Report from The Writing Center


I read on Sunday with Robert Bausch, the brother of the amazing short story Richard Bausch at The Writing Center in Bethesda. My understanding is that they are twins. Robert Bausch is a great writer as well and in talking about his brother freely worshiped his brother writing. If my brother was a writer I don’t know if I could handle this. If my brother was a writer who wrote amazing short stories I would throw myself off a bridge. My brother, luckily for me, does other things than write short stories.


For some reason I thought I could sleep on the plane. I flew from Seattle to Atlanta in the middle of the night only sleeping when I nodded off. I would wake without realizing I dozed off. My head was lodged between the headrest and the window. I woke when the stewardess passed down the aisle handing out crackers and cheese which I ate despite not being hungry because it was the middle of the night. Still in the middle of the night the plane landed in Georgia where I found a Seattle’s Best Coffee, a chain that has essentially disappeared from Seattle. The only store I know about in Seattle is in the Public Market. From Atlanta I shuffled out with the line of passengers across the tarmac to a tiny jet that would take me to Baltimore. The Baltimore airport was completely under construction and empty. The man behind began to mumble something about zombies. “Have they eaten everyone?” We waited for a bus to take us to the rental car place and slowly the confusion I always feel in the wilds of the east coast began to settle in. In the west we live in urban areas defined by grids. Every city is a massive grid and if you understand where the point of origin is, First and Main for instance, then everything is located in relation to this spot. The cities in the east are by comparison organic blobs. There is no sense and instead I would find the highway that would take me from one blob to the next. I drove to the outer edge of the DC blob on the beltway where I was going to stay.

The following day I went to teach a class on the short short story at The Writing Center in Bethesda. The Writing Center is just over twenty-five years old and is one of the oldest community writing centers in the country and as similar to The Loft in Minneapolis and Richard Hugo House in Seattle. Hugo House, perhaps as a newer institution is a bit confused about its purpose. The Writing Center belongs to an older mind-set that I found comforting in its familiarity. The center supports writers who don’t have a wide audience and who are creating work that is specific and expressive of the artists take on the world. These places support literature as a kind of fine art. People are concerned with the idea of quality over utility even if they have a pretty fuzzy idea of what they mean by quality. The fuzziness in the definition is I think a source of vitality. It provides friction and room for dissent. And so the writers, such as me, who end up going to a place like the Writer’s Center do not have a wide audience and are unsure really of who even reads their work. Hugo House on other hand anticipates I think a writing center such as David Eggers’s admirably utilitarian 826 Centers. There is a social mission of literacy and access for underserved populations rests at the core of these places. They are less concerned with fuzzy terms such as “quality” and more concerned with function and process. I can’t help but think it is Hugo House’s flirting with the idea of quality has created for some of the frictions at the place.

One of the interesting features of The Writing Center are the accumulated works on the shelves that are organized less like a library then the cast off casings of a massive insect. There are tiny books of poetry from the early 1980s bound with plastic rivets alongside the collected short stories of Richard Yates.

I read on Sunday with Robert Bausch, the brother of the amazing short story Richard Bausch at The Writing Center in Bethesda. My understanding is that they are twins. Robert Bausch is a great writer as well and in talking about his brother freely worshiped his brother writing. If my brother was a writer I don’t know if I could handle this. If my brother was a writer who wrote amazing short stories I would throw myself off a bridge. My brother, luckily for me, does other things than write short stories.

The only problem was that Robert Bausch was stuck in traffic south of the blob of DC on I-95. Here is Sunil Freeman, the assistant director of the center, on the phone with Bausch while Bausch is trying to shout a hole with expletives through the line of cars on I-95.

My job was to filibuster and read from my work until he showed up for the audience that had arrived to see him and were kind enough to let me keep reading until he showed up. I read what I’d planned to read from Shoot the Buffalo and didn’t have to keep reading because Robert Bausch arrived and even laughed at a bit and then he read from his excellent and brutal new novel, Out of Season.

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