Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Michael Cunningham

Michael Cunningham
Originally uploaded by Pesky Library
Last week, we attended the Massachusetts Library Association conference. One of the highlights was an evening program with Michael Cunningham. He entertained us with stories of his writing and his novels, but his most memorable statements (to me) were those about writing in general. In particular, he said that a novel is “a dream the writer and the reader are having together.” In other words, the writer isn’t necessarily the last word on the story. Each reader brings their own experiences and feelings to a story, and therefore may see things in the story that the writer never intended or considered. His comments were made in reference to questions about interpretation of his works, and made me think about literary criticism in a new way. I had been taught to read the published critics to gain insight into stories, but didn’t necessarily think that my own insights might have the same value. Understanding the world an author grew up in gives insight only into the part of the story the author intended. The reader’s insights complete the story each time it is read. As Mr. Cunningham stated, an author "doesn't know everything" written into his or her own books.

Stories survive to be reread only because we relate to them, not because there is something that can stand alone without the reader. Classics, then, are those stories that relate to what is human inside us regardless of setting or historical era.

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