James Alan McPherson (born September 16, 1943) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American short story writer and essayist. He has been a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a MacArthur Fellowship. McPherson is a member of the permanent faculty of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa.
Advice On Writing
What makes for a compelling history volume?
- First and foremost, it has to be readable. If the writing is awkward, jargon ridden, narrow, if the prose is dull or dead, then people aren’t going to read it.
- Second, it has to be accurate. It has to be based on thorough research and on an honest effort to present the story as objectively as possible. Nobody can be 100 percent objective, but it has to be fair-minded.
- Third, I think it does have to be a story. It has to have dramatic tension. It can’t merely be about large economic or social or cultural forces without real people in there with whom the reader can identify. These are some of the important things that will engage the reader and keep him from saying, ‘This is dull, this is uninteresting. I’m not going to waste my time on this book.’
Did You Know?..
McPherson is heavily influenced by Ralph Ellison and actually co-wrote with him on “Indivisible Man”.
McPherson believes “that the United States is complex enough to induce that sort of despair that begets heroic hope. I believe that if one can experience its diversity, touch a variety of its people, laugh at its craziness, distill wisdom from its tragedies, and attempt to synthesize all this inside oneself without going crazy, one will have earned the right to call oneself citizen of the United States.”
Like Ellison, McPherson is a moral historian. Recognizing the American territory as an ideal always pursued, always there but never reached, he holds his fiction to a high standard by virtue of his identity as a black American writer: “Those of us who are black and who have to defend our humanity should be obliged to continue defending it, on higher and higher levels—not of power, which is a kind of tragic trap, but on higher levels of consciousness.”