"The Habit of Art: New Anthology Celebrates First 25 Years of
Graduate Creative Writing Program," by Ryan Piurek.
Copyright © 2006 by Indiana University Office of Media Relations,
February 20, 2006.
Flannery O'Connor had grown weary of the questions she continued to field from
aspiring fiction writers: Should I use a pencil, a pen or a typewriter? Is morning
or evening the best time to write? When writing, should I sip coffee or tea?
As O'Connor noted, the serious writer isn't as concerned with external habits,
such as writing schedules and daily routines, as he or she is with the internal
process of writing -- or what she referred to as the "habit of art." The habit of
art, she explained in her essay "The Nature and Aim of Fiction," concerns a "certain
quality or virtue of the mind," which combined with a writer's talent, could
heighten writing to a point nearing perfection.
For the past twenty-five years, the graduate creative writing program at Indiana
University Bloomington has aspired to instill in each of its writers a lifetime
habit of art. Evidence of the program's success is on display in a new 25th
anniversary anthology of short stories written by its graduates, The Habit of
Art: Best Stories from the Indiana University Fiction Workshop.
"It seems to me that the true purpose of a creative writing program is not to
focus on a product the students would create, but rather to nurture and instill in
them an ongoing process of being a writer," said Tony Ardizzone, former director of
the Creative Writing Program, who edited and wrote the introduction to the
anthology. "We want to develop in each of our students a habit of writing. This is
very important. If there's too much focus on the product, writers tend to become
"The 'habit of art' also reflects my own philosophy of teaching," Ardizzone
added. "While I'm concerned with the techniques my students are learning, I'm
ultimately concerned with their process of becoming a writer and the way I can
nurture and help instill that process."
Ardizzone, the author of seven books of fiction and winner of the Flannery
O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, said he hopes creative writing instructors find
the anthology to be a viable teaching tool and of interest to readers of
contemporary fiction. The collection of stories, published by Indiana University
Press, showcases the writing talents of twenty-one of the nation's most talented,
prize-winning authors. The stories represent a variety of narrative perspectives,
including works written by first-, second- and third-person narrators. The
collection also displays a wide range of subject matter, styles, settings and
themes, as well as a highly diverse array of characters.
The last point mirrors one of the distinguishing characteristics of the graduate
creative writing program: more than a third of its students and faculty are writers
of color, making it the most successfully diversified creative writing programs in
"This work is designed to be approachable and stimulating and to make for good
discussion. It will also be of real interest to readers of literary fiction. I'm
delighted to have the opportunity to showcase these writers nationally," Ardizzone
Several of the stories included in the anthology have received additional
national awards and citations, among them inclusion in The Best American Short
Stories, The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, Scribner's
Best of the Fiction Workshops and The Year's Best: New Stories from the
Ardizzone chose stories for the anthology from works written by more than seventy
graduates of the creative writing program, which boasts a long and illustrious
history. The study of creative writing at Indiana University Bloomington began in
the early 1940s when a host of distinguished writers, including Robert Frost, author
and Indiana native Marguerite Young, poet Robert P. T. Coffin, novelist and critic
Robert Penn Warren, and critic and poet John Crowe Ransom, were teaching courses in
poetry and fiction-writing at IU. A few years later, short-story writer Peter Taylor
developed within the Department of English a Master of Arts in Creative Writing
program, making IU one of the first North American universities to offer the
graduate degree. IU awarded its first graduate creative writing degree in 1949 to
poet and novelist David Wagoner.
In recent years, the graduate program has become increasingly selective,
currently accepting twelve new students each year (six in fiction, six in poetry)
from more than three hundred applications, Ardizzone said. Additionally, the program
has been energized by the arrival on staff of several of the nation's top emerging
writers, including Nepali-born Samrat Upadhyay, whose book The Guru of Love
was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 2003 and who was a finalist
for the 2004 Kiriyama Prize, and Kevin Young, a National Book Award finalist in 2003
for his collection of blues-based poems Jelly Roll: A Blues.
"The reputation of our program has grown during a time of greater national
competition among programs. We've succeeded because of the strength of our faculty
and because we have a long, historic commitment to diversity initiatives," Ardizzone
said. "Our graduates are really the best ambassadors of our program. They're the
proof of what we do and evidence that we do a really fine job."
The contributors to the anthology range from critical favorites, such as Brian
Leung, winner of the 2005 Asian American Literary Award for World Famous Love
Acts; Dana Johnson, winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction for
her collection of stories Break Any Woman Down; and Renée Manfredi, whose
first novel Above the Thunder earned her widespread acclaim, to first-time
published authors Seamus Boshell and Crystal S. Thomas.
Publication of the anthology was made possible by the support of the Indiana
University Bloomington Creative Writing Program, the Department of English, Indiana
University Press, the College of Arts and Humanities Institute, and the Office of
the Vice President for Research. Ardizzone has declined all payments and royalties
from the sale of the book.
He said, "I'm pleased to be among such a distinguished company of writers. That's
THE HABIT OF ART: BEST STORIES FROM THE INDIANA UNIVERSITY FICTION WORKSHOP
Indiana University Press Hardcover * November 2005 * ISBN 0-253-34666-5
Indiana University Press Paperback * November 2005 * ISBN 0-253-21807-0