The Millions

Writing, Always Writing: On Charles Baxter, Craft, and Aging

There’s a maxim in the teaching of creative writing: like death, a story’s ending should be unexpected, yet inevitable. Across an impressive half-century career full of books, accolades, classroom hours, and awards (including a Guggenheim Fellowship, multiple Pushcart Prizes, and the Rea Award for the Short Story), Charles Baxter has mastered this maxim. He’s lectured about it and written about it in his seminal book on craft, Burning Down the House: Essays on Fiction, and the many short stories of his six collections—from 1984’s Harmony of the World to 2015’s There’s Something I Want You to Do—put the maxim into clear practice.

Encountering the unexpected is one of the joys of reading Baxter’s stories. He’s the rare expert craftsman who’s also an alchemist. And he’s published as many, nominated for the National Book Award in 2000 and featuring a nocturnal wanderer named Charles Baxter.

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