Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Four Questions for Story Prize Judge Carolyn Kellogg

One of the three judges for The Story Prize this year is Carolyn Kellogg, who is the lead blogger for The Los Angeles Times' Jacket Copy. Before that, she was an early and well known book blogger. In order to get to know Carolyn a little better, we posed a few questions to her.

What led you to start blogging about books?

The exact answer is that I had an internet radio show that played music, discussed books and interviewed authors, and a blog was the easiest way to create a website for it. The bigger answer is that five years ago, I was the Web producer at a venerable Los Angeles foundation, dressing like a banker and paying my mortgage, when I broke up with my boyfriend. The world opened up in new ways: I started the show, blog, and then podcast as a book lover, an avid amateur with an English degree. My book blogging was generation 1.5—I began slightly after bloggers like Maud Newton and Mark Sarvas of The Elegant Variation, who I came to know when he was a guest on that long-ago show.

You have an MFA in fiction from the University of Pittsburgh. How does that inform the reporting and reviewing you do?
It helped me be conscious of the craft of writing fiction. At Pitt, we workshopped a lot of short stories, so I've read many that are in a stage of becoming. I'm sensitive to—and intrigued by—a writer making one choice over another. I was never a fan of the notorious MFA-style story (overbred, shaped by committee) and getting an MFA didn't change my opinion, although it did let me see how writers slip into the trap of writing for approval. As a returning student—I just earned my MFA last year—I found that I had been reading contemporary fiction more voraciously than my professors. I'd already read Annie Proulx, but they hadn't read David Mitchell yet. So for reporting, the key wasn't the MFA but engaging in literary culture through blogging. I began blogging for the L.A. Times when I was still in school in Pittsburgh.

Who are some of you favorite short story writers?
I'm going to try to avoid saying anyone who might be in the running for this year's prize... which means a few top-of-mind writers are left out. So: Aimee Bender, Jason Brown, Raymond Chandler, Nikolai Gogol, Denis Johnson, Jhumpa Lahiri, Kelly Link, George Saunders, Tobias Wolff.

How do you think short fiction is faring these days?
I think it's marvelously fertile. If there is perhaps too much of the MFA-style story, it's only because there is so much short fiction being written. There's an abundance of online venues where work can be published now without the cost of producing a traditional literary journal. That said, I think it may be hard for readers to navigate the volume of work, and I think we're in a stage where that is just being sorted out, which is kind of exciting. I think The Story Prize is a key way readers are directed to outstanding short fiction, and I'm looking forward to being a part of it.