When I was in my early twenties, one of my mentors, Sylvia Berkman — a personal protegé of Nabokov, a New Yorker writer, and author of a famed, early feminist book of short stories, Blackberry Wilderness — encouraged me to write a “shelf full of books.” She said that this idea of creating a library of serious works was lost to the current generation of writers; she saw few setting out to create an oeuvre, like a Nabokov, or a Frost (who crafted a footstool she used in her sitting room), or the Russians, or Hawthorne, or even our own Philip Roth.
During this same period, Pablo Picasso died. In his obituary, I read that he created over 3.000 artworks of considerable scope and variety.
I wondered if this was an outdated — if not to say totally unrealistic — idea for a postmodern writer. Not to mention completely uncool: what serious writer would set such a goal?
My answer: those who believe they have something to say and feel a moral obligation to say it.
Taking Sylvia’s words to heart, I assigned myself the shelf-full career goal. I now have about 1600 creative works: metafiction, short-short stories, poetry, experimental fiction, epigrams, collages, meta-llages, wordless stories, novels, and biographies, and the like.
I have always felt that I have kept my side of the writer : reader commitment. If others choose to read my work — and if my work is judged worthwhile by future readers, all the better.
Question: Should contemporary writers and poets deign to assign themselves the Shelf-Full Career Goal?