From Goucher College’s MFA in Creative Non-Fiction application:


“Please list a few of the most influential books you have read and briefly explain how they have influenced you.”

Michael Ondaatje, Anil’s Ghost– He gave me examples of how you can make writing in present tense work, how you can pull off making female lead characters as strong as their male counterparts in third world countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Ernest Hemingway, Farewell to Arms– usesd stream of consciousness, doesn’t hold back with his feelings (like for example when he hates his baby because it killed his wife…childbirth in Farewell to Arms).

John Steinbeck,  East of Eden-His evil characters, Cathy Ames from East of Eden, maintained a sexiness and sincerity somehow.  He did a lot of grey…for example is oldest son Aron is purposively good because he doesn’t want to get romantically involved; he wants to serve in the military.  But then his youngest Cal son who’s sorta got bad intentions is actually good because he’s a really nice boyfriend.

Charles Bukowski-, Post Office Unbelievable.  Words can’t describe.  I’ll try.  Just speaks his mind like about the crazy ladies who throw his typewriters out of his windows and stomp on them in front of the neighbors, but he doesn’t lose his cool about it.

Garrison Keillor, LibertyYou have to have some homey guy in there somewhere who writes about a warm, selfless pastoral town that deep down underneath has the ability to feel really really liberated.

Edith Wharton, Ethan FromeI used to like her more but now not as much because she’s elegant- that was the original draw.  She looked at Countess Olenska in the Age of Innocence like she was demure for really crossing the line and falling in love with a square.

Rabbit Run series by John Updike-First of all it’s in a rural no big deal rust belt town that Rabbit really loves.  Second of all it’s not like his wife Janice is anything to write home about, so he runs away and it’s worth it.  He writes off the top of his ahead too and he doesn’t look back on his choices.

Sylvia Plath, the Bell JarWrites off the top of her head too, opens up about stealing 1 sleeping pill a day from her mom’s stash till she gets 50, tries to commit suicide ASAP after that.  Doesn’t hold back when she complains about motherhood, and about how her husband can fall asleep at night when she never can.

David Halberstam, The FiftiesGives a great history of the U.S., something to talk about in dinner conversation with your parent’s political friends….Enjoyed the excerpt about the founder of the Holiday Inn, and about how when Ike was elected Truman’s driver no longer got to go through red lines anymore.

Harper Lee, To Kill a MockingbirdMy dad became a judge because of this book and I read it throughout my teaching career.  Of course Scout is strong and the author lets her ask any question she wants, which are usually ones that come from finding out why things aren’t equal.  And she couldn’t have had a better role model for a dad.



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