John Gardner On Life and Writing #20

Quote about John Gardner: “The late John Gardner once said that there are only two plots in all of literature. You go on a journey or a stranger comes to town. Since women, for many years, were denied the journey, they were left with only one plot in their lives — to await the stranger. Indeed, there is essentially no picaresque tradition among women novelists. While the latter part of the twentieth century has seen a change of tendency, women’s literature from Austen to Woolf is by and large a literature about waiting, usually for love.” ― Mary Morris, The Illustrated Virago Book of Women Travellers



“We need to stop excusing mediocre and downright pernicious art, stop ‘taking it for what it’s worth’ as we take our fast foods, our overpriced cars that are no good, the overpriced houses we spend all our lives fixing, our television programs, our schools thrown up like barricades in the way of young minds, our brainless fat religions, our poisonous air, our incredible cult of sports, and our ritual of fornicating with all pretty or even horse-faced strangers. We would not put up with a debauched king, but in a democracy all of us are kings, and we praise debauchery as pluralism. This book is of course no condemnation of pluralism; but it is true that art is in one sense fascistic: it claims, on good authority, that some things are healthy for individuals and society and some things are not.”
― John Gardner, On Moral Fiction

Quote about John Gardner: “It was [John Gardner’s] conviction that if the words in the story were blurred because of the author’s insensitivity, carelessness, or sentimentality, then the story suffered from a tremendous handicap. But there was something even worse and something that must be avoided at all costs: if the words and the sentiments were dishonest, the author was faking it, writing about things he didn’t care about or believe in, then nobody could ever care anything about it.” ― Raymond Carver, Call If You Need Me: The Uncollected Fiction and Other Prose


John Gardner (1933–1982) was born in Batavia, New York. His critically acclaimed books include the novels Grendel, The Sunlight Dialogues, and October Light, for which he received the National Book Critics Circle Award, as well as several works of nonfiction and criticism such as On Becoming a Novelist. He was also a professor of medieval literature and a pioneering creative writing teacher whose students included Raymond Carver and Charles Johnson. When I worked at Bennington College in Southern VT I would often see him walking across the campus during the Summer Writing Workshops. Or when his white hair was flowing as he rode his beloved motorcycle on campus or away.  –  j.kiley

8 thoughts on “John Gardner On Life and Writing #20

  1. I have used the notion “…that there are only two plots in all of literature. You go on a journey or a stranger comes to town,” but I did not know who said it. Thanks.

    And I never considered (maybe because I am a man) “Since women, for many years, were denied the journey, they were left with only one plot in their lives — to await the stranger.” Made me think of a great movie depicting the true story of Robyn Davidson when she took a 1,700 trek with four camels and her dog across Australia n 1977. It was based on her book about the trip, which I have not read.


    • Sounds very curious. It is frustrating when going back in time and finding one’s self practically irrelevant. Good to hear about stories told about actual women succeeding. It should not appear as a solo occurrence. In our present it is slowly beginning to show women growing in all fields. A great achievement finally allowed and recognized by some. The film industry is one main area where it is slow and the Congress of the USA is also slow in rising to the occasion of celebrating women and allowing them to join the ranks. We are slowly gaining a recognition but not even close enough to match what men keep women from achieving. It will change but we need all those women and men who are willing to fight for our rights to grow and achieve the highest levels. – j.kiley ’17

      Liked by 2 people

    • Rereading JG quote feels so appropriate with the descending disasters the US president is thrashing at the people not only of our country but what he thrusts on the world is becoming increasing as bad and dangerous. He is a dictator who is attempting to ruin the US and the rest of the world and grow the world up for other fascists and White Supremacist . The fact that Nazis can stand for election in Germany is abominable.

      ps. Sorry I have been out of action. I will explain further when I know anything more.

      Liked by 1 person

      • When you aren’t around I always imagine you as working creatively (which is good) or in poor health (which is not). Thinking of you in any case and wishing is may be the former rather than the latter. ❤


        • The realization occurred to me in a recent conversation with Shawn . I need to live in the now . Health goes up & down & sideways from one day to another. My activities follow the energy. If we examined 9 yrs ago until now . I am feeling much improved . but breaking it down in too close a history . the work is whatever I am able to do. Creative work happens in my mind when the energy is low but then I will have those moments when I excel. Thank you for your wishes. I wish the same for you and Margaret. Good health or good moments when it gets more difficult. Last week I did have a bit of a scare but proved to be negative. My words were “I can’t do with adding more & I don’t want to go through it again.” My words were heard or my guardian angels spoke up for me. Who knows. My exhaustion is why I haven’t been online as much. When I am able I try to reach out to you. ❤

          Liked by 1 person

          • I am always glad when you are able to meet me (A win win 🙂 ) but stay free of expectations or obligations. As I say to Margaret, “It’s all about you, how you feel, how you’re able. I will fit around that.”


Leave a Comment

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.