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Member Spotlights

Member Spotlight: W. Barksdale Maynard

Why is writing important to you and why do you think it’s an important medium for the world? Compared to today’s ubiquitous screen media, writing is far more concentrated in its dosage, delivering information with unparalleled swiftness and accuracy. It is the pure drug. All of my books, including the new Artists of Wyeth Country, have combined the written word with extensive illustration campaigns of photographs and maps. Taken together, these elements can produce powerful synergies impossible to achieve in other media.

What are your tried and tested remedies to cure writer’s block? I advise my students to keep a literary diary, although I suspect that very few carry through with this. Only a diary can allow a cascading flow of words and ideas, free from outside pressures, opening up the writer’s mind to infinite possibilities. I have never had writer’s block, but surely this would be the cure.

What is your favorite time to write? Ideally, writing is an ethereal practice that happens free of the strictures imposed by the hands of a clock. For thirty years I have carried a small notebook in my pocket and write in it whenever I am standing in a line, stuck in traffic, whatever. I admire the poets who compose in their minds while merely out walking, as Wordsworth did on a ramble up the Wye.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received and would like to impart to other writers? For heaven’s sake, don’t write what you know. Write what you want to know more about. Approach your topic from the vantage-point of wide-eyed ignorance. Report to the reader what you discovered during at least two years of intensive research. Your outsider’s viewpoint will be valuable and fresh. Only with this reckless attitude did I dare to attempt books on the educational life of Woodrow Wilson, three centuries of buildings of Delaware, better talent development in business, the cultural history of the Brandywine Valley, the Princeton university campus, Thoreau’s Walden Pond, antebellum architecture, and now Andrew Wyeth.

What excites you most about being a writer in today’s age? When I was first writing in the 1970s it seemed that my style was too old-fashioned and lush–so teachers warned me. Thankfully the Hemingway cult has withered and we are free to express ourselves variously. I can persist with my slavish admiration of the style of To the Finland Station and The Loved One. A splendid aspect of writing is that you can study all the great examples with such ridiculous ease–in what other profession can you so readily train with the very greatest in the field? All of Marlowe is on my telephone. And I just downloaded Ruskin’s Praeterita as a PDF to my desktop–one can be instantly reading his account of the Rhone at Geneva, “flowing like one lambent jewel”–incredible to live in these times.

W. Barksdale Maynard’s Artists of Wyeth Country: Howard Pyle, N. C. Wyeth, and Andrew Wyeth is out now with Temple University Press.