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Every few years, I find myself going back to classic noir: Hammet, Cain, Highsmith. I used to think it was the breathless, hard narratives drawing me in. But I’ve realized it’s the writing I go back for—the clear rhythm and compression, an almost musical quality that reminds me how voice can rise from the first sentence to hold a story together, almost like the melody of a song. It reminds me of an old saying: The only truly American arts are jazz and noir. In this class, we’ll listen to some classic noir together, for its dialogue and pacing, for its syncopation and simplicity. We’ll write a line or two and see what we can learn by taking the crime out of crime fiction.
Jess Walter is the author of eight books, including the 2013 #1 New York Times bestseller, Beautiful Ruins (Harper, 2012); The Zero (2006), finalist for the 2006 National Book Award, and Citizen Vince (2004), winner of the 2005 Edgar Allan Poe Award.