Speech to the Kenyon Writer’s Workshop Upon the Occasion of the Midweek Writing Doldrums

July 7, 2017 § 4 Comments


zz EuniceBy Eunice Tiptree

With workshops all morning, afternoon talks, and readings every evening, the eighty writers attending the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop in Gambier, Ohio, had little time for the terror of the blank page, no time to wallow in self-doubt. The Kenyon summer classes are “generative,” meaning that participants are asked to sprout new work each day over seven days, from prompts designed to jar you out of your comfort zone, producing “seedlings” that grow into full works over the months that follow.

But it was mid-week, and my group, the eleven tired souls gathered around the workshop table in Rebecca McClanahan’s literary nonfiction section, were starting to flag. As someone who has attended the Kenyon Workshop since 2004, I well knew the signs. Our group needed a boost.

As it turns out, Rebecca’s assignment provided the vehicle. Her instructions were to “Choose a non-literary text, pattern, or template from commerce, art, music, contemporary culture . . . Then, either employ that pattern as a shaping device, or incorporate the pattern into your piece in some way.”

Taking a walk in the afternoon on the bike path by the small Kokosing River winding below campus, my mind sifting and rejecting ideas, I felt trapped in my own doldrums. Then as if a gift from a cloud-free afternoon and the swirling water of the river, the perfect template appeared to inspire my fellow writers. We needed to hear a speech, and not just any speech, a speech in the style of Winston Churchill:

Speech to the Kenyon Writer’s Workshop Upon the Occasion of the Midweek Writing Doldrums

Winston_Churchill_during_the_General_Election_Campaign_in_1945_HU55965I say to those who joined this workshop, we have before us an opponent of the most testing kind, our fatigue and self-doubts.  We have before us many, many long hours before this workshop ends.  You ask, what is our aim?  I can say it:  It is to write, by day and night, with all our might with all the strength that God can give us; to write against the monstrous effects of fatigue and burn-out never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human frailty.  I can say to this workshop, to all those who have joined us in this struggle, “We have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their best, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defeat the storm of incoherent and shapeless language, and to outlive the menace of the blank page, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.

At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do.  That is the resolve of this workshop.  That is the will of the Kenyon Review family.  We participants and instructors, linked together in our cause and in our need, will defend to the death the cause of writing, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of our strength.

Even though large tracts of our minds and many old and famous tropes have fallen or may fall, we shall not flag or fail.

We shall go to the end; we shall write in the halls and cottages.

We shall write with growing confidence and growing strength; we shall defend our craft whatever the cost may be.

We shall write on Middle Path.

We shall write in the fields and in the streets

We shall write in the hills.

We shall never surrender our talents, until, in God’s good time, our growing capabilities stride forth to produce polished and complete drafts.

__

Eunice Tiptree transitioned from fiction to literary nonfiction at about the same time she began transitioning from male to female in 2010. Her essays have appeared in BrevityCrack the Spine, Weave, and elsewhere.  She has also published poetry in Straylight, Rock and Sling, and Inscape Magazine.  Before transitioning, she was a journalist specializing on the space program.  She currently is putting the finishing touches on a memoir of her transition, three years in the making.

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§ 4 Responses to Speech to the Kenyon Writer’s Workshop Upon the Occasion of the Midweek Writing Doldrums

  • Jean P. Kelly says:

    Eunice continues to inspire us all!! As a fellow workshop participant a few weeks ago, I am honored to have met her.

  • I loved this! Thanks for sharing and for inspiring us to attend the next Kenyon Writer’s Workshop.

  • rachel hawk says:

    What a brilliant idea! How wonderful; thank you.

  • Christina E. Shannon says:

    Brilliant homage. As a trans-woman who transitioned in 2010 and who is working on her own memoir, I would be interested in communicating with Eunice about her writing process and compare more personal notes on other things we may have in common.

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