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WikiSym 2007

Peter Turchi

"Once Upon a Time, Like Never Before: The Challenge of Telling the Next Story"

Readers turn to narrative for certain familiar pleasures; and yet, reading the opening sentences, they hope to find themselves in unknown territory. They want to be lost in a book, transported through a shared act of imagination. If what they read seems too strange, though, if they start to feel truly lost, they're likely to feel anxious, frustrated, even angry. The challenge for the writer, then -- the challenge for every discoverer and creator -- is to communicate with the past, while guiding the reader (or follower, or user) someplace new.

Using examples from writing and cartography, this talk will explore the challenges of discovery, the challenges of presenting those discoveries, and how the presentation itself is often the key to discovery (think Impressionism). It will also consider the tension between intention and inspiration, or good luck. Columbus was headed for India, James Cook mapped the Pacific only because he couldn't find Terra Australis, and both Mark Twain (soon after publishing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (in the weeks following the publication of The Great Gatsby) expressed despair over their failure to write the book they thought they meant to write. The thing they had discovered -- the thing they had created -- transcended their own conception of a "good book." Before we can lead anyone anywhere, we need to look clearly at where we are, and to prepare ourselves to see like never before.

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Peter Turchi is the author of four books: a novel, "The Girls Next Door"; a collection of stories, "Magician"; a book of non-fiction, with Barry Clifford, "The Pirate Prince"; and "Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer". He has also co-edited, with Charles Baxter, a collection of essays by Warren Wilson MFA fiction faculty, "Bringing the Devil to His Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life" and, with Andrea Barrett, a fiction anthology by Warren Wilson MFA faculty, "The Story Behind the Story". His short fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, Story, Alaska Quarterly, and The Colorado Review, among other magazines; it has been anthologized, nominated for the Pushcart prize, and cited by the editors of Best American Short Stories. His awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship Grant, North Carolina's Sir Walter Raleigh Award, and an Illinois Arts Council Literary Award. He has taught at the University of Arizona, Northwestern University, Columbia College, and the Breadloaf Writers conference. He has directed and taught in Warren Wilson's MFA Program for Writers since 1993. He holds an M.F.A from the University of Arizona and a B.A. from Washington College.


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