To the editors.
Sharon Solwitz, in the 10 June issue of the Reader, wrote an interesting article, “The Gospel According to Gordon Lish.” Gospel is something that doesn’t change. Those of us who work with Gordon know that he is always changing, that he respects most what is unique and different. Sharon Solwitz refers to Lish as a guru, and mentions the “cultish” aspect of Lish followers. This might be true for those who look for gurus and like the idea of cults. I don’t know. I have never looked for a guru nor have I ever joined anything in my life. I do know that I have worked closely with Gordon for over two years. Lish’s most important quality is that he has the soul of a teacher, who loves to teach, and who believes teaching is the highest calling. Once long ago, I read that to teach means to “draw out.” Gordon has “drawn out” more writers than any editor in America. This giving and loving help to writers is part of his heritage that will last and stay forever. When he believes in a writer he is never critical or condemning. He is the gentlest friend and, on the page, with the words, the kindest editor. Unlike Sharon Solwitz, I never attended a Lish workshop with vague dreams of a contract with “Knopf.” I went for the hell of it, even resenting going, went because the first workshop was run by good friends. I went to his first Chicago workshop and I found an editor and a friend. Unlike Sharon Solwitz who only read her first sentence and part of a second sentence at this last workshop, in the first workshop I attended, Gordon had me read my entire story, which was five pages long. He let me read the story, a story of aging strippers in Cal City, because he felt it was honest.
When Diane Williams attended Gordon’s Manhattan workshop, she was already an established writer and editor. She went to New York because she wanted to learn more. Diane never scabbed her knees from the long crawl, as Sharon Solwitz indicated. Diane went because she felt it was a privilege to attend. I would have gone to New York too, but time and family obligations prevented this. I have only worked with Gordon through letters and mail. In her article Sharon Solwitz misquotes Gordon, “Sharon Korshak and Anne Brashler are ‘trying.'” Anne Brashler has published over forty short stories and won numerous prizes both for fiction and poetry. I have published stories in numerous magazines, and have stories in issues three, four, five, and six of Gordon’s “Quarterly,” and upcoming contracts for five more stories. What Gordon actually said about me was, “I know Sharon Korshak better than anybody in the world and I know what she could be if she tried.” I have been in contact with Gordon each week for two years, and what he meant is that he wants me to take myself seriously. Sharon Solwitz’s misquote made it sound like Diane, Anne, and I were sitting at his feet, waiting for crumbs from his table. Gordon is our editor and friend, and all three of us feel we have learned from him, but he is not our “guru.” Writers learn from every person they meet, from all encounters in their lives. Learning for writers is an ongoing, ever-changing process. Most of Gordon’s writers are very different, different souls, and he is the first to recognize and appreciate this.
In the interest of responsible journalism, I wish Sharon Solwitz had called me before she used my name. Yet, in another sense, Diane Williams, Anne Brashler, and I, are always trying. I think Sharon Solwitz is trying, too. In the sense that we are serious writers, we will be trying all our lives, trying to write as honestly and truthfully as we can, trying to do work we care about and believe in. This is our calling, our vocation. Picasso said, “Art is the lie that tells the truth.” And to tell the truth, which is what Gordon tries to teach writers, is the most difficult job in the world.
North Lake Shore Drive
Sharon Solwitz replies:
The letter is, for the most part, its own rebuttal. I want simply to reassert that the statement Ms. Korshak calls into question appeared in print exactly as it issued from guru’s mouth, unmodified, unqualified, unsubordinated: “Anne Brashler and Sharon Korshak are trying.”