A Delicate Aggression Savagery and Survival in the Iowa Writers' Workshop David O. Dowling

Publication date:
14 May 2019
Yale University Press
440 pages: 235 x 156 x 29mm
16 b-w illus.
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A vibrant history of the renowned and often controversial Iowa Writers’ Workshop and its celebrated alumni and faculty

As the world’s preeminent creative writing program, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop has produced an astonishing number of distinguished writers and poets since its establishment in 1936. Its alumni and faculty include twenty-eight Pulitzer Prize winners, six U.S. poet laureates, and numerous National Book Award winners. This volume follows the program from its rise to prominence in the early 1940s under director Paul Engle, who promoted the “workshop” method of classroom peer criticism.
Meant to simulate the rigors of editorial and critical scrutiny in the publishing industry, this educational style created an environment of both competition and community, cooperation and rivalry. Focusing on some of the exceptional authors who have participated in the program—such as Flannery O’Connor, Dylan Thomas, Kurt Vonnegut, Jane Smiley, Sandra Cisneros, T. C. Boyle, and Marilynne Robinson—David Dowling examines how the Iowa Writers’ Workshop has shaped professional authorship, publishing industries, and the course of American literature.

David O. Dowling is associate professor at the University of Iowa’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. His previous books include Literary Partnerships and the Marketplace and Emerson’s Protégés. He lives in Iowa City, IA.

“[A] history of America’s most famous creative-writing program . . . [that] opens with the boozing, brawling John Berryman—he of the “blow-torch approach” to teaching—receiving a punch from a student.”—Hermione Hoby, New Yorker

'I read this in two or three days because I just couldn’t stop ... If you’ve ever been interested in MFA programs or even just Iowa’s infamous workshop, this is a must-read.' - Jaime Herndon, Book Riot

“This book provides readers with a rich history of how the nation’s most important writing program has had an outsized impact on American literary and commercial culture."—David Haven Blake, College of New Jersey

“David Dowling’s A Delicate Aggression is irresistible reading. It is fascinating window into the intimate workings of evolving talent and cross-hatching of competition and support in literary communities.”—Shirley Goek-Lin Lim, University of California, Santa Barbara

“A fascinating look at the way writers are taught how to teach themselves how to write. I spent six years in a similar workshop and can still hear their voices in my head.”—Steve Berry, The Malta Exchange

“Here lie the Workshop’s secrets, its lore, its pride and exclusions, its intimacies and competitions, its ‘innovations of the business of letters,’ its unapologetic and promising talents.”—Annie Liontas, Author of Let Me Explain You

"David Dowling’s A Delicate Aggression isn’t just a meticulously researched and elegantly wrought history of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. It is also an essential and acute portrait of American Literature since World War I. And beyond that it is a compelling portrait gallery of some of this country’s most interesting literary personalities, an insider’s travel guide to Iowa City, and a compelling and propulsive read."—Nickolas Butler, author of Shotgun Lovesongs