Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Converse Residency Wrap-Up

January 2013, highlights, in random order

--The fabulous fiction workshop that Marlin “Bart” Barton and I taught together: 8 smart and devoted students, all adhering to a compassionate approach to helping everyone improve their manuscripts.  This doesn’t mean we weren’t rigorous, as anyone who was there can attest.  Bart and I are also known for running the “Homework Workshop” because we assign exercises to be read out loud and handed in on the last day, which is actually another highlight…

--Hearing the fabulous fiction workshop read out loud their homework assignments on the last day of class.  We all get to witness AMAZING progress in just nine days, and I almost tear up from being so inspired.  It’s the perfect note to leave on. 

--The visiting writers were stellar.  The inimitable Albert Goldbarth gave a wonderful, and wonderfully funny reading of a food-oriented essay; poet Bruce Covey blew open our minds with a craft lecture about cognitive theory and poetry; fiction writer Ed Falco offered practical suggestions about how to create characters that the fabulous fiction workshop quoted for the rest of the session; together, Bruce and Ed teamed up for one of those funny, perfectly-coordinated readings that results in a immediate rush at the book sales table; Dorianne Laux set the tone with her warm and welcoming reading—including a poem about Cher!—on the first night.

--Our visiting editor—Jeff Shotts from Graywolf—offered an honest take on the publishing biz without totally terrifying and discouraging us.

--The secret treat of residencies and conferences, getting to hear work-in-progress from faculty…just you wait, Bart Barton and Robert Olmstead are on to something good with their novels in progress.  Susan Tekulve read from her gorgeous, forthcoming book, In the Garden of Stone. 

--Richard Tillinghast's craft lecture made us all want to immediately run out and buy Philip Lopate's The Art of the Personal Essay.

--I found a BBQ place on the way that I hadn’t noticed before, Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge.  (Don’t you want to go there just by name alone?!)

--As usual, many of the best revelations and insights occurred while sitting on a barstool or in front of the inn’s fireplace with a drink in hand.  I scribbled down my biggest revelation for my own work on the back of an inn drink coupon, and it’s sitting right here on my desk, patiently waiting for my attention.

--There was a ghost who visited several of us and, of course, many ghost stories that followed.  Apparently the ghost doesn’t care for iPads, and also it hates when the lights are on all night long.

--Some good food at the Pine Crest Inn:  Meatloaf!  Potato-cabbage gratin!  Fried kale chips! 

--Watching sweet writers morph into raging maniacs over “close” college football games.  Roll Tide, and Go Ducks! 

--For endless days, being immersed in talk about books and writing and writing and books…being reminded that what we do matters deeply, and that learning to do it better is a most excellent way to spend one’s life.

I know I’m forgetting a thousand things.  You’ll have to see it for yourself:  Applications for the Converse low-res MFA program are due February 15.  For more information, go here and here.  See you in June!


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.