Aimee Bender

Photo by: Ziva Santop/ Steve Cohn Photography
Photo by: Ziva Santop/ Steve Cohn Photography

USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

What a fantastic job it is. I get to talk to smart, engaged, focused graduate students about their work, and writing, and literature and the writing process, and I offer opinions here and there and listen because they are so interesting! And I don’t worry about run-on sentences because this is fiction after all—and we talk about books and stories and craft and what makes a good sentence and the shape of a plot and the lift of a line. And then I get an award for it! My goodness. It’s like an award for an award. It is such a deep pleasure to work with these writers. They are so bright. They are so motivated and fresh and vivid in their thinking.

What is a mentor’s job? To try to get out of the way, to some degree, and to help each student get out of his or her own way, too. The skills are there. My “wisdom” is often anti-wisdom—telling them not to listen to advice if it’s not helpful. Telling them not to read similar books if they are distracting. Telling them the fiction should be protected even though they have so many other commitments to honor. Trying to help them to access those messy parts of the brain tucked behind that picky editor mind where the good material lives.

It’s an honor to be recognized here and it is a continuing privilege to work with these students and to be part of this larger conversation about the value of words, feelings, ideas and stories.