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How Literature Saved David Shields' Life

How Literature Saved My Life, by David Shields

During this program, David Shields talks about literary collage, east-coast-west-coast perspectives, and his latest book, How Literature Saved My Life. He also reads from the book

About the book:

The author, who stuttered throughout childhood, initially regarded writing as an ideal outlet; now, in his mid-50s, he writes “to feel as if, to the degree anyone can know anyone else,” he has connected with his readers. With a frequently self-deprecating yet engaging tone, the author employs the act of accrual in hopes of guarding against “human loneliness,” and in doing so, creates a personal, modern version of the medieval commonplace book. For the bibliophile, references to authors such as Ben Lerner, E.M. Cioran, Jonathan Safran Foer, Annie Dillard, Sarah Manguso and David Foster Wallace, among others, will appeal as voices intersecting on the page. For fellow creative writing practitioners, how Shields fashions his own anxieties and persona into brief essays provides an alternative model for writing on selfhood, revealing the author’s struggle in oblique ways. Concerned as much with methods of construction and questions of genre as with subject, Shields meters out nuggets of revelation amid explications of both classical and popular subjects, from Prometheus to Spider-Man. The author’s circuitous approach may frustrate some readers. However, it is the sometimes-failed attempts to articulate the ways in which “life and art have always been everything” to him that prove fascinating. The book defies easy categorization (as have others of Shields’ works): it is both a paean to the power of language and a confrontation with the knowledge that literature can’t, after all, fulfill deeper existential needs.

A work of contradictions, subversions, depression, humor, and singular awareness; Shields is at his finest when culling the work of others to arrive at his own well-timed, often heartbreaking lines.

David Shields, author
David Shields

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The music in this program was written and performed by John Floridis.

David Shields is the author of thirteen previous books. He lives with his wife and daughter in Seattle, where he is the Milliman Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Washington. Since 1996 he has also been a member of the faculty in Warren Wilson College’s low-residency MFA Program for Writers, in Asheville, North Carolina.

Chérie Newman is a former arts and humanities producer and on-air host for Montana Public Radio, and a freelance writer. She founded and previously hosted a weekly literary program, The Write Question, which continues to air on several public radio stations; it is also available online at and
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