R.I.P. MPW

By Aram Saroyan

Nonfiction

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In an email during Thanksgiving week 2013, I learned that USC’s Master of Professional Writing program (MPW) would no longer accept new students and would suspend operations entirely by spring 2016.  I was a teacher in the program for 15 years, and in the fall of 1996, when I began there, it was exhilarating.  My wife Gailyn and I had moved to Santa Monica over the past summer and I’d met with the director of the program, the poet James Ragan, who offered me a job teaching that fall.

JD Salinger Portrait Session

In “Just Before the War with the Eskimos,” a story in J. D. Salinger’s second book, Nine Stories (1953)—his first was his novel The Catcher in the Rye (1951)—all four characters, two girls in their teens and two men in their early twenties, are so vividly drawn and speak in such perfectly rendered idiomatic American English that the reader might be watching them in a movie.  These days the story also has the quality of a faultless antique: a Manhattan taxi fare, for example, comes to 65 cents.

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In the winter of 1976, I committed the professional and personal faux pas of giving a poetry reading with Rod McKuen.  It took place at the Veterans Auditorium in downtown San Francisco and was supposed to be a benefit for the San Francisco State University poetry program. 

Conundrum

By Aram Saroyan

Essay

When I was a junior or senior in high school at Trinity in New York, Paul Krassner published an interview with Norman Mailer in The Realist in which Mailer stated that he thought masturbation had the effect of muting or blunting or otherwise desensitizing one’s sexual compass, so to put it.  I thought this was interesting and provocative, although it fell short of exerting a strong influence on my own habit.  Still, I admired Mailer, and if I couldn’t emulate him I did read him with sincere interest, especially Advertisements for Myself, which contained his heralded sequence “The Time of Her Time,” comprising fifty pages about Sergius O’Shaugnessy’s efforts to give his Jewish girlfriend an orgasm.