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Reading Groups

Acts of Seduction: Women Edited by Gordon Lish with Naomi Huffman and Julia Ringo


Four Sessions

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Four Sessions Mondays, 6:30 pm EDT - 8:00 pm EDT October 23, 2023 to January 8, 2024

Online via Zoom

In this group, we will read the work of four women influenced by Gordon Lish, whose distinctive taste and unconventional editing style made him a legend in the 1970s and ’80s. As the fiction editor at Esquire and later a book editor at Knopf, Lish became notorious for his significant interventions to the work of many acclaimed writers, and for helping refine minimalist fiction with so-called “dirty realism” or “Kmart realism.” His controversial approach to the writing workshops he taught for decades at Yale, Columbia, and New York University emphasized his philosophy that worthwhile fiction is engaged in a constant act of seducing the reader; in fact, he allegedly instructed his students to “seduce the whole f—ing world for all time.”

In Stories in the Worst Way, Garielle Lutz’s striking and mordant sentences convey an alarmingly off-kilter vision of modern life. The Puttermesser Papers is Cynthia Ozick’s biography of the fictional Ruth Puttermesser, an erudite woman longing for love and family whose fantasies have an unsettling tendency to come true. In Days, Mary Robison probes the deceptively sedate moments that compose an ordinary life for signs of the extreme. In Joy Williams’s Breaking and Entering, a pair of married drifters moves through a series of abandoned Gulf Coast mansions on an uncertain quest tinged with malice and malaise.

Long as Lish’s shadow looms over American literature, it does not temper the pleasure of reading these writers, whose wicked, rhythmic sentences beckon us into the avant garde and the postmodernism of the late twentieth century. These singular works offer us the opportunity to discuss how an editor’s vision may sculpt a writer’s work, to consider how and if writing fiction is an act of seduction, and to appreciate the influence these books bear on contemporary fiction.

This course is propelled by group discussion and features special guests and biographical presentations.

Meeting Details:
Mondays, 6:30–8pm ET
10/23, 11/20, 12/11, 1/8
Online via Zoom

  • Session I: Stories in the Worst Way by Garielle Lutz
  • Session II: The Puttermesser Papers by Cynthia Ozick
  • Session III: Days by Mary Robison
  • Session IV: Breaking and Entering by Joy Williams

Participants should read Stories in the Worst Way in advance of the first meeting


Led By

  • huffman-ringo

    Naomi Huffman & Julia Ringo

    Naomi Huffman & Julia Ringo

    Naomi Huffman and Julia Ringo are the co-founders of Hagfish, an editorial studio and small press based in Brooklyn.