MARVIN MUDRICK CREATED the College of Creative Studies at U.C. Santa Barbara in 1967, and was its provost until two years before his death in 1986. His book, Jane Austen: Irony as Defense and Discovery, remains a key text in the criticism of Austen. He was a prolific essayist and frequent contributor to the Hudson Review, The New York Review of Books and Harper's. Bob Blaisdell's memoir Well, Mr. Mudrick Said... appeared this summer, and all selections from Mr. Blaisdell are from the book, which was reviewed in July on the Madeleine Brand Show. Transcripts of Mudrick's Narrative Prose class also appear in Mr. Blaisdell's memoir, and are excerpted from Mudrick Transcribed: Classes and Talks by Marvin Mudrick, edited by Lance Kaplan (Santa Barbara, 1989).
Bob Blaisdell: That first quarter of the College of Creative Studies at U.C. Santa Barbara, the spring of 1978, the end of my freshman year, besides finding Louise and falling in love with her (though she had a boyfriend back home in the Bay Area), and working in the library, and missing San Francisco, I found Marvin Mudrick's Narrative Prose class. It was his policy to enroll all first-quarter CCS students in his class ("So I can get to know you — and you to know me"), and in describing the class he probably said something like, "You write stories, and I read them and we talk about them."
I realized when I showed up the first day that I had not accurately imagined the class. I thought we would sit at our desks and write stories, and he would walk around, looking over our shoulders, and make comments. No, into the big, wide, well-lit Girvetz 1115 (this was his usual classroom, close to his South Hall office; to have class with him elsewhere became weird and amusing: this isn't his classroom, we're just visiting!; his real classroom is ... well, you know!), he came in and sat down at the table in front of the class, and, sometimes — though never at the first meeting of the quarter — without even a hello or nod, picked up a story from the pile of stories that had been left on his table, and, not naming the author, read it aloud. Sometimes he would stop and point out something good or bad in the story, and sometimes, but less often, he would just read through the story until he got to the end. Then he usually asked us for comments. We were cautious, as if stepping out onto thin ice.
Jervey Tervalon: He read our stories cold and anonymously; and it seemed humane and perfect with none of that weird hot-house drama of fiction workshop in graduate programs where everything is political and calculated as a dozen or so writers sit about a round table, sweating about their future careers as the next Jonathan Franzen or Michael Chabon.
Marvin Mudrick: The class is conducted very simply. You turn in stories, and I read them aloud — I don't identify the author. One of the nice things about having a fairly sizable class is that it takes a long time before you figure out who's writing what. These wretched little cozy classes in which you have five or six people, and after a while you know — I mean as soon as the firstword is read you know who wrote it. And then you begin being very careful, you walk on eggshells, you don't want to hurt anybody's feelings because...