Lish figured out how he wanted to run his workshop when he started teaching undergraduates at Yale in the early 1970s. He had just turned forty and had earned a reputation as a dynamic young fiction editor. One afternoon a week, he came from the Manhattan Esquire office full of a sense of power. He asked each student to read from her work but stopped her as soon as he lost interest; usually this was before she finished the first sentence. Then he took advantage of the silence to describe, in intensely eloquent monologues that could last hours, how to write work he would want to hear read aloud. “Remember, in reaching through your writing to a reader, you are engaged in nothing so much as an act of seduction,” former student Tetman Callis recalls him saying. “Seduce the whole fucking world for all time.”

Lish’s willingness to be bored and show it was one of his strengths as an instructor. He created a situation in which each student had to approach him, like a stranger at a party or a bar, to see if she could catch his attention. Lish shot down these nervous suitors one by one, not even bothering to hear out the pickup lines they fretted over. Then he shifted in an instant to a masculine role: talking endlessly, enacting his charisma, awing his listeners into submission.

Read the full piece at The New Yorker.

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