Johns Hopkins Gazette: November 28, 1994


Author Teaches Students to Perfect Critical Eye
By Sujata Massey

     Francine Prose, a Writing Seminars visiting professor in
fiction, wields a pen like a scalpel.
     Her two collections of short stories and eight novels
dissect social worlds from the U.S. embassy in Port au Prince to
New York's Hudson River Valley mansions and Fire Island beach
houses.
     Prose, who will read from her work Tuesday, Nov. 29, at 8
p.m. in the Garrett Room of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library, has
been a writer since childhood.
     "Writing was the only thing I could ever do, the only skill
I ever had," she said almost apologetically during a telephone
interview from her home in upstate New York. 
     The teaching of writing is something she believes in. As an
undergraduate at Harvard University she studied writing; she
feels her future was shaped by a particularly good workshop. She
went on to teach writing at Harvard, and later at the University
of Iowa, the University of Arizona and Sarah Lawrence College.
     Prose travels eight hours round-trip every Tuesday to be
with the group of graduate students she coaches. The ultimate
role of a writing teacher, she believes, is to show students how
to appraise their work critically.
     "Certainly, editing can be taught, which is what I would
hope to teach my students," she said.
     Prose's most recent books are The Peaceable Kingdom and
Primitive People, which is about an au pair from Haiti who
arrives in New York's Hudson River Valley and finds herself
caught up in the social savagery practiced by the area's wealthy.
     An earlier book, Household Saints, is the magic-realist tale
of a girl who aspires to sainthood while growing up in New York's
Little Italy. In 1993, Household Saints was made into a film
directed by Nancy Savoca.
     "I loved it," the author said of the movie. "It was
absolutely true to the book."
        Her next work, Hunters and Gatherers, is scheduled for
publication by Farrar, Straus and Giroux next spring.
       "It's about a man who wanders into a group of new age
goddesses," Prose said. "It takes place mostly in New York City
and Fire Island, and then the whole goddess-worshiping group goes
out to the Arizona desert."
       Travel writing is a parallel career that gets Prose out of
her study. She has journeyed to Macedonia, Prague and the Loire
Valley for publications including Vogue, Condé Nast Traveler and
The New York Times. In next month's issue of Travel and Leisure,
Prose describes her experiences celebrating last Christmas in
Provence.
       "It's just amazing that someone would pay you to go
somewhere," she said. "I also like doing it because it gives you
a focus while you're traveling. You know what you're looking
for."

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