IOTA: Inspirational Space, Inspired Writing

January 9, 2017 § 4 Comments

By Melanie Brooks

zz melanie

Melanie Brooks

In the summers of my childhood, my parents would load our pop-up camper with dented pots and pans, melamine dishes, a Coleman stove, deep, rectangle coolers filled with easy-to-cook food, mosquito coils, sleeping bags, pillows, board games, and whatever else necessary to sustain our family of six for a week in the outdoors. They’d hitch the trailer to our wood-paneled station wagon, load us all in, and set out from our home in Moncton, New Brunswick, to destinations around the Canadian Maritimes. The Bay of Fundy region was a favorite, and we’d often travel by ferry from Blacks Harbour to camp on Deer Island or Grand Manan Island. Day trips would take us to the third of the “Fundy Sisters,” Campobello, for hikes on its pristine trails or visits to the beaches and lighthouses that inhabit the island, home to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s summer retreat. These vacation days stretched long in the luxury kind of way. Time that in “the real world” rushed us from one necessary thing to the next, took on a different cadence. We were together. We were focused on each other and, for a little while, we were in-tune to the quiet beauty of the world around us. Nostalgic images of these family trips by the sea nestle in the folds of my memory.

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The Roosevelt Cottage, Campobello

Thanks to Iota: The Conference of Short Prose, directed by author Penny Guisinger, these memories reawakened when I spent four days last August in a charming cottage turned conference center overlooking Friar’s Bay in FDR International Park on Campobello Island. Under the guidance of visiting faculty – author and Brevity editor Dinty W. Moore and poet Mark Doty – I dove into the world of crafting short-form prose. Daily workshops, facilitated discussions and nightly readings provided me the opportunity to immerse in community with twenty-six other writers, a fundamental refueling for my motivation to keep plugging away when the confines of my desk and laptop feel lonely.

But, Iota’s setting, this quiet, unassuming New Brunswick Island, also held that familiar tug toward what was once, for me, home. A separate world almost, where people like Theresa, our facility manager, represent nine generations of island residents. A place where life isn’t quite so hurried.

There, embraced by briny air, breeze-rustled leaves, pebbled shores, and panoramic ocean views, I found what I tend to forget I need the most: space. Space to ignore the pull of responsibility to work and family. Space to disconnect from public events and politics. Space to, for just a little while, dwell in simple tranquility. My mind was free to wander in that space to creative intersections where language and images collide to make something meaningful, even beautiful. I wrote. Words. On the page. And some of those words were actually good. Good enough, at least, to take home to work on some more.

How fitting that a conference called “Iota” helped me to understand that surviving this writerly life is not about excess. Sometimes all we need is a bit. A bit of space. A bit of time. To linger a little. To breathe a little. To remember that just a moment can fill us completely.


This year’s Iota conference will be held July 8-11, with faculty members Abigail Thomas and Debra Marquart. Information on registration can be found on the Iota website.


Melanie Brooks is a writer and college professor from Nashua, New Hampshire. Her recent work has been published in the Washington PostBustle, The Manifest-Station, Hippocampus MagazineWord Riot, the Huffington PostModern Loss, the Stonecoast Review, and The Recollectors. She was awarded the Michael Steinberg Prize for Nonfiction for Solstice Literary Magazine’s Annual Writing Contest, and her first book, Writing Hard Stories: Celebrated Memoirists Who Shaped Art from Trauma, is forthcoming with Beacon Press in February 2017.

AWP Nonfiction Cheat Sheet: Thursday Afternoon

January 28, 2011 § 1 Comment

Thursday afternoon at the AWP is just as busy as the morning for us nonfictionistas, and that’s not even counting the cross-genre readings and panels, talks by agents and publishers, and other events that make writers smart and happy.  Below, though, some specific nonfiction events, many with recent and past Brevity contributors …. and then, at the every end of the day, FREE BEER!

NOON to 1:15 pm

Virginia B Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

R156. Imagining Ourselves: The Narrative Stance in Memoir. (Judith Barrington, Dustin Beall Smith, Nancy Lord, Allison Hedge Coke, Valerie Miner, Sherry Simpson) A diverse group of memoirists, who also write and teach in other genres, will discuss how they create personas for themselves and how these identities are freshly created and shaped to the work in hand. Exploring what Vivian Gornick calls “the glory of an achieved persona,” they will share examples of versions of themselves they have used in memoir, consider how persona functions in other genres, and assess how each identity is central to the authenticity and depth of the writing.


1:30 to 2:45 pm

Palladian Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

R187. Recovery as Discovery: Rethinking Nature Writing. (Tom Montgomery-Fate, David Gessner, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Gretchen Legler, John Price, Kathleen Dean Moore) Since Thoreau’s invention of the nature memoir 160 years ago, much of the natural environment itself has been damaged or destroyed. Thus, today’s nature writer must attend to both the natural world and her/his own role in its slow destruction. Their task now is less to discover and record the rare, than to recover and nurture the ravaged. This panel of nature writers will explore how they’ve addressed this paradox in their work.

Virginia C Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

R178. Playing for Keeps: Intensity and Creativity in the Lyric Essay. (Steven Harvey, Kathryn Winograd, Robert Root, Rebecca McClanahan) The lyric essay gives writers the license to experiment—to play with language in fresh and surprising ways—but if this playfulness lacks intensity the lyric essay can become a game, or worse, an idle exercise. What do writers do to animate the form so that it not only enjoys the freedom to explore but achieves the level of passion and intelligence we expect from all great writing? A panel of writers will consider the question and offer concrete suggestions.

3 to 4:15 pm

Maryland Suite Room
Marriott Wardman Park, Lobby Level

R193. What’s Normal in Nonfiction? (Steven Church, Debra Marquart, Ander Monson, Bonnie J. Rough, Bob Shacochis) Moderated by editors of the Normal School, the panel will feature a discussion of the polarizing questions concerning the ethics and aesthetics of nonfiction writing today. Is the nonfiction writer’s obligation to the art or to the subject? The audience? Can you conflate time, use composite or fictionalized characters, or borrow material from other sources without citing it? Panelists will consider what the role of the nonfiction writer is today and how that role is defined by ethical concerns for subject and audience, and/or aesthetic concerns for art, genre, form, and technique.

Palladian Ballroom
Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

R208. What Women DON’T Write About When We Write About Sex. (Xu Xi, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Honor Moore, Victoria Redel, Ellen Bass, Sue William Silverman) In a post-feminist age, the memoir has blown the lid off sexual secrets, and in all genres, women have written increasingly frankly about sexuality over the last fifty years. It almost seems that nothing is off limits. But what’s the art and craft of this sexual “anything goes”? Six women discuss the treatment of sex in their writing and ask: do we write Passion? Do we write Lust? Do we write Love? And what don’t we write about when we write about sex?

4:30 to 5:45 pm

Thurgood Marshall East Room Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level

R217. Status Update: The Personal Essay in the Age of Facebook. (Jen McClanaghan, Phillip Lopate, Bob Shacochis, Debra Monroe, Jocelyn Bartkevicius, Susan McCallum-Smith) Between the ever-popular tell-all memoir and ubiquitous status updates on websites such as Facebook and Twitter, the confession has never been so popular or so utterly mundane. We know more about each other than ever before and yet little that’s truly intimate or insightful. This panel will discuss the tradition of the personal essay and what it might offer the contemporary reader and writer, namely the opportunity for real insight and reflection.

10:00 p.m.-Midnight

Thurgood Marshall
Marriott Wardman Park, Mezzanine Level
R233. AWP Public Reception & Dance Party. A Dance Party with music by DJ Neza. Free beer and wine from 10:00 to midnight.

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