Author Robert Stone takes to teaching and life on the go

April 06, 1993|By Tim Warren | Tim Warren,Book Editor

He hasn't had much time to get to know Baltimore very well. But in the three months since Robert Stone joined the faculty of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars, he's gotten a thorough reacquaintance with teaching -- and found that he missed it.

"It's probably the first teaching I've done in six years, and it's been fun," says Mr. Stone, who previously taught at several other universities, including Harvard, Princeton, Amherst and Stanford. "At this point, it's been very busy, because I've had a paperback book tour [for 'Outerbridge Reach,' his last novel], and a couple of other things going on. I'm also trying to start a novel. But I find it stimulating."

FTC Mr. Stone, 55, is considered one of the leading fiction writers in this country, the author of such acclaimed novels as "A Hall of Mirrors," "Dog Soldiers" and "A Flag for Sunrise." He had begun "A Hall of Mirrors" when he was accepted into Stanford University's creative writing program in the early 1960s, and he still feels his time there helped him enormously as a writer.

"My associations with it are extremely positive," says Mr. Stone, who will read from one of his short stories tonight at Hopkins. "I went into it in a trusting way, which is what you have to do. And they were committed to helping you get done what you had to get done."

At Hopkins, he's teaching a graduate workshop and an undergraduate course (after this semester, he will teach at Hopkins every fall). "In the graduate workshop, in particular, we have a real good group -- very diverse," says Mr. Stone, looking the picture of a writing instructor with a full beard, graying hair curling around his collar and casual dress (pullover sweater, chinos). "I have one student who is doing wonderful things with her experience growing up in blue-collar Baltimore."

With undergraduates, he says, he tries to impart an interest in reading as well as writing -- "it doesn't hurt undergraduates who aren't going to be professional writers to approach fiction from the point of view of the writer. I really think that undergraduate writing classes have to have a measure of literature."

With the older students, though, "you're working with people who are fairly accomplished, and in the case of students at Hopkins, very accomplished. So what you do is not direct -- in a way, your greatest service is performed at an angle. You're not going to sit down and explain the basics to these people; they should have that. But they need time to write, and someone to take them seriously, whether it's the instructor or each other -- as critics, and as company to keep their morale up."

So far, Mr. Stone's forays around town have been limited. "I did take a walk through Federal Hill a while back, and every once in a while I go downtown and wander about a bit, around the [Washington] Monument," he says. "But mostly I've had to travel lot."

His trips have included a December visit to the Middle East to research his next novel -- which, like most of his others, will center around topical issues. And though he acknowledges writing about contemporary issues could mean a work quickly becomes dated, he adds, "I have to take that risk, because I am attracted to what's happening.

"My first novel, in a way, was very attached to the integration struggles of the Deep South in the early 1960s. The second novel ['Dog Soldiers'] had to do with the Vietnam War. I'm moved to write about topical things, but I want to make a novel more universal than bind it to one issue or one time."

READING

What: Reading by Robert Stone.

When: Tonight at 8.

Where: Garrett Room, Milton S. Eisenhower Library, Johns Hopkins University. Free and open to the public.

Information: (410) 516-7564.

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