Celebrated Author Tom Barbash Puts the Writer in CCA's Writers Series

Tom Barbash at Mrs. Dalloway's Books in Berkeley for a reading from "Stay Up With Me"

MFA Program in Writing faculty member and critically acclaimed author, educator, and critic Tom Barbash has many notable literary successes under his belt.

His recent effort, however, a recently published collection of short stories, titled Stay Up With Me (Ecco/HarperCollins), puts him among some of the most celebrated writers of the day.

Barbash, who wrote the novel The Last Good Chance and the bestselling nonfiction work On Top of the World: Cantor Fitzgerald, Howard Lutnick & 9/11: A Story of Loss & Renewal, has also had his fiction appear in Tin House magazine, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Indiana Review, among other publications.

He is no stranger to seeing his words in print.

And then the reviews for Stay Up With Me started pouring in -- including the New York Times: "Tom Barbash is a true craftsman who sweats over every sentence, and that artistry makes you want to read the next story."

Now Barbash finds himself on a 15-city book tour, signing copies of his books for countless fans, and talking -- and talking -- about his creative muses to complete strangers.

Read the complete review by Clancy Martin »

A Clean, Well-Lighted Writers Series

Barbash has -- intentionally or otherwise -- catapulted himself among the same high-caliber writers that he's previously brought to speak at CCA as part of the Writers Series, an MFA Program in Writing curricular requirement (aka Friday Seminar) that also serves as one of the college's many public program offerings:

Achy Obejas, Phillip Lopate, Giovanni Singleton, Jonathan Franzen, Camille T. Dungy, Adam Johnson, and Monique Truong.

The list represents the many dozens of internationally acclaimed literary champions -- poets, novelists, memorists, short story writers, playwrights, screenwriters, journalists, etc. -- who've over the past half decade shared their award-winning works with aspiring undergraduate and graduate writers here at the college.

View upcoming Writers Series guests »

And in just the the last two years alone, Barbash has secured Pulitzer Prize-winning novelists to a New York Times bestselling memorist (and Oprah Book Club 2.0 featured guest) to the Poet Laureate of South Africa, and more:

Review the complete list of past Writers Series guests »

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And here's what Barbash has to say about CCA's Writers Series, the wonderful guests he's included, and the challenges of success. (Note: Barbash will read from his work at the November 1 Writers Series event.)

Tell us about the process of putting together a typical season of writers for CCA's Writers Series.

The Writers Series has been one of the most exciting parts of my years at CCA. We have had an amazing selection of the most talented and interesting writers read to our students and talk about craft.

What's been nice is that we've had a lot of these people come in right before their careers blasted off -- for instance Tracy K. Smith and Adam Johnson came in, and then both won the Pulitzer Prize.

(Johnson has also been a guest of CCA's undergraduate Writing and Literature Program's Hearsay Reading Series.)

We try to have a mix of local writers, and those who travel in to be with us. I make a lot of my invitations at festivals and conferences where writers gather, such as AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) or the International Festival of Authors in Toronto.

But I also rely heavily on my colleagues and students for their recommendations and connections.

You've brought to CCA an amazing array of talented and award-winning authors from around the globe. Who most impresses you?

Adam Johnson was brilliant and entertaining, wise, and generous. Andrew Sean Greer read three different drafts of a page from his second novel and showed us his revision process. John Searles, author and magazine editor, gave us a funny and personal look at the publishing world. Daniel Handler is well . . . Daniel Handler. His talk and reading was a knockout.

What value does the Friday Seminar bring to student writers?

Enormous. It gives them a chance to hear from working writers about how they do what they do -- what the pitfalls are, and how to make for themselves a writing life. They also share works in progress, which is always exciting. It also allows the students to make connections that may help them when they're out in the world after graduation.

Can MFA Writing alumni be guests of the Writing Series?

LaTasha Diggs (2008) and Hazel White (2005) are appearing together this year, and we've had Laura Schadler (2007) in the past as well as "Peach" Friedman (2006). It's a great chance for students to see a few of their own succeeding on a national stage.

How does CCA's graduate writing program prepare students for their careers?

We are a unique program for a number of reasons, primarily because of how much individual attention we give students. We're also situated in the heart of one of the most exciting literary scenes in the country.

And we have a roster filled with brilliant faculty -- all of them working, publishing writers who respect one another, and are dedicated to our students' work.

Can you address the strength of CCA's writing faculty?

In the last two years I believe there are around seven faculty members who've published terrific books. We've got some of the best writers around in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and criticism. I feel lucky to be allowed into this crowd.

Advice for MFA Writing students?

My advice to students is is to have faith, work hard, and practice patience, because there's a longer incubation for writers than in other professions. Most of my friends took around 10 years after graduate school to publish.

What's that like to have your work so publicly acknowledged?

What's been especially nice about the tour is to meet people who've read the book and hear their thoughts on it. More than praise it's fun to see what they notice, and how they see the world of the stories. It's been a great education.

Family, career, a celebrated new book. How do you balance the challenges of each?

They all feed each other in some sense. Family keeps you real, teaching keeps you thinking and listening, and the writing keeps you challenged and part of the larger conversation.

What challenges you as a writer, and, conversely, how do you overcome obstacles?

Everything challenges me about writing -- from conception to execution to editing to the mysteries of the publishing world. But I'm learning all the time. That is how I occasionally overcome obstacles.

Which writers inspired you most in creating Stay Up With Me?

The great story writers like Tobias Wolff, John Updike, John Cheever, and contemporaries like Dan Chaon, Peter Orner, Ryan Harty, and Mary Gaitskill.

What's next for New York Times-praised author Tom Barbash?

A long nap I hope. Then a great semester at CCA.

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Read Peter Rock's interview with Tom Barbash in The Rumpus »
Eleven Eleven, CCA's graduate literary publication
Humble Pie, CCA's undergraduate publication