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Against the Workshop:: Provocations, Polemics, Controversies Paperback – October 17, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-1933896724 ISBN-10: 1933896728

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Editorial Reviews


“This book is a driving, spirited, and articulate attack on what American poetry has become as ‘creative writing’ in the university degree programs."—Clayton Eshleman

(Clayton Eshleman )

Against the Workshop subtitled Provocations, Polemics, Controversies: there’s something here for everyone to disagree with and be provoked by.  Brace yourself.  You will be implicated—as I am—in more than one of the charges Shivani levels, but also challenged to recall, in the face of the cynical reputation machine, the reasons why literature has mattered, might matter, does matter."—H. L. Hix
(H. L. Nix )

“No contemporary literary critic has called to question the artifice of a publicity-driven book industry or taken to task the artistry of today’s literary darlings as provocatively as Anis Shivani. He has single-handedly fueled conversations that were once polite coffee house chatter into passionate debates about what’s worth reading and what should be pulped post-haste. Privileging integrity over popularity, Shivani stings when he writes, but his are the wake-up calls we’ve been waiting for!”—Rigoberto González

(Rigoberto Gonzales )

About the Author

ANIS SHIVANI is the author of the story collection, Anatolia and Other Stories, which was longlisted for the Frank O’Connor short story award.  He is a member of the National Book Critics Circle, and frequently reviews books for newspapers and magazines.  His work appears in Georgia Review, Southwest Review, Iowa Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Texas Review, Threepenny Review, Boston Review, and elsewhere.  He has just finished a novel, and is putting together a book of his interviews with leading literary authors.  He studied at Harvard College and lives in Houston, Texas.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Texas Review Press (October 17, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933896728
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933896724
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #896,575 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Invisible Man on December 14, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Amazon reviews are always sort of funny. What one person swears is a good book or a life changing book another person thinks is crap. And vice-versa. Perhaps my review of Anis Shivani's Against the Workshop will make some readers smile; for other readers, my review will fill them with rage. Good. I hope it does. I hope they comment on it and launch it into the blogosphere. Perhaps it will give a lot of writing professors and even more MFA students something interesting to say-finally.

Anis Shivani's book, Against the Workshop, is a much-needed book. I can't even begin to emphasize how much this book is needed. It confirmed my long-held suspicions about American writers, MFA programs, and the graduate students who inhabit this boring, cookie-cutter, Are You a Part of the Club? world of academic fiction and poetry writing.

Shivani's point? Much of what passes for fiction today-i.e. American fiction-is pure drivel. It's limited to the domestic sphere where boring characters are wallowing in their narcissism and personal problems. These stories take place in the house or in a character's head while he/she stands at the kitchen window looking outside where it's raining. The character stands at the sink and thinks sad thoughts. I'm depressed. I'm getting divorced. The kids won't listen. And on and on and on. No engagement with the wider world and its problems. Instead, we meet the Holy Trinity of contemporary American fiction: Me, Myself and I. It's solipsism from start to finish. It's a snorefest from start to finish.

These contemporary American novels, Shivani notes, just aren't interesting. They won't transform lives, they won't be read in college classrooms in fifty years, and they're a complete a waste of paper and time.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By S. Donovan on February 2, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I spent most of my birthday reading this book. Usually I do more birthday-ish things on my birthday, such as getting a massage, getting drunk, or going to the movies, but I had started the book the day before, and it's so smart and so funny I couldn't stop reading it.

Shivani first tackles the question, "Why is American fiction in its current dismal state?" He correctly points out that in a lot of contemporary literary fiction, hardly anything happens, which makes it very boring. When he writes about the dominant mode of "paralysis and grief" in fiction and poetry, I thought of a fawning review of short stories I read several years ago, which said something like, "In each of her stories, you can tell the precise moment when the character's heart breaks." I thought: really? Every single one of the stories leads up to quiet despair? I'll pass, thanks. (In addition to the MFA/creative writing progam machine, Shivani holds bad reviewers--Michiko Kakutani in particular--and a lack of critical reviewing in general responsible for the horribleness of American fiction and poetry.)

I first read Shivani's writing in The Huffington Post, a day or two after Philip Levine had become the Poet Laureate. Shivani excoriated Levine's work along with that of Sharon Olds, Louise Gluck, and Jorie Graham. He criticizes these poets, along with David Kirby (whom I have not read, and based on the excerpts in this book, will not), Billy Collins (who gets on my nerves...he's like if a jocular program on NPR became a human and started to write poetry), and many others, in the book as well.

I'm glad someone is pointing out that Jorie Graham's poems are godawful: they're boring, they're pretentious, and they make no sense.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By DabblerArts on January 4, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What, only 1 review? This collection of reviews and essays deserves 1000 reviews, as it launches an absolutely vital critique of the failure of creative writing and of the regrettable insularity of our literacy scene generally. Fiction, poetry, experimental, mainstream - no manner of atrocious writing is spared in Shivani's cosmopolitan, just and discerning gaze, and what he has to say ought to inspire and enrage writers, readers and critics alike.

Shivani's roasting of certain ballyhooed writers is tremendous fun, as the previous reviewer says. I take special delight in his demolition of the horrible Best of American Poetry series, but enough poets and writers come under attack to ensure merriment and ire in many diverse quarters. But it's so easy! certain eternally reasonable voices might say - just worry about the best and ignore the rest; and it would be, except that this kind of judgment-making is the first of a critic's (as opposed to a scholar's) duties, and that Shivani's targets aren't unknown writers but people who run programs and contests and determine what manner of writing is published. Shivani's analysis of creative writing as a medieval guild, invested in a strict internal hierarchy for the sake of market monopoly, should be required reading for all creative writing students. It is deeply informed, spot-on, and harrowing! Our creative-writing writer-professors should all be given the hemlock!

But as Shivani himself has said in interviews, he praises as well as he condemns - and in fact there's much praise of writing that the writers believes is truer to our experience and to the demands of art. I find his praise equally convincing, and he doesn't spare the apercus on life and art that make reading criticism so worthwhile.
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