Creative Writing

THE BIG X
Unravelling Mysteries in a Workshop for Fine Writing

By Elizabeth Tallent

See also Prominent Authors on the Creative Writing Program



IMAGINE A CLASSROOM crowded with clean-shaven young soldiers newly returned from a war. Imagine these young men unable to slouch or sprawl, as your writing students always have before, but sitting in straight, starchily attentive ranks because military discipline has owned them for so long, and is reluctant to let go. Moreover, they don’t know who they will be when it does let go. Imagine reading their eyes for proof of damage.

Your gaze is unreadably returned. My God, they’re polite, but it’s a complicated courtesy, laced with great expectations. Of themselves. Of, of course, you. In fact, you are barely 10 years older than they are, unlikely to impress them as an authority, unsure where to begin, though you know they have seen things, though you know each young man has stories to tell as surely as he has a heartbeat. In spite of themselves, in spite of the rigors drilled into them, they give some signs of impatience. Pens are picked up, throats are cleared. Your private uncertainty will soon be a classroom-wide affliction. If, for a moment’s relief, you look away, out the window, you have to confront another new fact of your life: California. You’ve come to Stanford fresh from Harvard. In a profound sense, you’re not sure what you’ve done. This is the fall of 1945.

“Suddenly, I was surrounded by GI students just out of the armed services, much more mature than the ordinary college student, with many more things to write, and with a sense of urgency brought on by three or four years of lost time in the army or navy.”

The Big X (Plain text)

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MARCH/APRIL 1996

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