The Writer in the Well
On Misreading and Rewriting Literature
Gary WeissmanTheory and Interpretation of Narrative
November 14, 2016
256 pp. 6x9
$32.95 paperback 978-0-8142-5374-8
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$32.95 PDF eBook 978-0-8142-7440-8
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“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 argues that the analysis of literature is fundamentally a writing-based practice, a practice in which the process of writing functions as a way of discovering one’s interpretation (or “rewriting”) of a text. Weissman takes readers inside Ira Sher’s short story, “The Man in the Well,” and uses his students’ wide variety of interpretive responses to ask foundational questions about composition and interpretation: How is writing, rather than reading alone, central to literary interpretation? How does a diversity of interpretive responses give us deeper insight into a work of fiction? The Writer in the Well directly involves readers in the pleasurably absorbing process of reading and interpreting Sher’s tale, a haunting story about a group of children who discover a man trapped in a well and choose not to save him. 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 literary analysis occurs when we approach it as a collaborative, writing-based enterprise.
The Writer in the Well also finds particular value in misreadings, suggesting that the richest understanding of a work of fiction lies in probing the various ways it has been misinterpreted and reconceived. Weissman’s study redefines the nature of authorial intention and rethinks the methods and goals of literary analysis. Integrating writing pedagogy with older and newer schools of thought—from psychoanalysis, reader-response theory, and poststructuralism 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 offers a new “writer-response” theory. This highly accessible and rigorous book is designed to engage a wide range of scholars, teachers, and students.
Gary Weissman is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Cincinnati.