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Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014

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Professor Jeffrey Eugenides talks about his approach to teaching writing to Princeton undergraduates and what he learns from his students. Read more.


Video Closed Captions

[music]

Jeffrey Eugenides:
Writing should make you love life more.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
I decided to be a writer when
I was quite young, about 15,

16 years old in high school.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
It happened because I read
"Portrait of the Artist as a

Jeffrey Eugenides:
Young Man" by James Joyce, and
idolized Stephen Dedalus.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
I started writing short stories
and submitting them to the

Jeffrey Eugenides:
school literary contest. I then
thought about my college

Jeffrey Eugenides:
in terms of what writer I
wanted to study with.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
John Hawkes was always a
little bit leery of my

Jeffrey Eugenides:
admiration for him, I have to say.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
I was once sitting in a class
next to him, and I turned over

Jeffrey Eugenides:
and I looked at his shoes.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
I bent over and looked at his shoes.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
And he looked at me and said,
"You even want to know what

Jeffrey Eugenides:
shoes I wear?"

Jeffrey Eugenides:
I wanted to know everything
about the guy.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
There's a way of being in the
world that a lot of my writing

Jeffrey Eugenides:
teachers had, a kind of state
of being very awake and

Jeffrey Eugenides:
attentive to the visual world
and the social world.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
I was always excited by the idea
that becoming a writer

Jeffrey Eugenides:
would make me a little more clear-headed,

Jeffrey Eugenides:
a little more alert.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
One of the reasons I like
teaching at Princeton is that

Jeffrey Eugenides:
I'm dealing with undergraduates, many of whom

Jeffrey Eugenides:
are interested in writing but
don't want to become writers.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
It's not a professional class.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
A lot of my students are obviously

Jeffrey Eugenides:
not going to be writers.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
They might be going into
business or science, some of

Jeffrey Eugenides:
them want to be diplomats.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
But I think what we do in the
creative writing class, in

Jeffrey Eugenides:
paying attention to language,
will actually be useful.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
For writers in general, it's
important to have an interest

Jeffrey Eugenides:
or mastery of other fields.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
Saul Bellow, for instance,
studied anthropology, and you

Jeffrey Eugenides:
can see how that plays
out in his novels.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
I can see that with my own
students at Princeton.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
It's one of the great
pleasures for me, is to read

Jeffrey Eugenides:
and to learn about other
fields through what the

Jeffrey Eugenides:
students write about.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
I have one assignment I give
every year, which is to write

Jeffrey Eugenides:
a story from the point
of view of an animal.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
I had one student who knew
a lot about insects.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
He chose a swarm of insects,
because the swarm basically

Jeffrey Eugenides:
operates like one organism.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
What he knew about insects,
he was able to use

Jeffrey Eugenides:
in the short story.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
When I read their work, I
usually can find writers whom

Jeffrey Eugenides:
they should read.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
And at Princeton, they go off
and they actually read it,

Jeffrey Eugenides:
it's not like I just tell them
and that's the end of it.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
So the whole semester can be
spent with what we're doing in

Jeffrey Eugenides:
the workshop, but also what he
or she is doing privately,

Jeffrey Eugenides:
reading on his or her own.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
I've heard from students, they're
very happy to have a

Jeffrey Eugenides:
place like the Lewis Center on campus.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
It is their refuge.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
It's getting bigger, it's getting built.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
Soon it's going to have its own
complex of buildings, and

Jeffrey Eugenides:
they need this place.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
It actually soothes a lot of
students on this campus.

[music]

Jeffrey Eugenides:
I was helped in my early years
by my writing teachers

Jeffrey Eugenides:
profoundly, and there is a sense that I have of

Jeffrey Eugenides:
passing that on.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
My wife says that I always come
back from teaching my

Jeffrey Eugenides:
workshop with a spring in my step.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
I think studying creative
writing will make you a better

Jeffrey Eugenides:
student of literature, and
I do think being a better

Jeffrey Eugenides:
student of literature
makes you a better

Jeffrey Eugenides:
student of human nature.

Jeffrey Eugenides:
And that certainly is going to
carry on whatever they do in

Jeffrey Eugenides:
their lives.

[music]

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