Performance Criticism: Dramatizing the Nature and Art of Fiction in Teaching

By David Madden.

Published by The International Journal of the Book

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

My teaching in all genres of literature over the past half-century has always been affected by my aesthetic as the author of 10 novels, two collections of stories, poems, plays, literary essays; both creative writing and creative teaching are simultaneously products of my innovative temperament.
On the assumption that the range of things I have learned may be suggestive for writers and teachers, I would like to describe in a talk or on a panel one or more of my experiments in teaching literature, especially fiction, as they relate to the nature and art of writing fiction. Here’s an example: focusing on the art of fiction, less than the thematic element (which follows naturally from the art), I once taught introduction to fiction for the general student (40) by devoting the entire 50 minute class, three times a week, to writing only. I dictated 5 key questions and I gave students about 10 minutes to respond (producing 100 pages by semester’s end). This intimate engagement of the student with each story proved, as students testified, to enable the student to learn about the art of fiction in such ways as to be able to read intelligently any “difficult” work of fiction in the future. Hard work and pure enjoyment happened immediately hand in hand. I will repeat that approach with 240 students in a single class next spring. Presently, however, with 40 students, my approach is no writing at all, rather the focus is on what I call performance criticism, a new genre, I think, which I have developed also as a critic. Two students, one prepared, one called on at random, perform a key passage in the assigned story for about 10 minutes, then describe the aspect of the art of fiction that he/she has just performed. Then, the rest of the students demonstrate intelligent listening in their comments on both the performance and the critical points the performer made.

Keywords: Performance Criticism, Dramatic demonstration, Nature of fiction, Art of fiction, Teaching fiction

The International Journal of the Book, Volume 4, Issue 4, pp.89-94. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 785.033KB).

Prof. David Madden

Donald and Velvia Crumbley Professor of Creative Writing, English Dept., Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, USA

The title of a just-published book about his life and writing sums up well: David Madden: A Writer for all Genres. He was assistant editor of The Kenyon Review, founding Director of LSU’s Creative Writing Program, and founding Director of the United States Civil War Center 1992-1999. Since 1961, he has published 9 novels and two collections of stories, several of which have won national awards, two nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, one made into a movie, another optioned. He recently a short novel and a trilogy set on ancient London Bridge. Among his works of literary criticism are: Wright Morris, A Primer of the Novel, Harlequin's Stick, Charlie's Cane, James M. Cain, Revising Fiction, and The Poetic Image in Six Genres. He has published essays on American, British, and French novelists, classic and modern, and edited many books of original critical essays on James Agee, Nathanael West, Robert Penn Waren, Civil War novels, and tough guy and proletarian literature of the Thirties. A second collection of his essays was published this July: Touching the Web of Southern Novelists.


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