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Marge Piercy and Ira Wood

Most people take the So You Want To Write workshop because they’ve heard that it’s one of the best ways to jump start their writing, but there’s always a percentage who show up just to spend a weekend with an author whose books have changed their lives. Marge Piercy knows this and makes it a point to be available to her students all through the weekend; in fact, one of the first things she asks is that participants please not treat her like a ‘teacher’ at all, but feel free to hang out and talk to her throughout, especially to join her at meals. If they’re surprised at this accessibility, it’s only the first of many things that shock them about the famous novelist/poet.

Although she has lectured, taught or performed at well over three hundred universities, Piercy chooses the workshop format because she has never wanted to be a full time academic. Growing up in a working class family in Detroit, she received a scholarship to the University of Michigan, where she distinguished herself by winning four prestigious Hopwood awards. But after receiving her Masters she decided against a doctorate and moved to Chicago, worked part time jobs and began to write. Struggling writers rarely fail to be inspired by a woman who chose uncertainty over a promising university career, wrote seven books before her first was accepted, and then went on to publish fifteen novels and fifteen books of poetry, win international critical acclaim and see her work translated into sixteen languages.

What her students experience in a weekend with Marge Piercy is a distinguished woman of letters who does not romanticize the writer’s life. Always in search of the source of Piercy’s amazing productivity (her thirty-sixth book, Sleeping with Cats, a memoir, is forthcoming from William Morrow in January, 2002) her students are somewhat disappointed to hear that she does not view writing as a divine agony or wait for inspiration to strike, but sits down to a day of work like everyone else. "The real writer is one/ who really writes," she says in her poem, ‘For the young who want to,’ "You have to/ like it better than being loved." People around the world have been inspired by her verse. The Moon is Always Female has sold almost one hundred thousand copies (of poetry!). One of Alfred A. Knopf’s best-selling poets, Piercy's Circles on the Water, her selected poems, is in its fourteenth printing.

But just as many Piercy fans don’t give a lick for poetry, and know her only as the author of best-sellers such as Gone to Soldiers and The Longings of Women; or classics that embodied the awakening ideas of an entire generation of women, such as Small Changes and Woman on the Edge of Time; or the futuristic environmental cyber-punk novel He, She, and It, winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Speculative Fiction in the United Kingdom.

The New York Times has called Piercy’s wide-ranging oeuvre "breathtakingly ambitious" and indeed she is a writer who refuses to be categorized. Is she a mainstream fiction writer? A nature poet? A historical novelist? A science fiction writer? A feminist theorist? A writer of liturgy? How do you square Fly Away Home, a domestic thriller (and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year) with the avowedly political Dance the Eagle to Sleep or The Art of Blessing the Day, a book of spiritual poems used in the services of many different religions. Don’t try. The subjects of her books are as diverse as her fans.

Another surprise for workshop participants is Ira. They came for the main show, to work with Piercy. They read his The Kitchen Man and laughed their butts off; they read Storm Tide—and constantly ask how two married people can possibly write a novel together. But what can he bring to the table?

What they discover is a natural teacher and a writer/publisher who has identified the various craft as well as personal issues holding many writers back and how best to approach them. As managing editor of one of the new breed of entrepreneurial independent publishing companies —According to The Boston Globe, "The pulse of what’s hot in the book publishing world … a small press with national distribution, bursting onto the scene with rare success."—Ira fills a gap left open in many writers’ workshops. He explains first-hand what a publisher is looking for in a manuscript, how to read the sub-text of rejection letters, how a writer must partner with a publisher in order to insure a book’s success.

Ira is not shy about his own tough times in publishing (29 rejections and 3 different agents for his first novel The Kitchen Man before he sold it himself to an independent press and garnered stunning reviews, a movie option/screenplay deal with Universal, and a mass paperback sale to Random House), to which all his writing students can relate. And, as a writer who has a mastered a new profession for every one of his books (A school bus driver during court-ordered busing in South Boston for The Last White Class; A gourmet waiter for The Kitchen Man; A software game designer for Going Public; an elected government official for Storm Tide) he’s a great example of how to make a go at the writing profession in the long haul.

Reviews for their last collaboration Storm Tide came up with the same word over and again, ‘seamless,’ to describe a book in which the personalities of two writers melded into one strong voice. Those who experience either their workshops or their new book, So You Want to Write come away with the impression of two highly energetic professionals who enjoy sharing unique insights gained in over seventy years of combined experience in all aspects of the publishing world and don’t shy away from their mistakes (Note page 176: Piercy’s embarrassment in sending the same work twice to a prestigious literary journal and receiving a letter back that said: "We did not care for these poems the first time we saw them and our opinion has not changed with time.")

Piercy and Wood live in a small fishing village on Cape Cod. Besides writing, teaching workshops, making personal appearances, and running a publishing company, they love organic gardening and have about an acre in cultivation. One of Piercy’s most famous poems is ‘To Be of Use’, which states in part, "The pitcher cries for water to carry/And a person for work that is real." It’s a poem in praise of hard work; an activity rarely glorified but one in which both these writers find some of their greatest pleasures and satisfaction. Find out more about Marge Piercy and her work at her website

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So You Want To Write
PUB DATE: August, 2001
CATEGORY: Writing / Self Actualization & Self Help / Reference
PAGES: 224
TRIM: 6 x 9
ISBN: 0-9679520-2-6
PRICE: $14.95 / Paperback Original 

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