, March 07, 2011
"Instructor Tackles the whys of writing" by Jeff Baker, Book Editor, The (Portland) Oregonian
John Rember teaches in the creative writing program at Pacific University in Forest Grove. The program is low-residency, meaning students and faculty gather once each semester for an intensive session and then study by correspondence until the next meeting. It's a cheaper way to get a master of fine arts degree than the traditional method of attending regular classes, but Rember has come up with a way to get some of the same knowledge for $16.95.
Rember's "MFA in a Box: A Why to Write Book" is more than an advice book with a catchy title. (It's also less valuable than a graduate degree, of course, and is, he writes, "in no way intended to replace a real MFA. If it were, I'd be charging a lot more for it.")
What makes it different than the many, many books about writing on the market today is the way Rember engages his readers in some of the issues every writer faces -- writing about place, about family, about grief -- not as problems to be overcome but as issues to be understood. His method is personal (lots of stories from his life) and intellectual (lots of quotes from Conrad and Faulkner and "The Epic of Gilgamesh"). He's upfront about saying the path he took to become a writer wouldn't work for everyone but many of the obstacles are the same for everyone who wants to write but wonders why they should try something so difficult and full of failure.
Nothing, Rember writes, is "as dark as that place in the middle of a story where you're convinced that you're writing a bridge to nowhere, and that the idea of writing as an identity and occupation was a bad one in the first place.
"Every writer faces that dark place, and a lot of them succumb to it. A good many people who invest years of their lives and tens of thousands of dollars in an MFA degree never write again, simply because they cannot follow a story into its own depths, or they fear that if they do, they'll never get back to daylight again."
Rember lives in central Idaho and is the author of four books, most notably "Traplines: Coming Home to Sawtooth Valley." He starts "MFA in a Box" by describing the 600-mile drive from Idaho to Forest Grove to teach at Pacific and uses the journey as a jumping-off point for a fascinating meditation on writing violence. Rember credits his students for helping shape his book; it seems like his classes were the best kind of two-way street, where teacher and students learned from each other.