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How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee (Books 2021, 4)

On Alexander Chee’s book of essays, which I was prompted to read because he was cited several times on my MA course.

Despite the title, this is not a writing ‘how-to’ book, except maybe by example. Nor is it a novel itself; it is a collection of essays. The subjects they cover do include writing and writing courses, most notably the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. That was one of the first, if not the first, postgraduate-level courses in creative writing, and Chee studied on it.

But the book covers a lot else, too. As Chee is a mixed-race gay man, you won’t be surprised to hear that those details feature in a number of the essays. As does living in New York and trying to make it as a writer. And growing roses, and the origin of Catholic rosary beads.

I was drawn to this because one of the essays was assigned reading on the MA early this term, and he was also cited at various other points on at least two modules.

His debut novel is called Edinburgh, which immediately interests me. Though you learn from a couple of the essays that he hoped, when younger, to go to Edinburgh to study parapsychology, but didn’t; and that the Edinburgh connection in the novel didn’t survive the writing and editing process, but he kept the title anyway.

I don’t know what his fiction is like yet, but he’s a fine essayist.

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