Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

Guest Post by Leigh Rastivo: NBCC at 35

By Jane Ciabattari

NBCC member Leigh Rastivo offers these thoughts on the future of the NBCC:

A few months ago, I was compelled for the umpteenth time to play that contrived Hemingway six-word autobiography game. I begrudgingly wrote this snippet of myself: “Always a writer. Then became one.”

I admit that I was the one doing the compelling. I asked my students to introduce themselves via the exercise, and then I felt responsible to submit to it first.

With “Always a writer. Then became one,” I not only reveal a wee bit about my professional timeline, I also attempt to make the point, especially to the writing-phobic, that story is primal in us before it is approached in any formal or artful way. Plus, it was a lesson in craft. Artificial though it is, the six-word autobiography demonstrates the literary possibilities of brevity.

I thought I was being original. But upon hearing my directions for the game and my personal example, a freshman in the front row shrugged and muttered: “Oh. Like Twitter.”

Right then, I saw the literary future. Of course there will always be stories! Stories are indigenous to humankind. It’s just that the stories of tomorrow may all be really, really short.

Those of us with any web presence practice unprecedented shorthand every day, and we don’t need little games to show us how to do it. (What was I thinking?) With two-line Facebook status updates and 140 character micro-blog tweets, we constantly pay homage to the primal writer and the quickly rendered, undeveloped story.

But no matter how short the stories get, book reviews counter the abbreviation. I know a story is good hours, days, sometimes weeks, before I know why it is good. And I can only decipher the why by intellectually developing my gut reaction, by adding the first six words.

So I see future of the National Book Critics Circle, especially given its web presence, as counterweight and essential elaboration to a light, fast-moving literary conversation.

But what do I know. I’m still trying to use the Hemingway game. Maybe: Always a writer . . . Then reviewed one.