Dinah Lenney is the author of The Object Parade (Counterpoint Press) and Bigger Than Life: A Murder, a Memoir (University of Nebraska Press, American Lives Series), and the editor, with Judith Kitchen, of Brief Encounters: A Collection of Contemporary Nonfiction (W.W. Norton, 2015). Her essays and reviews have been published in a wide range of publications and anthologies including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, AGNI, Creative Nonfiction, the Kenyon Review, TriQuarterly, and the Los Angeles Review of Books, where she is the senior editor of creative nonfiction. Dinah holds degrees from Yale and from the Bennington Writing Seminars, where she also serves as core faculty.
Mentor. Workshops and classes in nonfiction.
Statement: “Years ago, unable to put one sentence in front of another, I ran into one of my teachers. ‘How goes the writing?’ he asked. When I told him I was stuck, he said: ‘What question are you trying to answer?’
Not that I simmered it down to a single question, nor were all the answers ever revealed (of course not), but I was able to go back to my project. He’d reminded me: first, about the urgency of the work—the point and the reason; second, about the role of mentors and the value of community. Solitary though we may be, we writers mean to reach out—to communicate and connect—having everything to do with the questions we ask of ourselves and each other.
In my view, therefore, it’s my job to ask questions, and to insist that whatever my students are writing—journalism, memoir, essay, humor, criticism—the stakes are high. It’s not that they have to be traumatized and tormented, only genuinely engaged and inspired to figure things out. I’m there to encourage them; to keep them honest: to remind them it isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be almost impossible, in fact, but worth doing (per Joan Didion and Patricia Hampl) with the goal of discovering what they think and what they know. They are not required to have the answers before they begin: if they did, I tell them, they wouldn’t have to write in the first place.”