Profile: Nicholas Delbanco
M.A., Columbia 1966
Harvard College, BA, 1963
Nicholas Delbanco on the Workshop
"...the model of the medieval guild is a very useful one for me. After a period of learning, the writer receives a kind of walking paper that permits him to pose as a journeyman-laborer and enter the guild; then, ideally, he has the chance of becoming a master craftsman and having people report to him. In many ways that's a model that pertains to writing programs, where students of the craft come to learn it at the hands or feet of someone who is reputedly a master craftsman. Or, more properly, crafts person.
"Now, that analogy breaks down of course as soon as you look at it a little more closely. First, it's pretty difficult to declare that anyone is a master craftsman, able to turn one's hand to whatever piece of work is commissioned. An athletic coach does not necessarily have to have been a better athlete than the person he or she is coaching; a vocal coach is very often a failed performer; and some of the great teachers of the violin, say, need not have been great violinists. So it's not clear to me that the best writers are the best teachers. It may be wonderfully invigorating to be in the presence of X, Y, or Z whose work you admire, but you may get nothing from them in class. And it may be dispiriting to be in the presence of someone whose work you have either read or liked, yet that person may be perfectly able to allow you to find your own voice and attain your own walking papers.
"My notion of a failed writing workshop is when everybody comes out replicating the teacher and imitating as closely as possible the great original at the head of the table. I think that's a mistake, in obvious opposition to the ideal of teaching which permits a student to be someone other than the teacher.... The successful teacher has to make each of the students a different product rather than the same."
An Excerpt from Nicholas Delbanco
from "The Writer's Trade," The Writer's Trade and Other Stories
Mark Fusco sold his novel when he was twenty-two. "You're a very fortunate young man," Bill Winterton proclaimed. They met in the editor's office, on the sixteenth floor. The walls were lined with photographs, book jackets, and caricatures. "You should be pleased with yourself."
He was. He had moved from apprentice to author with scarcely a hitch in his stride. It was 1967, and crucial to be young. One of the caricatures showed Hawthorne on a polo pony, meeting Henry James; their mallets were quill pens. They were swinging with controlled abandon at the letter A.
Bill Winterton took him to lunch. They ate at L'Amorique. The editor discoursed on luck; the luck of the draw, he maintained, comes to those who read their cards. He returned the first bottle of wine, a Pouilly Fumé. The sommelier deferred, but the second bottle also tasted faintly of garlic; the sommelier disagreed. They had words. "There's someone cooking near your glassware," Winterton declared. "Or you've got your glasses drying near the garlic pan."
The writing of fiction; the contemporary novel; the work of John Gardner, editor; the work of Bernard Malamud, editor.
Travel literature, literature on music