A Fortnightly Review Portfolio
Elliott Coleman’s Seminary for Writers
by Myra Sklarew.
THE MFA IS NOW the most marketable product of America’s creative writing industry, steeped in academic credentialism, and a terminal degree. But it hasn’t always been so.
The Writing Seminars created by Elliott Coleman [1906-1980] for The Johns Hopkins University a little more than 60 years ago was one of the first of these graduate degree-granting ‘poetry and fiction workshops.’ For most of its history, participants were given the MA degree and a year to work under Prof. Coleman. During that time, the Writing Seminars attracted a surprising variety of literary artists, including John Barth, Gerald Costanzo, Louise Erdrich, Lawrence Markert, Josh Norton, P. J. O’Rourke, Charles Plymell, Louis D. Rubin, Stephen Wiest, and many others. The range of talent might have confused some who ask to teach writing. It’s interesting to consider what Coleman must have thought when he taught students as unalike as Russell Baker and Gil Scott-Heron, perhaps not the sort of writers who could sit still long enough for a two-year MFA. (In fact, Baker dropped out; Gil Scott-Heron went the distance.)
He had lived in his mind so long that by the late ’60s, Elliott Coleman was a benign, almost unassuming presence in the Seminars’ rooms. Many passed through not realizing the intellectual muscle of the modest man at the end of the table. His long list of books went unread by some students, and his beautifully written criticism – and his interest in the spiritual elements in Proust, especially – were sometimes not noticed, yet his insights were as striking as the language he used to express them:
Bernard de Fallois has remarked in his fine introduction to Against Sainte-Beuve that ‘unpublished work of Proust doesn’t exist.’ That is to say, Proust is always Proust, only sometimes more so; always all of one piece. There is about him the great monotony that he ascribed to Dostoevsky.
– A review of Jean Santeuil in the New Republic, 20 February 1956.
Coleman was always Coleman – and often more so – but there was no monotony in him, as this special Fortnightly portfolio demonstrates. It contains an appreciative essay by poet and essayist Myra Sklarew, and comments from others who studied in the Writing Seminars before the days of the MFA. The portfolio index appears as links listed above.
ELLIOTT COLEMAN 1906-1980
a partial bibliography.
The Poems of Elliott Coleman: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1940
An American in Augustland (UK/EU): University of North Carolina Press, 1940
Pearl Harbor: Hudson Press, 1942
27 Night Sonnets (New Directions, 1949)
A Glass Darkly: Contemporary Poetry, 1952
Golden Angel: Papers on Proust (UK/EU): Taylor, 1954
33 Night Sonnets (UK/EU): Contemporary Poetry, 1955
Studies in Human Time, by Georges Poulet (UK/EU): translator; The Johns Hopkins Press, 1956
Mockingbirds at Fort McHenry (UK/EU): Atlantis Editions, 1963
Broken Death (UK/EU): Linden Press, 1964
Metamorphoses of the Circle (UK/EU), by Georges Poulet: co-translator, The Johns Hopkins Press, 1966
Rose Demonics 1936-1966, chosen by Stephen Wiest: Linden Press, 1967
One Hundred Poems: Tinker, 1972
Tangerine Birds: Harbor House, 1973
Portfolios published by The Fortnightly Review’s New Series are ongoing projects.
Participants in the Writing Seminars who worked with Elliott Coleman are invited to contact the Editors at firstname.lastname@example.org . Additional material relating to the life and work of Prof Coleman will be added to this portfolio’s index on an irregular basis. Newsletter subscribers will receive notifications of these additions. Others may wish to bookmark this page and return to it from time to time.