Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

David Anthony Durham

David Anthony Durham is the author of six novels: The Sacred Band, The Other Lands, Acacia (John W Campbell Award Winner, Finalist for the Prix Imaginales), Pride of Carthage (Finalist for the Legacy Award), Walk Through Darkness (NY Times Notable Book) and Gabriel’s Story (NY Times Notable Book, Legacy Award Winner). His writing ranges from literary novels of the African-American experience, to historical fiction set in the ancient world, to fantasy and science fiction. He writes for the Wild Cards series of collaborative novels, edited by George RR Martin, with stories appearing in Fort Freak, Lowball and forthcoming in Highstakes. His short fiction has been anthologized in Unbound, Unfettered, It’s All Love, Intimacy: Erotic Stories of Love, Lust, and Marriage by Black Men, and in Gumbo: A Celebration of African American Writing. His novels have been published in French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish and Swedish. Four of his novels have been optioned for development as feature films. His next novel, The Risen, is scheduled for publication in 2016.

Selected Publications:

The Sacred Band (Doubleday, October 2011)

The Other Lands (Doubleday, September 2009)

Acacia: The War With The Mein (Doubleday, June 2007)

Pride of Carthage : A Novel of Hannibal (Doubleday, January 2005)

Walk Through Darkness (Doubleday, April 2002)

Gabriel's Story: A Novel (Doubleday, 2001)

How I Teach:

While I certainly learned from my experiences in a workshop-based MFA, I got the most out of a few quality interactions with sympathetic readers committed to pushing me and my writing forward. Such friends/teachers are somewhat rare. As they helped me tremendously I've endeavored to model the best of those experiences when I work with aspiring writers. The most rewarding teaching experiences I've had have been with students I've mentored over time. I'm at my most helpful when I've the intimacy to evaluate just what a writer is aspiring to, how they could do so most effectively, and when I have their undivided attention to challenge and encourage them. The writing life is not easy - not emotionally, intellectually, or financially - and it takes a brave and hardworking person to succeed at it. I try to be as encouraging as I can while also being demanding enough to nurture writing discipline and being honest about the pitfalls, joys and realities of life as a writer. I can't provide a student the unique talent that resides within them, nor the varied host of life experiences that have formed them, but I always do my best to help them find the craft, style, inspiration - and to instill in them the discipline and resilience necessary - to achieve the most they can in their journey as writers.

As a teacher, I like to correspond primarily via email, with phone calls as appropriate. I prepare a page or two of written response to each writing installment and also make line edits on the manuscripts. I return via email. In my response I address whatever thematic or stylistic issues require the most attention. These written responses require me to cut directly to the issues I see as the most important. It's always good to talk/write more in depth about the issues raised in the written responses, but I do think putting it in writing first helps me to start from a point of greatest clarity, from which we can expand through further dialogue.

I approach line edits in much the same was as I revise my own writing, trying to strengthen the clarity and artistry of each sentence while still moving the narrative forward. Despite the fact that my last novel was almost 600 pages long and my next is shaping up to be longer, I do believe in editing for brevity, in trying to write with economy that delivers your story in your particular style, but does so as leanly as possible.

I don't have particular writing exercises planned ahead of time. I'm open to anyone who requests exercises, but I generally make decisions on this with each student once I have an idea of what a student aspires to. Critical annotations I grade pass/fail, with comments about particular aspects as they strike me. Thoughtful response papers and stylistic imitations are welcome. I'm interested in the quality of the student's ideas, how convincingly they present/demonstrate them, and how these thoughts can be folded back into the student's writing in productive ways.

It may be obvious that I like to combine literary writing with strong plotlines. I like a good story. I believe that storytelling is a rich medium for positive change and growth in a great many ways. I'm confident that fiction can be intellectually challenging, literary, important, touching, and that it can be engaging in terms of plot, drama, danger, suspense. From a professional standpoint I may have particularly personal advice for students working with material similar to mine, but I don't at all feel hampered in working within different genres and styles, or with those writing from different gender, race or any other sort of social perspective. For me, literature has always been a process of learning from other people more about what it means to be human. My published work is a part of my identity as a person and a writer, but it's only a portion of what I hope will be a large, diverse body of work. Equally, I know I get the most out of working with a diverse group of students who challenge me to look at the creative process through different lenses.