Friday, November 14, 2014

My hero / Jim Shepard by Joshua Ferris

Jim Shepard
Photo by Barry Goldstein
Poster by T.A.

My hero: Jim Shepard by Joshua Ferris

The American short-story writer and novelist is the finest living teacher of fiction. His insight is humbling, outrageously perceptive and full of humour

Joshua Ferris
Friday 14 November 2014

n life a few fine souls come along to make a strenuous case for how a person should be. They aren’t Figures, Philosophers, Immortals. (Not yet, anyway.) They’re subject to the same sad laws of doom as the rest of us, the same misfortunes, the same fate. But they carry themselves with grace, stand for something noble, serve as ambassadors to a better way.

The American short-story writer and novelist Jim Shepard is such a man. I met him when he served as a visiting professor at the University of California, Irvine, in the winter of 2002. A lot of critics dislike the professionalisation of creative writing. They have never had Shepard in a workshop.
Jim begins each class by reading a poem. He wants his students to listen, for a brief time, to someone else’s work. He reminds you that to be a writer is to be an admirer of other writers. He reads his students’ stories – apprentice stories – more times than sanity would recommend, so that when the class starts, he knows them better than those who have authored them. He guides the class to his reading of the story, which seems inevitable and correct. His insight is humbling, deeply grained, outrageously perceptive and full of a signature humour. (I once saw him tell of an encounter between a beagle and a squirrel, doing impressions of both. His emotional wisdom extends to animals and plants and inanimate objects. He’s the best standup comedian you’ve never seen perform.)

I’m not alone in thinking that Jim is the finest living teacher of fiction. His perception is unique; his passion rare. He’s devoted to his students. We had a class together 12 years ago, but in the years since he’s read my novels and improved each one. I wouldn’t let a novel go to print if it didn’t have his eyes on it.
If you haven’t read Shepard, you should, because he’s also one of the US’s finest writers, full of wit, humanity and fearless curiosity. These are the same qualities that mark his teaching and define his character. It’s a hell of a thing to walk the earth with Jim Shepard.
 Joshua Ferris is the winner of the 2014 International Dylan Thomas prize for his novel To Rise Again at a Decent Hour.


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002 My hero / Harley Granville-Barker by Richard Eyre
003 My hero / Edward Goldsmith by Zac Goldsmith
004 My hero / Fridtjof Nansen by Sara Wheeler 
005 My hero / Mother Mercedes Lawler IBVM by Antonia Fraser

007 My hero / Ernest Shepard by Richard Holmes
008 My hero / JG Ballard by Will Self
009 My hero / Alan Ross by William Boyd
010 My hero / Ben the labrador by John Banville

011 My hero / Vicent van Gogh by Margaret Drabble
012 My hero / Franz Marek by Eric Hobsbawm


017 My hero / Jack Yeats by Colm Tóibín
018 My hero / Francisco Goya by Diana Athill
019 My hero / Max Stafford-Clark by Sebastian Barry
020 My hero / Arthur Holmes by Richard Fortey

036 My hero / Robert Lowell by Jonathan Raban
037 My hero / Beryl Bainbridge by Michael Holroyd
038 My hero / Charles Schulz by Jenny Colgan
039 My hero / Oliver Knussen by Adam Foulds
040 My hero / Annie Proulx by Alan Warner

041 My hero / David Lynch by Paul Murray
042 My hero / Edwin Morgan by Robert Crawford
043 My hero / Anne Lister by Emma Donoghue
044 My hero / Jane Helen Harrinson by Mary Beard
045 My hero / Edmund Burke by David Marquand
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047 My hero / Christopher Marlowe by Val McDermid
048 My hero / Gwen John by Anne Enright
049 My hero / Michael Mayne by Susan Hill
050 My hero / Stanley Spencer by Howard Jacobson

051 My hero / William Beveridge by Will Hutton
052 My hero / Jean McConville by Amanda Foreman
053 My hero / Alexander Pushkin by Elaine Feinstein
058 My hero / Cy Twombly by Edmund de Waal

079 My hero / Gene Wolfe by Neil Gaiman
087 My hero / Alberto Moravia by John Burnside
096 My hero / Isaac Babel by AD Miller
097 Lucian Freud by Esi Edugyan
100 Thomas Tranströmer by Robin Robertson
102 My hero / David Hockney by Susan Hill


190 My hero / Iris Murdoch by Charlotte Mendelson
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199 My hero / Albert Camus by Geoff Dyer


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