November 18, 2008

Who's Looming Over Your Shoulder...


Emily is reading this book about the booklists that African-American authors have read and how it shaped them. Here's a link to it's Amazon page. Now there was one part in there that said something along the lines of that writers are a little cagey in revealing who their influences because they don't want to seem beholden to any particular person/style. Like them admitting people influenced them means they aren't the original of the thought or writing, and somehow diminishes their creative worth.

While the book focuses mostly on dead black authors, like James Baldwin, that above statement about influence was aimed at writer's today, and the book came out 2 years ago, so it's a fairly recent book.

Personally, I don't think that's a true statement, particularly with the rise of the MFA. People of a particular stripe carry their "Iowa" badge proudly, I assume, it's almost the exact opposite of the statement earlier, where there isn't a denial of influence but a promotion/flaunting of it. And I've never known a writer to sort of dodge the "Who influences you?" question (unless answering Flannery O'Connor is cagey because it seems like everyone wants to be influenced by Ms. O'Connor to where it's like how political parties always try to get right with if you weren't influenced by her then you have no business in the game in the first place). Am I wrong?

Anyway, naturally, I got to thinking about who influences me when I write. And, I can't think of a good answer. I want to believe that Barry Hannah influences me because I read what he writes in this quiet awe, but I'll be damned if anything I have produced could be recognized as influenced by him. Same goes for Flannery O'Connor. Certainly there's some Ray Carver/Richard Russo stuff going on, but I have never read anything by them and said, "Yes! I want to write like these guys" (I've just dug a lot of their stories). In short, I'm not sure who I have been influenced by, though I know I have been and it's not something I'm ashamed of.

Now, what about you? Do you know who your influences are? Can you recongize thier impact on your writing...and how?

viva el mustache


Luke said...

I've written stories that imitate Tony Earley, Melanie Rae Thon (and I suppose, in a way, I was imitating Diana, too), Bass, Dybek, and Mark Richard. Lately I want to write a Jean Thompson imitation. I suppose those people have to be influences, then, right? Since I am trying to write like them, they have to shape my writing somewhat?

I would say, good sir, I see you having THEMATIC relations to some of the writers that you mentioned, even if you don't think you have stylistic relations to them.

The Ghost of Nostradamustache said...

I don't think the issue of influence has anything to do with who you write like, but everything to do with who you would like to write like. Influence, in my mind, is nothing short of who inspires you. You may read a novel by Philip K. Dick and turn around and write a story that sounds more like Sherman Alexie, but the influence is still Dick. It's Dick that got your juices flowing.

Bryan said...

"It's Dick that got your juices flowing"

That's what she said.

Bronson said...

"It's Dick that got your juices flowing"

More like that's what he said.