AWP Dispatch: Writer as Thief

This blog post comes from Kerry Booth, who you may have noticed shaved his head for a fundraiser recently. A short story writer and professional party attender, Kerry wrote up a few of the sessions, so keep checking back.

Writer as Thief: Stealing Effectively and Learning from the Greats.

This panel, tracing some writing directly and indirectly to the Bible, was both definitive and less so about the rules of thievery.

It happens. Thievery happens, but as one panelist said, “Good books talk to each other.” It is inevitable that what we read – and as writers we have to read – will color what we write. It is for us to discover what is ours and what is borrowed – and how to deal with it.

There are some rules people stick to: steal only from dead authors, steal only to pay tribute.

In a time of sampling and “found” poetry, what can be defined as one person’s art is ever expanding. One way to lower the possibility of using someone else’s work is to read across genres, times and languages.

One audience member was particularly vexed because he noticed a line from one of his poems, in a collection coming out in the very near future, was exactly like one he found in a Lorca poem. He wondered what he should do. The panel, acting like a dentist asked for medical advice, chose to side-step the question and focus on the idea why the theft of writing is so horrible. Perhaps, as one panelist said, it is our own slice of immortality; he went on to say that “writing is protected due to the intent of immortality.”

Their advice: steal from others in ways and amounts you would have posterity take from you.

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