Sarah Anne Johnson

Reviews

The Very Telling

Johnson exposes the structural scaffolding of fiction, Reva Blau, Provincetown Banner, March 22, 2007.

From Publishers Weekly:
Starred Review. In interviews with 16 contemporary American authors-popular, award-winning and mostly of the younger literary persuasion-Johnson returns to the form that made her Conversations with American Women Writers such a treat. Interview questions cover the basics-early writing interests, requests for advice and words of encouragement-but also elicit enthusiastic explication on the writing process. Jonathan Lethem holds forth on the turn he took between his earlier, more esoteric fiction (“I was like a painter”) and his last two novels, Motherless Brooklyn (grounded in detailed research on Tourette’s Syndrome) and The Fortress of Solitude (based on extensive “internal excavation”). Donna Tartt speaks at length on the challenge of developing character, which takes “a willingness to make oneself blank in order to perceive clearly,” and weighs in on the perennial debate over how best to render dialect. Johnson also asks Michael Cunningham about sex scenes, Myla Goldberg about Jewish mysticism, Rick Moody about the film industry and Ha Jin about his “sense of home.” Other subjects include Mary Gaitskill, Edwidge Danticat, Edward P. Jones, Nancy Rawles and Mary Yukari Waters. Throughout, Johnson uses insightful questions about specific works to elicit wise and peculiar nuggets on the “inspiration, struggles, triumphs, and work ethic” of the writing trade.

ForeWord Magazine’s ‘Ninth Annual Look at the Big Ten Outstanding Books from University Presses’ includes The Very Telling in its Also Recommended section — “Johnson interviews sixteen authors as diverse as Edwige Danticat and Ha Jin, who discuss the experiences, quests, and thinking that shaped their distinctive literary voices.”

D.W. Fenza, Executive Director, The Association of Writers and Writing Programs: “If you love books, you invariably become curious about their making and who their parents are. A good literary interview will introduce you to the parents and how they met the inspiration of the stories and characters that are now part of you. A good interview with an author illuminates the nervous system that grows among people and words—it’s a spangled tree that makes the act or reading and writing more curious and luminous. With The Very Telling, Sarah Anne Johnson does a first-rate job in turning on the lights that festoon the family trees of contemporary literature.”

 

The Art of the Author Interveiw

The Writer:

There are certain books that have become iconic in the freelance writer’s world, books that remain on your shelf forever: John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and, well, you can fill in the rest. The Art of the Author Interview should be one of the chosen ones.

 

Conversations with American Women Writers

From Publisher’s Weekly:

As the ever-expanding writers-on-writing genre demonstrates, writers are often remarkably wise and generous instructors. Here, Johnson, a fiction writer herself and program coordinator of the YMCA National Writer’s Voice program, interviews 17 female scribes to create 17 miniature instruction books on craft. Elizabeth McCracken, Aimee Bender, Lois-Ann Yamanaka and others recount their tussles with blank pages, time management and flat characters. Asking the writers to discuss elements of their books, Johnson also delves into the more mysterious regions of the creative process (how you know when your novel is finished, for instance)…The questions Johnson poses provoke thoughtful responses from her subjects, who have plenty of insight into the work they do. We learn that, other than developing good listening skills, short story writer Amy Bloom (A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You) sees no connection between her work as a therapist and her writing (writing, unlike being a therapist, “is a narcissistic event”). Novelist Sena Jeter Naslund (Ahab’s Wife) candidly reveals that she struggled with plot, character and theme. Ann Patchett (Bel Canto) discusses her self-instructive practice of “plagiarizing” her favorite authors. Johnson was right to select so many subjects who teach in MFA programs: their enthusiasm for language and faith in the awesome power of revision will be encouraging to any writer at any stage of her career.

From Booklist:

“How did you get started writing?” “How do your story ideas come to you?” “Who are some of the writers that have influenced you?” These are a few of the basic questions lobbed to women fiction writers by interviewer Johnson in this lively and revealing collection of author interviews. Naturally, Johnson discusses the specifics of each writer’s work, but her emphasis on inspiration and craft unifies the collection, and by the time the reader has absorbed all 17 interviews, she or he will have a strong sense of the challenges contemporary women fiction writers face, why they write, what they hope to accomplish, and how the reception of their work does or does not affect their writing process. Johnson’s eloquent and giving interviewees include Sue Miller, Andrea Barrett, Jill McKorkle, Ann Patchett, Gish Jen, and Sena Jeter Naslund, and her collection will entice and satisfy serious readers, wanna-be writers, and book-club members.

From Library Journal

“An experienced author interviewer and workshop instructor, [Johnson offers] the reader an opportunity to participate in intimate and often illuminating dialog . . . The emphasis that writing is hard work that can take its toll emotionally serves as a common thread among the conversations as many of these women struggle to balance their writing with work and family obligations . . . Recommended for public and academic libraries.”

From Publishers Weekly:
Starred Review. In interviews with 16 contemporary American authors-popular, award-winning and mostly of the younger literary persuasion-Johnson returns to the form that made her Conversations with American Women Writers such a treat. Interview questions cover the basics-early writing interests, requests for advice and words of encouragement-but also elicit enthusiastic explication on the writing process. Jonathan Lethem holds forth on the turn he took between his earlier, more esoteric fiction (“I was like a painter”) and his last two novels, Motherless Brooklyn (grounded in detailed research on Tourette’s Syndrome) and The Fortress of Solitude (based on extensive “internal excavation”). Donna Tartt speaks at length on the challenge of developing character, which takes “a willingness to make oneself blank in order to perceive clearly,” and weighs in on the perennial debate over how best to render dialect. Johnson also asks Michael Cunningham about sex scenes, Myla Goldberg about Jewish mysticism, Rick Moody about the film industry and Ha Jin about his “sense of home.” Other subjects include Mary Gaitskill, Edwidge Danticat, Edward P. Jones, Nancy Rawles and Mary Yukari Waters. Throughout, Johnson uses insightful questions about specific works to elicit wise and peculiar nuggets on the “inspiration, struggles, triumphs, and work ethic” of the writing trade.

ForeWord Magazine’s ‘Ninth Annual Look at the Big Ten Outstanding Books from University Presses’ includes The Very Telling in its Also Recommended section — “Johnson interviews sixteen authors as diverse as Edwige Danticat and Ha Jin, who discuss the experiences, quests, and thinking that shaped their distinctive literary voices.”

D.W. Fenza, Executive Director, The Association of Writers and Writing Programs:

“If you love books, you invariably become curious about their making and who their parents are. A good literary interview will introduce you to the parents and how they met the inspiration of the stories and characters that are now part of you. A good interview with an author illuminates the nervous system that grows among people and words—it’s a spangled tree that makes the act or reading and writing more curious and luminous. With The Very Telling, Sarah Anne Johnson does a first-rate job in turning on the lights that festoon the family trees of contemporary literature.”

CAPE COD TIMES, 5/6/07:

“The Very Telling: Conversations With American Writers,” by Sarah Anne Johnson (University Press of New England, ISBN 1-58465-594-1, 206 pages, $19.95)

Sarah Anne Johnson, who teaches at Lesley University, has carved out a literary niche for herself teaching others the fine points of a skill she excels at: interviewing authors and getting them to talk about themselves and their craft. This is her third book in this vein, following “Conversations With American Women Writers,” which won wide praise, and “The Art of the Author Interview and Interviewing Creative People.” You’ll immediately recognize many of the authors in this new work, which includes Michael Cunningham, who has a strong Cape connection. It’s a question-and-answer format throughout, but readers will get two benefits — the writers’ answers to probing questions and the way Johnson frames her inquiries for maximum result.

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Sarah Anne Johnson

Sarah is the author of The Lightkeeper’s Wife (Sourcebooks), The Very Telling, The Art of the Author Interview, and Conversations with American Women Writers, all published by the University Press of New England. Her interviews appear in The Writer’s Chronicle, Glimmertrain Stories, Provincetown Arts, and The Writer where she is a contributing editor. Her fiction has appeared in Other Voices, and she is the recipient of residencies in fiction from Jentel Artists’ Residency Program and Vermont Studio Center. She has taught the Art of the Author Interview Workshop at Bennington College Writing Seminars MFA Program, Leseley University MFA Program, and at literary conferences.

Reviews February 18, 2012


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