The Writer in the Well

On Misreading and Rewriting Literature

Gary Weissman

Theory and Interpretation of Narrative


November 14, 2016

256 pp. 6x9

$84.95 printed case 978-0-8142-1319-3
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“The Writer in the Well is one of the finest books on teaching literature I have read. Weissman is generous and perceptive in his appreciation of both the struggles students have with complex texts and the unexpected insights they can sometimes offer. He has a remarkable ability to view what might at first seem misreadings of a text as actually posing alternate understandings of it. I hope this book will be read not only by students but also by their faculty mentors.” —Joseph Harris, author of Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts

“Gary Weissman’s The Writer in the Well makes a highly useful pedagogical tool for anyone teaching students how to read a piece of literature. This will be an important book for those teaching both first-year composition and beginning-level college literature courses as well as for upper-level English and humanities high school teachers.” —John V. Knapp, editor of Style

“Teachers, writers, and everyone else engaged in the practices of reading and writing should flock to The Writer in the Well, a fascinating and illuminating work. Anchored by Ira Sher’s haunting short story and Gary Weissman’s deft, wonderfully self-questioning analysis of his and his students’ written responses to it, this book offers brilliant new insight on what happens when minds meet texts and other minds.” —Sam Lipsyte, author of Home Land

In The Writer in the Well: On Misreading and Rewriting Literature, Gary Weissman takes readers inside Ira Sher’s short story “The Man in the Well,” about a group of children who discover a man trapped in an old well and decide not to help him. While absorbing readers in the pleasurable activity of interpreting this haunting tale, Weissman draws on dozens of his students’ responses to the short story, as well as his dialogue with its author, to show that the deepest engagement with literature occurs when we approach literary analysis as a collaborative enterprise conducted largely through writing.

Rethinking the methods and goals of literary analysis, Weissman’s study redefines the nature of authorial intention and reconceives literary interpretation as a writing-based practice. By integrating writing pedagogy with older and newer schools of thought—from psychoanalytic, reader-response, and poststructuralist theories to rhetorical narrative theory and cognitive literary studies—and bridging the fields of literary studies, composition and rhetoric, and creative writing, The Writer in the Well  argues that the richest understanding of a literary work lies in probing how it has been misinterpreted and reconceived and offers a new “writer-response theory.”

 This highly accessible and thought-provoking book, which includes the full text of Sher’s “The Man in the Well,” is designed to engage scholars, teachers, students, and avid readers of literature.

Gary Weissman is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Cincinnati.