Meet the Teaching Artist: Reading Class as Writers with Madeline Vosch
by Writing Workshops Staff
9 months ago
We are excited to introduce you to a fantastic teaching artist who will take your creative writing journey to new heights. Her name is Madeline Vosch, and she's leading a exciting new course called 6 Weeks of Reading Class as Writers here at WritingWorkshops.com.
Get ready to dive into the intricate world of class dynamics in literature and explore how it influences characters, narratives, and our own perceptions. Class is a multi-faceted concept, intertwined with race, sex, and gender, and Madeline will guide you through a thought-provoking exploration of how it manifests in texts, even when it's not explicitly mentioned. Throughout the course, you'll dissect poverty and working-class narratives, examining how they shape characters and challenge our preconceptions. By the end, you'll have gained invaluable insights into the nuanced portrayal of class and the tools to critically analyze this ever-evolving aspect of identity. Madeline's personal mission is to empower students, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, to write confidently about class.
Hi, Madeline. Please introduce yourself to our audience.
Hello! My name is Madeline Vosch. I am a writer, teacher, and translator. I primarily write fiction and non-fiction, and am in the process of finishing up my first book, a memoir.
What made you want to teach this specific class? Is it something you are focusing on in your own writing practice? Have you noticed a need to focus on this element of craft? Or is this just your jam and you love it?
I find myself thinking and writing about socioeconomic class a lot. Especially when writing characters that are low-income, it's often a question of how to narrate a lack. This character isn't going on vacations, and doesn't have certain things in their homes that others take for granted. How do you narrate what isn't there, that a character may not even think to miss? I was reading a book called "Poverty of the Imagination" about 19th century Russian writers, and how they imagined and depicted poverty, and things started clicking in my head. If we can look at how Tolstoy imagined peasants as spiritually pure, what would we learn from looking at how poverty or class is imagined today? So, for me, the question follows, how do we even begin to represent socioeconomic class in literature? What are its defining characteristics? Is it the absence of items, a sense of precarity, the constant hum of work? Is it in how a character speaks, how they carry themselves? How we depict class tells us much about how we imagine class, what role it plays in our imaginative landscapes. I am extremely interested with what our representations of class tell us.
Give us a breakdown of how the course is going to go. What can the students expect? What is your favorite part about this class you've dreamed up?
Each week, we'll look at a text that deals with class somehow, and discuss how each author represents class in their fiction. We'll compare the author's work, seeing which aspects of class are most important to highlight for each author. For example, Dorothy Allison's representation often entails speaking back to those who would shame the poor for being poor. What other texts imagine a hostile interlocuter? Is this important when writing about class? My favorite part of the class is definitely the discussions! They'll be pretty open ended, and I am envisioning that we as a class will grapple together with thorny questions of how we define, represent, and understand class.
What was your first literary crush?
Oof, that's a hard question! I'm going to say John Steinbeck. I read Grapes of Wrath early in high school and completely fell in love with it.
What are you currently reading?
How do you choose what you're working on? When do you know it is the next thing you want to write all the way to THE END?
For me, this often comes down to a question of stubbornness. How strongly do I think this piece should exist in the world? If it's something that I think doesn't matter that much, I'll ditch it. If it's something that I think is doing something new, or even just something that I care about, I'll stay with it out of sheer stubbornness. A few months ago I started working on a novel, and since it's a first draft it's pretty messy. This is a story I care about, though, and so I am going to stick with it enough to make it good. I'm not sure if this actually answers the question! I guess it comes down to trusting a gut feeling that something has the potential to matter or not.
Where do you find inspiration?
I tend to read a lot of work in translation. Weird, daring books remind me of how powerful literature can be.
What is the best piece of writing wisdom you've received that you can pass along to our readers? How did it impact your work? Why has this advice stuck with you?
I was talking with my college creative writing professor recently about the publishing industry and he said something that has really stuck with me. Publishing is so much about what is sellable, what is marketable, and sometimes a piece that you really love doesn't get any attention at all, and it can be a bit deflating. Like writing into the void.
My professor, Pete Rock, was asked how he defines successful writing if it's not about publishing, or having a "successful" (i.e. lucrative) writing career. In his words, "Persistence. Writing through time."
I love this definition so much. It helps keep me going when I feel like my career isn't going anywhere. The point of writing isn't to sell a lot of books. The point of writing is writing.
What is your favorite book to recommend on the craft of writing? Why this book?
The Foundation Pit by Andrei Platonov! Maybe I just want everyone to read this book for any reason. It is my favorite novel, and I come back to it again and again. Every sentence is so strange, so wonderful. It's a completely baffling book. And then I think about how Platonov wrote it, knowing it was never going to be published in his lifetime in the Soviet Union. He put so much work and effort into the novel just for the sake of the novel. It's incredible.
BONUS: Is there a question we should have asked you? If so, feel free to answer it here.
Why include Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson? Once upon a time, I had an extremely formative class in graduate school where we discussed this novel. I'd loved this novel for a long, long time, and was very excited to talk about it in class. When I got there, many of the other students expressed disdain for the characters and the book as a whole. They hated it, thought the characters needed redemption.
One of the reasons I love this book, and one of the reasons I wanted to include it, is because it depicts rural poverty that doesn't ask to be redeemed or forgiven. These are characters that do not care about your frameworks of right and wrong. Even when they do things that are objectively harmful, I want us to think about what drives them to do this, what the characters or text itself thinks of these actions, and what the text is asking of us as witnesses.
Learn More About Working with Madeline
You can learn more about Madelie's upcoming 6 Weeks of Reading Class as Writers workshop and sign up.
Trust us: Madeline's expertise will leave you inspired and ready to tackle your own writing projects with newfound depth and understanding.
Instructor Madeline Vosch is a writer and translator. She writes fiction and essays, and is currently working on a memoir. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Offing and Heavy Feather Review, among others. She was an Aspen Words Emerging Writer Fellow and the winner of the Ploughshares Emerging Writer's Contest in nonfiction in 2021.