Reading Matters

So it’s back to the mothers, huh?

Many of you might remember the late Max Steele, a smart, irreverent creative writing teacher at UNC-Chapel Hill, who taught a couple of generations of students who went on to careers as published writers.

One of those writers was novelist Jill McCorkle of Hillsborough (“Life after Life,” “The Cheerleader”). In a recent issue of the American Scholar, McCorkle remembers how Steele told his students that they would never be the writers they should be (or, she says he added, the people they should be) until they had fully dealt with their mothers.

“I have thought about that for years,” McCorkle writes in the American Scholar, “slowly making my way into his camp of thought. It fascinated me that some of the last work of his life – after many years of not working – did in fact include his mother, and I find myself now in a place where I try to imagine life from my mother’s point of view and by way of that, to see myself from another angle. I often say to students when discussing a story, Where’s the mother? And, amazingly, a door often swings wide open.”

McCorkle is right about Steele and his mother. Read the title story in his short story collection, “Where She Brushed Her Hair,” and you will know you are in the hands of a master. Said Kirkus Review about the 1968 collection: “Very gradually, in the title story, it becomes evident that the narrator is sharing a prenatal memory that emerges from a dream recorded in manhood.” You’ll love it. (And I saw the book for sale online recently for only 1 cent.)