The premise of A PIECE OF WORK is simple and seductive: talk towriters about the craft of revision, and let the talk be anchored to specific examples which the reader can consult alongside the interviews. Editor Jay Woodruff chose a diverse lot of writers who work in diverse forms: Wolff and Oates are each represented by a short story, Gallagher by a pair of poems and Hall by a single poem, Coles by an essay. In every case but Wolff’s, multiple drafts are given; for Wolff the reader can compare the magazine version of a story with the revised version published in book form.
All of the examples are interesting, but most absorbing is the evolution of Oates’s story “Naked,” more fully documented than any of the other works featured here. Oates’s drafts for this story begin with scrawled handwritten notes. Following the story fromt his initial conception through several stages of revision and refinement not only heightens one’s appreciation for Oates’s mastery but also strongly suggests the role of the unconscious in literary creation. (It’s worth noting that Oates is the most reticent subject of the five, and the interview with her is by far the shortest in the book.)
Woodruff’s idea is too fertile to be exhausted by a single volume. It is to be hoped that sequels will follow; many readers will already be making wish-lists of writers they’d like to see included.