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Interview: David H. Lynn

Updated: Mar 23

David H. Lynn is the author of three collections of short stories, Year of Fire, Fortune Telling, and Children of God. He is also the author of Wrestling with Gabriel, a novel, and The Hero's Tale: Narrators in the Early Modern Novel, a critical study. The Editor Emeritus of The Kenyon Review and Professor Emeritus of English at Kenyon college, he received the O. Henry award in 2016 for his short story, “Divergence.” His memoir,  REBUILDING THE GOAT WALK, comes out next month. 

“My aim here is to dissuade you from becoming writers,” he said at the start of Advanced Fiction, the first English class I took with him, back in 2022.  

Most of the students chuckled, but nobody laughed when our first stories returned from his office covered in edits and cross outs. 

During subsequent writing workshops, our pieces were systematically critiqued, each flaw revealed through simple questions such as “who is the narrator?” and “what is this story about?” 

Secretly expecting applause each time I brought a story to class, I walked away from workshops deeply frustrated. Though Lynn acknowledged the strengths of my writing, I struggled with the notion that other areas of my craft were significantly lacking.  

“You’re all very talented,” he told us, “but it takes more than that.”

In a culture where students were often coddled and given straight A’s just for showing up, David Lynn made a point of being sincere, urging us that great writing requires much revision and patience. 

Although I rarely appreciated criticism during those workshops, I’ve since learned that sometimes, honesty is the greatest form of compassion.  

Because of that one semester of Advanced Fiction, my writing greatly improved. I continued to attend David Lynn’s office hours, and to this day, he provides guidance and support. 

In fact, much of my adult life has been slowly accepting the insights he once offered in Cheever Seminar Room: that there are no “happy” stories, life is full of suffering, and all that recent graduates need to do is put food on the table. 

I am very grateful for the wisdom he shared with me, and that he agreed to answer a few more of my questions, earlier this week. Here they are: 

What's your favorite part of the creative process?

“I love revision, having something to work on, to shape and rearrange and struggle to understand the heart of the story. It's a long process if done properly, and rushing it leads to inferior work.”

What have you been reading lately?

“I've been reading a lot of Irish writers, such as Maggie O'Farrell, Claire Keegan, Tana French, Sebastian Barry, and others. They have such a marvelous feel for language, and their dialogue lives.”

What is your greatest fear?

"I've found that as I get older the fears slip away, mostly...."

If you could only write one more story, what would it be about?

"Something funny and moving and insightful and surprising and funny...."

What advice would you give to an unpublished 23 year-old?

"Pretty much the same as ever over 40 years: pursue the writing for its own sake; try not to think about publication (or lack thereof); find another way to feed yourself and to establish your sense of self-worth; be patient; the odds are against you so just shrug them off and keep going."

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