Arts & Entertainment, Writing

The Writer’s Workshop: “Indian Camp”

Joyce Carol Oates

Lesson time 12:21 min

Joyce and two of her students—Lindsey Skillen and Corey Arnold—read from Ernest Hemingway’s story “Indian Camp.” They review the work as they would in one of Joyce’s collegiate or graduate classes.

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Topics include: The Writer’s Workshop: “Indian Camp”


[MUSIC PLAYING] - This is Lindsay, and this is Corey, and each of them has written a story for today. We'll be taking up Lindsay's story first. Then we'll take up Corey's story. But first we're going to talk about a classic famous American story by Ernest Hemingway called "Indian Camp." So this story has all the quintessential elements of a classic Hemingway story, the nature of the style, the movement of the story, the pacing, what is put in, and particularly what's left out, what is implicit, what's implied. Just a minimum of characters-- no last names, characters who are related to one another in ways that might be a little bit mysterious. But if you read it carefully, you can figure it out. So people who are used to reading a story by Henry James, Edith Wharton, reading this story-- or Willa Cather-- reading this story, the average reader might have really wondered what it was about. And the average reader at that time would have felt the ending was just totally almost shocking, because it's so abrupt. And readers at that time were used to a more rounded ending. Readers were used to being told what to think. And in a story by most of Hemingway's contemporaries, the characters in this story, at least one of the characters, would have certain thoughts that would tell the reader what to think. Hemingway leaves all that out, and he leaves a lot of things out. Therefore, though he wrote the story a long time ago, it still is very contemporary. In some ways, it seems completely contemporary of our time. So just anything you want to say about the story as a reading experience? - Just in general, it just makes me think about how much Hemingway trusts his reader to kind of co-create the story alongside him, which is true of most of his stories that I've read. And it strikes me that that takes a lot of confidence in your reader, because-- and you have to relinquish some control there and leave room for misinterpretations and things. I think maybe as young writers-- I know this is a problem for me-- you want to have-- you want to direct somebody's emotional response very closely. And if you write in a style, that's just not a possibility, or it's less of a possibility, I would say. - Yeah, that's a very good point that he trusts his readers to read carefully. So you really have to read the story more than once. Hemingway is-- Hemingway's easy to read, but he's not easy to understand. - Yeah. - And the famous Hemingway dialogue seems as if it's natural, but it's really stylized, and people don't-- don't actually talk that way at all. It's a very sort of almost like a postmodernist sort of appropriation of how people talk, but it's not really literal. So we noticed the vocabulary is scaled down, so it could be the vocabulary of a boy about eight or nine. I think that's how old he is. I love that beginning. "At the lakeshore, there was another rowboat drawn up," period. "The two Indians stood waiting." It's j...

About the Instructor

The author of some of the most enduring fiction of our time, Joyce Carol Oates has published 58 novels and thousands of short stories, essays, and articles. Now the award-winning author and Princeton University creative writing professor teaches you how to tap into your storytelling instincts. Find ideas from your own experiences and perceptions, experiment with structure, and improve your craft, one sentence at a time.

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Joyce Carol Oates

Literary legend Joyce Carol Oates teaches you how to write short stories by developing your voice and exploring classic works of fiction.

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