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Profile: Nicholas Delbanco

Title: Emeritus Robert Frost Distinguished University Professor of English Language and Literature
M.A., Columbia  1966
Harvard College, BA, 1963

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NICHOLAS DELBANCO has published twenty-five books of fiction and non-fiction. His most recent novels are The Count of Concord and Spring and Fall; his most recent work of non-fiction is Lastingness: The Art of Old Age, which was published by Grand Central Publishing in 2011. As editor he has compiled the work of, among others, John Gardner and Bernard Malamud. Director of the Hopwood Awards Program at the University of Michigan, he has served as Chair of the Fiction Panel for the National Book Awards, received a Guggenheim Fellowship and, twice, a National Endowment for the Arts Writing Fellowship. Last year Professor Delbanco completed a teaching text for McGraw-Hill entitled Literature: Craft and Voice, a three-volume Introduction to Literature of which he is the co-editor with Alan Cheuse; in 2004 he published The Sincerest Form: Writing Fiction by Imitation.
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."

He was proved correct. The maitre d'hotel apologized and congratulated him on his discerning nose. The meal was on the restaurant; they were grateful for Winterton's help. This pleased him appreciably; he preened. He spoke about the care and nurturing of talent, the ability to locate and preserve it. Attention to detail and standards -- these were the tools of his trade. This was the be-all and end-all, the alpha and omega of publishing, he said.
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Research Interests

Primary Interests

The writing of fiction; the contemporary novel; the work of John Gardner, editor; the work of Bernard Malamud, editor.

Secondary Interests

Travel literature, literature on music


The Years (Amazon Books, 2015); Dear Wizard: The Letters of Nicholas Delbanco and Jon Manchip White (University of Michigan Press 2014); The Art of Youth: Crane, Carrington, Gershwin, and the Nature of First Acts (New Harvest Books, 2013); Lastingness: The Art of Old Age (Grand Central Publishing, 2011); The Count of Concord (Dalkey Archive Press, 2008); Spring and Fall (Warner Books, 2006); Anywhere Out of the World (Columbia University Press, 2005); The Vagabonds (Warner Books, 2004). The Countess of Stanlein Restored, (Verso Books, 2001); What Remains, (Warner Books, 2000); The Lost Suitcase: Reflections on the Literary Life (Columbia University Press, 2000); Old Scores (Warner Books, 1997); In the Name of Mercy (Warner Books, 1995); The Writer’s Trade & Other Stories (William Morrow & Co., 1990); Running in Place: Scenes from the South of France (The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1989); The Beaux Arts Trio: A Portrait (William Morrow & Co., 1985); About My Table and Other Stories (1983) Group Portrait: Conrad, Crane, Ford, James, and Wells (1982); Stillness (1980); Sherbookes (1978); Possession (1977); Small Rain (1975); Fathering (1973); In The Middle Distance (1971); News (1970); Consider Sappho Burning (1969); Grasse, 3/23/66 (J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1968); The Martlet’s Tale (1966).
  • Dear Wizard: The Letters of Nicholas Delbanco and Jon Manchip White
  • The Art of Youth: Crane, Carrington, Gershwin, and the Nature of First Acts
  • Lierature: Craft and Voice (2nd Edition)
  • Sherbrookes
  • Lastingness: The Art of Old Age
  • The Hopwood Lectures: Sixth Series
  • Literature: Craft & Voice, Volume: 3 Drama
  • Literature: Craft & Voice, Volume: 2 Poetry
  • Literature: Craft & Voice, Volume: 1 Fiction
  • Spring and Fall
  • Anywhere Out of the World<br>Essays on Travel, Writing, Death

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