Alan Cheuse stood in front of a projector screen that featured a soft pencil self-portrait sketch of an unidentified artist. As he addressed the crowd of 700 at George Mason’s Center for the Arts on April 20, Cheuse, an acclaimed novelist, critic and Mason professor, slowly began to reveal his writing process.
“Fiction writing is an amazingly impersonal art form,” said Cheuse, who has long been known as National Public Radio's “voice of books.”
Since September, Mason’s “Vision Series” has welcomed professors to discuss a range of topics, including the new work force, the recent president election, evolution, genocide, art history, landmines, perception of art and more.
Cheuse was the eighth and final speaker in the university’s “Vision Series” – an eight month series of lectures that sheds light on the real world research and creativity that takes place every day on Mason’s campus.
“We’re pleased with the impact this series has had on the campus community and surrounding community,” said Provost Peter Stearns as he introduced Cheuse.
A professor of English at Mason, Cheuse has published four novels, three collections of short fiction and the memoir Fall Out of Heaven. His recent fiction book To Catch the Lightning: A Novel of American Dreaming, won Grub Street’s 2009 National Book Prize for Fiction.
Cheuse’s short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, The Antioch Review, Prairie Schooner, New Letters, The Idaho Review, and The Southern Review, among other places.
He has also appeared weekly on NPR for the past 25 years, reviewing books for All Things Considered.
As part of the April 20th lecture, Cheuse shared an informal commentary on one of his recently published short stories and gave a behind the scenes view of the various stages of his writing process, including the invention and composition of his work and the writing, rewriting and revision stages of his work.
“It’s almost like a work-trance,” said Cheuse. “When you come out of it, there’s all these pages that have been written.”
In discussing his piece A Little Death – a short story about 1930’s painter Mark Gertler that was published in The Southern Review in the summer of 2007, Cheuse described his process.
“If your completely cognizant of what you’re writing, it’s probably not any good,” said Cheuse.
Cheuse is currently working with Nicholas Delbanco on a three-volume series of books -- Literature; Craft and Voice – with Volume 1 scheduled to publish this spring.
Ranging from personal history to modern history, aesthetics, and, among other things, the daily life of the working writer, Cheuse placed his particular art in a broad context, with the goal of making the reading of fiction an enlivening art in itself.
April 22, 2009