I wrote this for the introductory discussion in the current American literature class I'm teaching:
I studied creative writing as a graduate student, I realized how
important contemporary literature was and what a complex range of work
was available to me. I spent a year reading dozens of books of
contemporary poetry. I realized that in order to be a successful poet, I
had to understand how poetry has changed from the rhyming sonnets I
read in high school. I've also focused on contemporary novels, short
stories, and memoirs, watching new releases in bookstores, at the
library, and through magazines. I used to scoff at the idea of current
novels, and contemporary poetry confused me. But now I realize how
important contemporary literature is for me both as a writer and as a
contemporary person. It helps me understand who I am and the world in
which I become myself.
course, I feel my inadequacy in keeping up with contemporary
literature, certainly in reading it but also just in knowing about it. I
have a box full of lists of authors and book titles I've noted, and
many magazines with book reviews await me. But I try to be aware.
Working in bookstores during and immediately after graduate school
helped me with this: I saw books coming in constantly, and I touched
hundreds of them every day.
wanted to teach this class in order to to show this to students who
may, like me, not know how wide and delightful the range of contemporary
literature can be or who think they don't like reading because their
experience is too narrow via the dreaded high school English reading
lists. I will be reading these totally new essays, stories, and poems
along with you, discovering them and expanded myself as a reader,
lifelong learner, and writer.