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One of the key choices a writer makes when figuring out the best way to tell a story is point-of-view: why does Lillian Ross efface herself as a narrator in her famous Portrait of Hemingway? Why does the great Joseph Mitchell — so diffident a presence in most of his work — turn himself into the main character (arguably) of his masterpiece, Joe Gould’s Secret? And what about John Hersey’s decision to adopt a kind of limited, third-person omniscience via his six point-of-view characters in Hiroshima? We will discuss how the right point-of-view can turn even drossy material into pure gold, and apply this wisdom to a bit of flash fiction we’ll write in class.
Blake Bailey has written award-winning biographies of John Cheever, Richard Yates, and Charles Jackson, and is now working on the authorized biography of Philip Roth. His memoir, The Splendid Things We Planned, will be published by Norton in March 2014.