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Steven with Hound pups

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I love sentences. I love the music of words; John Updike was said to admire the phrase "four-door Ford," and--really--who could not? I love words' endless combinations and recombinations, the process of subordination, through which we instantly recognize what is at the heart of a particular sentence and what is ancillary to it. I love the way that sentences can be rewritten or restructured to change the emphasis. Word order is everything, though not everything is word order.

Annie Dillard writes, in the opening of
The Writing Life, "When you write, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner's pick, a woodcarver's gouge, a surgeon's probe. You wield it, and it digs a path you follow." She is right in this--though wrong about other things--and I like the precision of the tools she mentions. They are physical tools to deal with the physical world, and I love the physicality of words and the physical world they create.

I love to help other writers say as clearly and cleanly and directly as possible what it is they want to say. Or, alternately, I love to help writers discover and celebrate their own particular vision of the language, their own way of writing sentences, their style.

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This love began early, with a love of reading. As I remember my boyhood, I see myself either inside with a book or outside, in the woods, swamps, and fields that surrounded Beechcrest, the small post-War housing development in northeastern N.J., where I grew up. Books were not much in evidence in my house--neither of my parents was a reader--but both of them supported me in my desire to read and would take me each week to the Children's Library in Madison, the next town over.

In 8th grade, I learned the glory of sentences. There I encountered Miss Gordon, who taught us to--and then required us to--diagram. We learned the parts of speech. We learned about compound and complex sentences. We dangled prepositional phrases and dependent clauses from the stern horizontal line that contained the subject, verb, and object.


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I
went to a regional public high school, where the early writing I did (and for many years to come) was pretty dreadful, but a teacher named Mrs. Miller was kind enough to recognize and encourage some small talent.

In 1966 I attended
Trinity College in Hartford, CT where I majored in English. During the second semester of my junior year, I joined twenty others from Trinity (and twenty from Williams and twenty from Colgate) to be the first men at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY. I returned to Trinity for my senior year, when Trinity officially became co-educational. During the summers while at college I worked at CONNPEP, the Upward Bound program at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, as a tutor, and later, as a teacher.

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When I graduated from college I hitchhiked out West, to San Francisco, and then over the next months to Montana, and then down through Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada to southern California. I started hitching back east in early November of 1970 and wound up stopping in Auburn, a small town in the foothills of the Sierras, about forty miles east of Sacramento, and stayed for two years.

In 1972, I returned east, to begin studying toward a Master of Fine Arts in English at the
University of Massachusetts/Amherst, where I worked with James Tate and Maxine Kumin among others--yep, as a poet. I finished my degree in 1975, but stayed in the area until the fall of 1978 when I received a seven-month Fellowship to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, during which time I finished a book of poems and began and sold my first novel Satyrday.

On the strength of that I got a teaching job in the fall of 1979 as a visiting instructor at
Colby College in Waterville, ME, and then, in 1982, I accepted a job at Miami University in Oxford, OH. Back to the bio for the grisly results.