Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

Boman Desai

Boman DesaiBoman Desai is the author of four novels: The Memory of Elephants  (University of Chicago Press, 2000); Asylum, USA (HarperCollins/India, 2000); A Woman Madly in Love (Roli Books, 2004); and Servant, Master, Mistress (Roli Books, 2005). He has been published widely in the US, UK, and India in such periodicals as Another Chicago Magazine, Stand Magazine, Gay Chicago Magazine, Sonora Review, The Atlantic Literary Review, Fezana Journal, The Times of India, and The Chicago Tribune. He has also published a nonfiction novel in two volumes, Trio and Trio 2 (AuthorHouse, 2004/2006), grounded in the lives of the Schumanns and Brahms. He has taught at Truman College and Roosevelt University, won awards for short fiction (Illinois Arts Council, Stand Magazine), and had a poem and novels shortlisted for the War Poetry, Dana, and Noemi awards.

Selected Publications:

TRIO 2 (nonfiction novel), AuthorHouse, October 2006

Servant, Master, Mistress (novel), Roli Books, December 2005

“Pretty Boys and Fat Girls” (article), The Pioneer, June 14, 2004

TRIO (nonfiction novel), AuthorHouse, June 2004

A Woman Madly in Love (novel), Roli Books, March 2004

“The Boy Brahms” (article), University of California/Davis, 19th Century
Music, Fall 2003

“Bridget Allworthy Speaking” (paper), The Atlantic Literary Review,
April-June 2001

The Memory of Elephants (novel), University of Chicago Press, 2001;
HarperCollins/India, October 2000; Penguin India, 1992; Sceptre Books
(Hodder & Stoughton), 1990; Andre Deutsch, 1988

Asylum, USA (novel), HarperCollins/India, October 2000

“Goa on the Go” (travel article), Weber Studies, Winter 1998

“Meeting of the Twain” (article), The Times of India, December 1998

“Pandora’s Box” (story), VOX 2: The Gentleman Collection of New Fiction,
1997

“This Thicket,” Living in America, Westview Press, 1995

“Uncle Gottschalk’s Legacy” (story), The Raymond Gentleman Collection, 1994

“Under the Moon” (story), Another Chicago Magazine #19, 1989

“A Fine Madness” (story), Stand Magazine, Autumn 1989

“The Blond Difference” (story), Debonair, February 1986

“A Mother Who Played Mozart” (memoir), Chicago Tribune, 1982

“Bridget Allworthy Speaking – With Hindsight” (paper), Tucson, AZ, Sonora
Review #2, 1981

“A Modern Fairy Tale” (story), serialized in 12 issues of Gay Chicago
Magazine, Volume 2, Numbers 17 – 28, April 26-July 12, 1979

How I Teach:

My interest is primarily literary fiction (shorts, novellas, novels), but more than anything I look for clarity in a narrative, whether nonfiction, memoir, pop fiction, or some other genre. Think of me as a fiction doctor and you won’t go wrong, but not the kind that prescribes two aspirin and a call the next morning. Every student, and every story by every student, has different requirements. I try to isolate the strengths and weaknesses of each story, put my finger on what makes it tick, and bring that core to the surface. I ask what the student is attempting to communicate, and attempt to clarify the communication. I want to make the student’s vision more transparent. However badly someone writes, I believe everyone has something to say that no one else can say, for no other reason than that every life is unique, and as a writing instructor I try to tap their stories at the root and bring them to the surface.

I find that email is the most efficient way to send stories and critiques back and forth, backed if necessary by telephone conversations. I discuss the work as a whole to begin, providing a typewritten commentary on strengths and weaknesses, regarding plot, character, and structure, and follow with a line-edit in the form of a grid, providing page/line numbers in the first column, the problematic phrase/ sentence in the second, a possible solution or solutions in the third, and a rationale for the solutions in the fourth. If there are stories or novels that might serve as precedents for the writer I mention them. I don’t expect a student to accept all my suggestions. I do expect him to think about them. In  fact, I believe I have succeeded best when the student begins to think for himself instead of asking what I think of what he has done. I’m happy with a disagreement if the student has a rationale for the disagreement. Feelings, too, are valid, because they are your feelings – but they are not valid as critiques except insofar as they are portals to thought. If you ask yourself why you feel a particular way you will have a thought you can take to the bank.

I recommend reading widely, continually, and making notes on what you read: not just what you liked and what you didn’t, but also why. I recommend carrying a pen and pocket pad around at all times. Inspiration cannot be taught, but when a thought strikes, or an image appears, or an observation jells into an insight, WRITE IT DOWN IMMEDIATELY. You may not have a context for what you write when you write it down, but inspiration is a gift and must be treated with respect. I keep a pad by my bedside, and sometimes haven’t been able to decipher my scribble of the night before, but that has taught me to scribble legibly! I find my happiest inspirations arrive when I am at my most relaxed, just before I nod off, or waking slowly in the morning.

I don’t like the idea of grades, I don’t even like the idea of pass/fail. If a student is serious grades make no difference, he will write whether or not his work is approved, but benchmarks are necessary for degrees and a pass/fail is preferable to grades. I think of the collaboration between student and teacher as a collaboration between professionals. As a teacher I want to make the student aware of his options, the different directions he might pursue in his work, and expect what any professional might expect from another: courtesy and a timely fulfillment of obligations.

I am open to stylistic imitations. They may well be more creative than analytical papers – and Creative Writing is by definition creative more than analytical. It is also well to combine the two disciplines. I once wrote a critique of John Fowles’s novels, The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Daniel Martin, in the form of a letter from Jenny McNeil (a character in Daniel Martin) to John Fowles. I wrote about half a dozen such papers, all of which were later published in literary journals.

You may note that I have used the pronoun “he” when I might have said “he or she” to be politically correct. That was intentional, not that I wish to be politically incorrect, but that I wish to avoid the awkwardness of the phrase (more awkward in writing than in speech). One solution I have provided in writing elsewhere is for males ALWAYS to use He/Him/His and for females ALWAYS to use She/Her/ Hers. That way, not only do we avoid the awkwardness, but the reader can tell from the writing whether the author is male or female.

If you have questions about any of the above, please ask. I will be happy to answer either by email or telephone or in person.