Students and Book Deals: Stephen Dixon

Bloggers and writers talk about underrated authors.

Here’s a delightful interview with former writing teacher Stephen Dixon Conducted by Lee Epstein.

I came to McSweeney’s through a student of mine, Lyndon Park. On the last day of classes, he approached me in a writing class, and said that he was an acquaintance of [Dave] Eggers and that he had heard that the book got rejected. Word gets around. Anyway, he said Dave was interested in looking at it. This was one year ago May. It marked the first time a student ever helped me get published. Saying, “Thanks. I liked the class, and by the way I have a publisher for you.”

I don’t have any special insights about Dixon’s works. But he has neurotically funny and had a fun and useful xeroxed guide to small litmags (replete with misspellings and off-the-wall remarks). He was in top form when I studied there (1989) and actually substituted for J.M. Coetzee when he had to return to South Africa for personal reasons. For Coetzee, the writing workshop environment was alien and demanded utmost seriousness (and we were on our best behavior). Writing for was a deeply personal activity, and a workshop gave this activity the atmosphere of a passionate parlor game. Coetzee gave great criticism and was good at opening up the floor to discussion, but he was less interested in improving people’s writing; instead he wanted to explore what these stories could have become.

So then, through some fluke of events, Dixon took over the class for the last 2 or 3 sessions. That sober scholarly attitude was gone, and all of us went to the workshop with a total lack of seriousness. The tension from previous workshops of Barth and Coetzee had departed, and we were there to laugh and enjoy and take pleasure in each other’s writing. Sure, it was the end of the school year, and most of us were eager to finish, but Dixon’s no-nonsense approach kept us from taking the stories too seriously and caused us to focus on the writing process itself. His attitude: write it, workshop, revise it, send it off, keep sending it off, keep sending it off until you find someone desperate/stupid enough to publish it.