Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Monday, January 26, 2009

I hope she's right: click here.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Interview with Paul Maliszewski, Day Three

More with Paul Maliszewski, author of Fakers.

Joseph: How do you categorize your book? Do you see it as literary journalism? As cultural criticism? As a kind of memoir?

Maliszewski: Can I categorize it as completed? I really don’t know. The longer parts of the book I always thought of as essays. But some of the shorter chapters began life as book reviews, although I hope they’re better written and more thoughtful than the average review, which too often consist just of summary. I sometimes thought of the book as literary criticism, since mostly what I do is read and analyze writing, trying to understand why it was put together the way it is and how it affects us and what we bring to our reading of it. You know, I assume, that nothing quite gins up book sales like an author saying he’s got a new batch of literary criticism. Categorizing is tough. Luckily for me, the publisher decided to slot the book as cultural studies. They know best.

Joseph: What other books are similar to yours? What literary tradition do you see your work fitting into?

Maliszewski: Two writers who come to mind are John McPhee and Renata Adler. I have exactly no business inserting my little book into such august company, but McPhee makes wonderful, often slyly humorous stories out of facts and Adler is a fierce and careful advocate. My writing aspires to the standards set by their work.

Joseph: What other projects are you working on?

Maliszewski: You remember those prayer stories I started writing in Martone’s class on the short-short story?

Joseph: You made a chapbook of those stories. I still have my copy, and I've shown it to about a gazillion students over the years as an example of the beauty of handmade books.

Maliszewski: I’m nearly done with that collection, which I’ve now taken to calling Prayers and Parables. I’ve been working on them longer than I have the pieces in Fakers. I’m so slow, Diana. I’m also working on a book with our friend Steve Featherstone, another survivor of Syracuse. That book is about Joseph Mitchell and his enormous collection of, for lack of a more inclusive word, stuff. Mitchell collected doorknobs and escutcheons, bricks and chunks of floor tile, everything—hundreds objects he sometimes salvaged from buildings slated for demolition or already reduced to rubble. Steve has taken photographs of the collection and I’m supposed to be writing an essay.

Now it’s my turn to ask you some questions. Fair is fair. In Fakers, I wrote some about the recent spate of fraudulent memoirs, from Frey and his A Million Little Pieces to Margaret Seltzer, the woman who invented a gang life for herself in Love and Consequences, to the fake Holocaust memoirs by Binjamin Wilkomirski (Fragments) and Misha DeFonseca, who, in Misha: Memoire of the Holocaust Years, claimed that as a child she walked across Europe and lived in the forests, among wolves. As the author of a memoir as well as—if I may—a wonderful fiction writer, did the unmasking of these shoddy memoirists cause you much worry?

Joseph: Worry about memoir’s dignity as an art form? Worry about if readers would question the validity of my stories? Actually, I worried about the writers of those fake memoirs. I worried about what was going on with Margaret Seltzer: Who is she, really, and what happened in her real life that caused to her invent this particular story? Why gang life? Why appropriate from a culture that seems so far from her own? Did she think her life was too boring? Did she think no one would be interested in the real Margaret Seltzer? I think that’s heartbreaking. I can speculate that she invented a redemption narrative, a survivor’s tale, because those memoirs sell, but that seems too easy. I can’t help but think it’s got to be more complicated. I guess I’ve got some amateur psychologist in me who wants to know what’s underneath: she fabricated a story, yes, but why this story?

Maliszewski: So you were never tempted to narrate that time teenaged Diana ran away from home, joined up with Barnum & Bailey, then left to climb Mt. Everest and ended up having to wrestle a tiger over some food?

Joseph: I told you to never speak of that.

Maliszewski: I know in your short stories you sometimes write from your life, using what happened as only a starting point. Surely, almost every fiction writer does this to some extent. When you’re writing an essay or working on this memoir though, do you find it difficult to write exclusively from life?

Joseph: I remember this essay where Flannery O’Connor is talking about writing her story “Good Country People,” how she didn’t know the Bible salesman was going to steal the lady PhD’s wooden leg until a few lines before it happened. And that’s what writing fiction does to me, too: it’s the what-happens that surprises me. I love the way characters can catch me off guard, do unexpected things.

But for me, the what-happens isn’t what’s interesting about writing essays. In essays, people have already done what they’re going to do, they’ve already said what they’re going to say. There’s no changing that. What I love is the thinking about why they’ve done it, why they’ve said it, what it means, why a reader should care.

Take this anecdote, for example. I could think all day on what it means, what it reveals about my son and me, what it says about power dynamics and competing philosophies. The boy and I recently got a kitten and while this sweet sassy ball of fluff has brought all this energy and light into the house, her presence infuriates our older cat. In fact, the older cat is so peeved that every night she hops into the kitten’s litter box where she leaves a big old nasty deposit, and—this is the best part—she doesn’t bury it. She just leaves it there to show the kitten: this is what I think of you. There’s a turf war taking place in our house. Territory is being claimed. Lines are being drawn. I look at that nasty mess in the litter box and see a metaphor. “Wouldn’t it be fantastic,” I asked the boy, “if we had that kind of power? If we could go to the bathroom, that most intimate space, at an enemy’s house and leave a little something there for him to find in the morning? Wouldn’t that send the clearest of messages?”

“It’s cat shit,” my son, the literalist, said. He's not as obsessed as I am with the search for meaning, but I'm going to give him time.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Interview with Paul Maliszewski, Day Two

For a description of Paul's book, Fakers, click here.

For Day One of our conversation, click here.

Joseph: What’s a story about fakers that didn’t make it into the book?

Maliszewski: There were a few ideas that I ended up not following up on, but there was one story, a good one I think, that just got away. In 1999 or thereabouts a doctoral student in history at Princeton fabricated the archive for her dissertation. She was working in Renaissance studies, writing about a certain village in Italy, and had come across an amazing store of village records. Her committee had read and approved of her dissertation and was all set to pass her. The committee thought very highly of both the student and her dissertation. She was the star of the department, getting much of the attention and awards. She even already had a job offer for the fall, tenure-track, at a major university. Everyone was pleased. All that remained to do was some formality, a bit of paperwork. That summer, a fellow graduate student happened to be in Italy when he realized he was near this village. He decided to stop, to see the archive for himself. He found nothing there. The records, it seems, were all invented. He and a third colleague revealed the deception, and the department withdrew the faker’s Ph.D. According to some accounts I was told, the student who discovered the fraud was, soon after, found to be faking himself, having applied to the program using forged letters of recommendation.

This story has never been written about. I heard it from a friend of a friend, who got his Ph.D. in history from a different school around the same time. By interviewing graduates of Princeton who were in the history program contemporaneously with the faker, I learned the student’s name, the name of the person who discovered her fraud, and the faculty members on her committee, several of whom are well-known. Only trouble was, nobody would talk to me and there was no record of the dissertation anywhere. I’d written about plenty of fakers without interviewing the principals, but here there wasn’t even any text for me to read. I could go no further. At least in the world of fact. In the world of fiction, maybe it’s the kernel of a novel.

Joseph: How did you decide what to keep and what to leave out?

Maliszewski: Oh, I left nothing out—except, I guess, for some of those satires that I contributed to the business newspaper. In general, I try to be pretty selective about what I write. That is, I do the selecting before I start writing. Essays are an undertaking. They involve a lot of research and time. So there were plenty of fakes I let go by, unremarked upon. And there are some infamous fakers, too, like James Frey and JT LeRoy, whom I don’t cover in great detail, simply because so much has already been written about them.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Interview with Paul Maliszewski, Day One

I recently spoke with my old friend Paul Maliszewski about his new book Fakers: Hoaxers, Con Artists, Counterfeiters, and Other Great Pretenders. Click here to read a description of the book; come back tomorrow to read the second part of the interview.

Diana Joseph: Describe the kinds of research it took to write your book.

Paul Maliszewski: Well, I interviewed the few fakers who agreed talk to me as well as some of the people fooled by various hoaxes. But mostly I just did a lot of digging, reading, say, all the fake journalism created by Stephen Glass, the reporter who fabricated all or some of twenty-seven articles for The New Republic. If my book has any value, it lies in how I look closely at the fakes themselves. That doesn’t sound extraordinary—and it shouldn’t be unusual—but much of the writing about these cases focuses on what was done—the scope of the fraud, or the brazenness—and then includes just a few examples from the fakes, for color or padding. I was more interested in the fake stories, and I read them as stories, to see how they worked and how they managed to fool us. I also read everything I could get my hands on that was even tangentially about the subject of fakery. None of this was like homework though, as I’m pretty endlessly fascinated. It’s hard for me to stop reading about the new cases that come up in the news.

Joseph: You wrote these essays over a period of ten years. Did you always envision the essays coming together to make one book?

Maliszewski: I didn’t. I’m afraid I don’t have much vision beyond writing a new essay or story and then, when I’m done, trying to follow it with something else. What I did know, however, is that after I wrote the first piece, “I, Faker,” I still wanted to write more. This was the essay about the time I spent working as a reporter at a business newspaper in Syracuse, our old stomping grounds. It was my first real job after we finished graduate school. Anyway, I got frustrated with the newspaper, by what they weren’t addressing, and so started to send satirical letters to the editor under assumed names. While I was contributing those satires, Stephen Glass was found out, and my first instinct was to think, Oh, look, here’s someone doing what I’ve been doing, just on a much larger stage. I figured I’d discovered a comrade. This was before I’d read his articles with any attention. He wasn’t, it turned out, writing satires, but what continued to drive me was this hunch that satirists, fraudulent journalists, forgers, and con artists did have some undeniable similarities. At some basic level, they’re all trying to make things that appear like other things. Their motives and intentions may be wildly different, but their techniques overlap.

Joseph: How did you become interested in fakers?

Maliszewski: I owe a huge debt to Michael Martone, one of our teachers at Syracuse. It was while we were in grad school, or shortly after, that Martone started to write pieces for The Blue Guide to Indiana, his fictional travel book for his home state. I’d always liked satire—as a kid, I read Mad magazine and watched Saturday Night Live and Monty Python, and when I lived in Pittsburgh, after college, I sat in on a class, one I still think about from time to time, on literary satire—but Martone really got me to consider the possibilities of fiction. How, for instance, can stories ape the style and language of various kinds of non-fiction? Martone liked to talk, too, about forms, the containers we make for our stories, and frames, the context in which we read or publish them. Neat stuff, as he would say.

Around the same time, I read an article by Lawrence Weschler in Harper’s called “Inhaling the Spore,” about the Museum of Jurassic Technology, a place I won’t be able to describe fully, so suffice it to say that it’s an institution housed in a nondescript storefront in Culver City, California, just outside of Los Angeles, and founded for the study of a fictional version of natural history. The exhibitions, each lovingly realized, all seem real—they have that tone of the well-informed, slightly stuffy curator—but the points where fact ends and fiction begins are exceedingly hard to detect. Weschler’s article later grew into his book Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder, which I recommend and continue to press on friends.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fakers: Hoaxers, Con Artists, Counterfeiters, and Other Great Pretenders by Paul Maliszewski

Over the next several days, I'm going to post an interview with my dear friend Paul Maliszewski, whose new book Fakers is just coming out. Paul and I were MFA students at Syracuse University together. Here's what I'll tell you about him: in addition to being kind about my cooking, he was also sweet to my kid. He was funny and wise and usually the smartest person in the room. His workshop comments were right on. He was--and still is--such a great writer.

Here's his official biography:
Paul Maliszewski has published his fiction and essays in Bookforum, Harper's, Granta, and the Paris Review, and his stories have twice received a Pushcart Prize. Fakers is his first book. He lives in Washington, D.C.

From the Publisher:
For anyone who has ever lied—-or been lied to—-True-life tales about faking, from Clifford Irving to Stephen Glass, by an award-winning writer.

"Fakers are believed-—and, at least for a time, celebrated-—because they each promise us, screen-gazing and experience-starved, something real and authentic, a view, however fleeting, of a great thing rarely glimpsed." —from Fakers

From James Frey and his fake memories of drug-addled dissolution to Stephen Glass and his fake dispatches from the fringes of politics to the author formerly known as JT LeRoy and his fake rural tough talk, we are beset by real-seeming fiction masquerading as truth. We are living in the era of the fake.

Fakers is a fascinating exploration of the varieties of faking, from its historical roots in satire and con artistry to its current boom. Paul Maliszewski journeys into the heart of our fake world, telling tales of the New York Sun's 1835 moon hoax, the invented poet Ern Malley (the inspiration for Peter Carey's novel My Life as a Fake), and Maliszewski's own satiric letters to the editor of the Business Journal of Central New York (written, unbeknownst to the editor, while he worked there as a reporter). Through these stories, he explains why fakers almost always find believers and often flourish.

Since 1997, the author has been on the trail of fakers and believers, asking the tricksters why they dissembled and the believers why they were ever fooled. Fakers tells us much about what we believe and want, why we trust, and why we still get duped.

The essays in Fakers explore:

• Jayson Blair's faked New York Times stories, about Jessica Lynch and much else

• Early American con artists

• Oscar Hartzell and the long-running Drake's fortune scam

• Internet hoaxes about man-eating bears

• Han van Meegeren's forged Vermeers

• Clifford Irving's fake autobiography of Howard Hughes

• Michael Chabon's fictionalized version of his early years

• Binjamin Wilkomirski's fabricated Holocaust memoir

• In-depth interviews with three fakers: journalist Michael Finkel, painter Sandow Birk, and performance artist Joey Skaggs

Monday, January 19, 2009

The guy loves books: click here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I wish I could hang out at this book store: click here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

For Cormac McCarthy's papers, click here.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Saturday, January 10, 2009

English 211 Women's Literature

Professor Diana Joseph

Office: AH 201 L, extension 5144

Office Hours: On Campus: Tuesday & Thursday 12-2; Wednesday 2-3; or by appointment

Online: Monday & Friday 10-12

Email: diana.joseph@mnsu.edu

English 211: Women’s Literature

Course Description

This section of English 211 focuses on women’s literature. In it, we will explore how selected women writers explore questions about gender and identity, women’s roles within the family and the community, and how women have been perceived culturally and historically; we will also examine their artistic concerns, themes, images, and metaphors. Because this course is writing intensive, various genres of writing will be read, discussed, and produced.

Course Goals:

This course will address the following competencies for three General Education categories.

Category 1c: Writing Intensive

Goal: Students will continue to develop skills taught in Composition, applying them in the context of a particular discipline.

Students will be able to:

(a) use writing to explore and gain a basic familiarity with the questions, values and analytical or critical thinking methods used in the discipline;

(b) locate, analyze, evaluate, and use source material or data in their writing in a manner appropriate to intended audiences (popular or within the discipline)

Category 6: Humanities and the Arts

Goal: To expand students' knowledge of the human condition and human cultures, especially in relation to behavior, ideas, and values expressed in works of human imagination and thought. Through study in disciplines such as literature, philosophy, the fine arts, students will engage in critical analysis, form aesthetic judgments, and develop an appreciation of the arts and humanities as fundamental to the experiences in both the arts and humanities.

Students will be able to:

(a) demonstrate awareness of the scope and variety of works in the arts and humanities;

(b) understand those works as expressions of individual and human values within a historical and social context;

(c) respond critically to works in the arts and humanities;

(e) articulate an informed personal reaction to works in the arts and humanities.

Category 7: Human Diversity

Goal: To increase students' understanding of individual and group differences, emphasizing the dynamics of race, gender, sexual orientation, age class, and/or disabilities in the history and culture of diverse groups in the United States; the contributions of pluralism to United States society and culture; and issues--economic, political, social, cultural, artistic, humanistic, and education traditions--that surround such diversity. Students should be able to evaluate the United States' historical and contemporary responses to group differences.

Students will be able to:

(a) understand the development of and the changing meanings of group identities in the United States' history and culture;

(b) demonstrate an awareness of the individual and institution dynamics of unequal power relations between groups in contemporary society;

(c) analyze and evaluate their own attitudes, behaviors, concepts, and beliefs regarding diversity, racism, and bigotry;

(d) describe and discuss the experience and contributions (political, social, economic, artistic, humanistic, etc.) of the many groups that shape American society and culture, in particular those groups which have suffered discrimination and exclusion;

(e) demonstrate communication skills necessary for living and working effectively in a society with great population diversity.

Course Requirements and Grading

In accordance with university policy allowing shaded grades, grades for this course include plusses and minuses.

Texts and Materials


Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango House.

Karr, Mary. The Liars’ Club.

McCracken, Elizabeth. An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination.

Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis.

$ for copying/printing expenses. All outside readings must be printed and brought to class.


Any English handbook that details MLA documentation


1. Reading Quizzes= 10%

At the beginning of almost every class, I’ll give a quiz for that day’s reading assignment. Each quiz will be worth ten points (five questions; two points each.) Quizzes missed because of absence or tardiness cannot be made up, but I will drop your three lowest scores.

2. Participation=10%

Participation is not merely showing up for class—that’s attendance. I define participation as your

active engagement with the class demonstrated through thoughtful contributions to class discussion,

evidence of preparedness, and helpful feedback during workshops. Because this class relies so heavily on

participation, you can’t sit silently and expect to do well (that’s called intellectual freeloading.) But I also

don’t want one voice to dominate class discussions. Expect to listen as much as you talk. Finally, each of

you will offer an assessment of your peers workshop responses; I will take this into consideration when

determining participation grades.

3. Essays

You’ll write two formal essays: a Personal Narrative=30% and a Research Paper=30%

Each essay will be generated by a prompt/exercise assigned in class; at least one of these will go through a large group workshop. Each essay is due in hard copy (not emailed) at the beginning of class on the assigned date. You’ll receive a criteria sheet for each essay that details its specific requirements.

4. Final Exam=20%

This exam will be comprised of questions that require an in-class, written critical response to the assigned readings.

Course Policies

All course work must be completed to pass this class.

All work must be typed; handwritten work will not be accepted.

Academic dishonesty will not be tolerated; it may result in failure of the class.

Graded essays drop five points for every day (including weekends) they are late.

Frequent tardiness will negatively impact your grade.

Readings and assignments are tentative and subject to change.

All writing you do for this class is considered public text.

I’m available for help outside class during my office hours or by appointment.

Drafts are due the class day BEFORE your workshop. Bring copies for everyone in the class.

Workshops cannot be made up. Absence on your workshop day or failing to turn in your

workshop draft wastes your peers’ time and results in a five point deduction from that

assignment’s grade.

English 211 Schedule of Events

Tuesday, January 13 Orlean, “The American Man at Age Ten”

Thursday, January 15 Kinkaid, “Girl”

Tuesday, January 20 Beard, “The Fourth State of Matter”

Thursday, January 22 Allison, “This Is Our World”

Tuesday, January 27 Cisneros

Thursday, January 29 Minot, “Lust”

Tuesday, February 3 Rosin, “A Boy’s Life”

Thursday, February 5 Ruiz, “Oranges and Sweet Sister Boy”

Tuesday, February 10—March 5 Large Group Workshop

March 10/March 12—Spring Break

Tuesday, March 17 Personal Narrative Due

Thursday, March 19 Satrapi

Tuesday, March 24 McCracken

Thursday, March 26 Karr

Tuesday, March 31 Karr

Thursday, April 2—April 28 Large Group Workshop

Thursday, April 30 Researched Personal Narratives Due

Final Exam: Wednesday, May 6 10:15 a.m. - 12:15 p.m

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

English 340 Form and Technique

Professor Diana Joseph

Interns: Alex Phillips

Lesley Arimah

Office: AH 201 L, extension 5144

Office Hours: Tuesday & Thursday 12-2; Wednesday 2-3; or by appointment

Online: Monday & Friday 10-12

Email: diana.joseph@mnsu.edu

English 340: Form and Technique in Prose

This course studies the technical underpinnings of prose genres. Through lectures, readings, class

discussions, exercises in imitation, and large and small group workshops, we will examine the

relationship between form and content. Specifically, we will pay close attention to technical matters

including point of view, characterization, setting/place, tone, style, imagery, structure, and theme.

Required Texts and Materials

The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction, ed. Martone

$ for copying expenses

$ for printing expenses—you must print the outside readings and bring a copy to class


1. Imitation Notebook=25%

For each piece we read, I’ll give you an imitation exercise. You’ll begin it in class and complete it on

Your own time. These exercises must be typed and double-spaced. You will have at least 3 opportunities

to workshop one of these exercises in a small group. Toward the end of the semester you’ll develop your

one of your exercises into a full-length imitation of the original text. We’ll workshop these in a large

group. You’ll turn in your story, all drafts and revisions, along with a reflective preface on Finals Day.

2. Craft Analysis=25%

Select a story from any edition of Best American Short Stories between 1994—2007 OR an essay from

any edition of Best American Essays 1994—2007. The piece you pick should be one you love. Make a

copy that you’ll turn in to you with your essay.

If you’re writing about a short story:

In your craft analysis, define, then discuss and analyze ONE of the following elements of fiction as it

relates to the story you selected. Support and illustrate claims with specific examples from the text;

explain how and why the examples support your claim.

Point of view








If you’re writing about an essay:

In your craft analysis, define, then discuss and analyze ONE of the following elements of nonfiction as it

relates to the essay you selected. Support and illustrate claims with specific examples from the text;

explain how and why the examples support your claim.

Voice and/or the role of the “I” in the narrative

Characterization and/or the writer’s responsibility to subjects




Research, Reporting, and/or “Immersion” in the subject

Thematic development

3. Participation=25%

Participation is not merely showing up for class—that’s called attendance. I define participation as your

active engagement with the class demonstrated through thoughtful contributions to class discussion,

evidence of preparedness, and helpful feedback during workshops. Because this class relies so heavily on

participation, you can’t sit silently and expect to do well (that’s called intellectual freeloading.) But I also

don’t want one voice to dominate class discussions. Expect to listen as much as you talk. I don’t want to

give reading quizzes so do the readings. Finally, each of you will offer an assessment of your peers

workshop responses; I will take this into consideration when determining participation grades.

4. Self-Assessment=25%

I don’t grade creative work; I grade your ability to explain what you’ve come to understand about

craft. In your Self-Assessment, you’ll describe and justify the craft choices you made for your full-length

story or essay.

Class Policies

Each absence over 3 will lower your final grade by 5%. I do not distinguish between excused and

unexcused absence. Frequent tardiness will affect your participation grade. All coursework must be

completed to pass this class. Writing done for this class is considered public text. Assignments are

tentative and subject to change. Academic dishonesty will not be tolerated; it may result in failure of the

class. I’m available for help outside class during my office hours or by appointment.

English 340 Schedule of Events

Tuesday, January 13 Orlean, “The American Man at Age Ten”

Thursday, January 15 Joseph, “The Devil I Know is the Man Upstairs”

Tuesday, January 20 O’brien, “The Things They Carried,” 501

Thursday, January 22 Kincaid, “Girl,” 398

Tuesday, January 27 Williams, “Taking Care,” 659

Thursday, January 29—February 5 Small Groups

Tuesday, February 10 Sedaris, “Ashes”

Thursday, February 12 Toure, “What’s Inside You, Brother?”

Tuesday, February 17 Braverman, “Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta,” 167

Thursday, February 19 Richard, “Strays,” 542

Tuesday, February 24 Alexie, “This Is What It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona,” 21

Thursday, February 26—March 5 Small Groups

March 10/March 12—Spring Break

Tuesday, March 17 Klosterman, “Bill Sim”

Thursday, March 19 Baxter, “Gryphon,” 131

Tuesday, March 24 Johnson, “Emergency,” 351

Thursday, March 26 Beard, “The Fourth State of Matter”

Tuesday, March 31—April 30 Large Group Workshop

Final Exam: Tuesday, May 5 12:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.

When writers are like other writers: click here.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

This has nothing to do with syllabi, books, writing, or reading. For a momentary distraction from a case of the blahs, click here.