Mark McGurl


On his book The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing

Cover Interview of September 07, 2009

A close-up

A reader riffling through the pages of my book might be struck to see that a work of literary history has so many diagrams.  What’s up with that?  Don’t we go to literature to avoid things like diagrams?  I would hope that the reader would find the diagrams intriguing, and see how they correspond to the more finely grained descriptions of writers and their works that make up the bulk of the book.

I have lots of favorite parts of the book, of course, but many readers have seemed particularly interested in my account of Ken Kesey.  Who would have thought that one of the ultimate 1960s counterculture figures was also a creative writing program graduate?  And who knew that his teacher was another important American writer, Wallace Stegner?  That these two men basically hated each other is fascinating, considering how productive and revealing their relationship turned out to be.  And that they were, in turn, part of a much broader cultural context—not only Stanford University but the whole Bay Area just as it was beginning to convulse into “the sixties”—gives this part of the book a lot of energy.