A candid snapshot of the literature faculty and visiting poets from 1983 (from L to R: Arturo Vivante, Stephen Sandy, Linda Pastan, Peter Pastan, Maxine Kumin, Nicholas Delbanco, Ben Belitt)
When Literary Bennington spoke with novelist Nicholas Delbanco this past fall about the years he spent on the faculty at Bennington (1966-1984), he used a phrase from the Latin to describe the place of creative ‘makers’ at the school: primus inter pares. Or, “first among equals.” By this he meant that working poets, dancers, visual artists, novelists and musicians etc. had always had an honored place at the school; it was understood, first, that actively making art constituted a unique qualification for being able to teach in the disciplines of the liberal arts, and second, that bringing together artists to teach on a faculty would inspire previously unheard of collaborations and new forms of creative expression among the students.
Delbanco is the author of nineteen novels, two collections of short fiction, nine book length works of non-fiction and nine other miscellaneous titles (and still counting!). The year he joined the faculty, in 1966, was the same year that his colleague Bernard Malamud’s novel The Fixer was published; the other acclaimed writers on the faculty included poet Ben Belitt, Claude Fredericks, and Stanley Edgar Hyman. There was, as Delbanco would later write about the remarkable group of writers who congregated near Kent and East Sussex in England at the end of the 19th Century (Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane, Ford Madox Ford, Henry James, H.G. Wells), a “sense of shared endeavor.”
Assignment. For this next week, I’d like you to finish reading Malmud’s The Fixer to its bitter, hallucinatory end. The comments about the novel in the class Forum thus far have been particularly sharp (thank you!), and I’ll be eager to hear from more of you as the book sinks in …
For those of you interested in opening a time capsule to the literary world of the time, here is the original review of The Fixer in The New York Times on August 29, 1966.
Back to our time: I wonder how you feel about the sentiment behind this passage from Jonathan Safran Foer’s introduction to the FSG paperback?
“When I finished reading this novel, I felt castigated and inspired. Grumbling about the state of the world suddenly wasn’t enough. And excusing myself from political activity felt wrong. In light of this book, my inaction felt immoral. While The Fixer isn’t a book about morality, it is a moral book. That is, rather than offering a flimsy directive, it presents the reader with a forceful question: Why aren’t you doing anything good?”
See you in the Forum!