Novelist Blanche Boyd: The Best Writing Professor I Ever Had

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Novelist Blanche McCrary Boyd is one of the main reasons I’m a writer today.

As an undergrad at Connecticut College, I took classes with her that changed the way I viewed journalism and storytelling. She introduced me and my classmates to a whole new world of writers such as the late great Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Hunter Thompson, and Norman Mailer. She showed us how long-form journalism could read just like a novel.

And Boyd didn’t just talk the talk, she walked the walk. Her writing was just as daring, creative, and funny as the authors to whom she introduced us. And her life story was something out of a movie. Born in the deep south, she was an alcoholic who wrote for the Village Voice in a hippie commune before turning her life around, teaching at a college, and writing great novels, short stories, and essays.

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Her latest work, "Tomb of the Unknown Racist," was named by the BBC as one of the 10 best books in May. It’s her first book in two decades and the third of a trilogy that includes "The Revolution of Little Girls" and "Terminal Velocity.” She also the author of a collection of autobiographical essays, "The Redneck Way of Knowledge." Her short story “The Black Hand Girl” was included in Best American Short Stories 1989.

In our interview, Boyd weaves together tragic and funny tales from her life with invaluable teaching points for writers. For those who didn’t have the privilege of studying with her at Conn College, think of this as your very own Master Class.

Jonathan Small