The Center for Fiction was pleased to welcome author of Burning Down the House and The Art of Subtext, Charles Baxter, for a discussion of his latest collection of essays, Wonderlands. Wonderlands is a critical and illuminating examination of what makes fiction “work,” drawing upon the prose of Haruki Murakami, as well as Baxter’s own craft talks at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Baxter is a voice at the cutting edge of fiction, tackling subjects from writing charisma to the importance of experimental form.
Baxter joined award-winning author Joshua Henkin in a conversation on this new collection, discussing the craft of fiction and the techniques that imbue it with its undeniable power.
By Charles Baxter
Published by Graywolf Press
Charles Baxter’s new collection of essays, Wonderlands, joins his other works of nonfiction, Burning Down the House and The Art of Subtext. In the mold of those books, Baxter shares years of wisdom and reflection on what makes fiction work, including essays that were first given as craft talks at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.The essays here range from brilliant thinking on the nature of wonderlands in the fiction of Haruki Murakami and other fabulist writers, to how request moments function in a story. Baxter is equally at home tackling a thorny matter such as charisma (which intersects with political figures like the disastrous forty-fifth US president) as he is bringing new interest to subjects such as list-making in fiction. Amid these craft essays, an interlude of two personal essays—the story of a horrifying car crash and an introspective “letter to a young poet”—add to the intimate nature of the book. The final essay reflects on a lifetime of writing, and closes with a memorable image of Baxter as a boy, waiting at the window for a parent who never arrives and filling that absence with stories. Wonderlands will stand alongside his prior work as an insightful and lasting work of criticism.
Charles Baxter is the author of fourteen books, most recently the novel The Sun Collective. His stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, the Pushcart Prize anthology, and The O. Henry Prize Stories. He lives in Minneapolis.
Photo Credit: Keri Pickett
Joshua Henkin’s most recent novel, Morningside Heights, was named The Book of the Year by the Chicago Tribune. It was longlisted for the Joyce Carol Oates Prize, selected by the American Booksellers Association as the #1 Indie Next Pick, and named an Editors’ Choice Book by the New York Times. Joshua is also the author of the novels Swimming Across the Hudson, a Los Angeles Times Notable Book; Matrimony, a New York Times Notable Book; and The World Without You, which was named an Editors’ Choice Book by the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune and was the winner of the 2012 Edward Lewis Wallant Award for Jewish American Fiction and a finalist for the 2012 National Jewish Book Award. The film version of The World Without You, directed by Damon Shalit, was released in 2019 and stars Radha Mitchell, James Tupper, PJ Byrne, Perrey Reeves, and Chris Mulkey. Joshua lives in Brooklyn, NY, with his wife and daughters and their huge Newfoundland, and he directs and teaches in the MFA program in Fiction Writing at Brooklyn College.
Photo Credit: Michael Lionstar