a chorus of minor characters tripping on and off the stage, some speaking, some just snoring delicately as they lie against the insomniac body of our hero.  Where we had dialogue before, we now have multi-party conversations.  Boy, do they love to talk.  It’s like listening to a symphony after a chamber piece.  And most of the talk is expository.

The tendency to write at increasing length is not uncommon among highly successful writers (look at the Harry Potter books).  Authorial self-confidence, however misplaced, must be one of the main causes.  It might also be a result of lighter editorial touch:  the publisher knows that the author’s brand guarantees sales, so why bother to expend the effort to trim a bloated book and risk alienating the golden goose?

One must also think of the reader, who might make a crude value-for-money calculation which will always tend to favour fat volumes (“Can I get a Venti John Grisham?”), and can at least hope for an immersive, almost Tantric, reading experience stretching over days or weeks.  Preferably on a warm and sunny beach.

So there you are, folks!   Want to write a blockbuster with literary pretensions?  Take one part taut plot, one part exotic travelogue and one part cast-of-thousands, then layer them into a Scooby snack of a size that suits.


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