July 7, 2017 § 4 Comments
By 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
I 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 Brevity, Crack 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.
June 30, 2014 § 15 Comments
Just in time for the summer workshop season, a guest post from Irene Hoge Smith:
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. As you know, it has been about a hot minute since my last confession. More of the same, I’m sorry to say.
I pretty much cleaned out the book store and didn’t bother putting it on my credit card. There’s no security system and those sweet little cashiers don’t have a clue. I just browsed around with my Kenyon Review bag and snagged the new McClintock memoir and the beef stew guy’s Panic/Desire thing, and four or five poetry collections (they’re all really thin) and I think three different writing guides. I just put the nice purple sweatshirt on over my tank top and gave the kid a big smile on the way out. He never noticed.
Well, there’s that hot guy in the other workshop, really young but clearly looking for a mother-figure. By Wednesday I had him writing my essays for me, which meant I had the afternoons off to shop (see GREED, also GLUTTONY).
Maybe that third order of tater tots at the Village Inn counts? All the swag from the little boutique, maybe even the lodging upgrade to North Campus apartments? I don’t know if that was worth it, though, since I actually had to make the bed myself and nobody comes in to hang up the towels (see SLOTH) and the AC doesn’t make it up to the third floor (see WRATH).
I know I should read that Lopate book, the everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-essays-way-better-than-you-will-ever-write doorstop of a paperback? It’s supposed to be some kind of (excuse the expression, Father) Bible for essay writers, but it’s sooooo long! I was going to do poetry this year because poems are, like, short, and it sounded like a gut. But they’re all going on about assonance and consonance and anapest and dactyls and enjambment and boy, I really can’t be bothered. So I’m doing creative nonfiction. Easy, right? You can just be, you know, creative! And since it’s nonfiction you don’t even have to make stuff up.
Do I have “inordinate uncontrolled anger?” Well, sometimes, like at assholes who won’t publish my work, who wouldn’t? And, yes, I know it’s supposed to be a sin to hold on to anger at someone who is dead, but don’t bother giving me a penance for that one, Father, because it’s basically my whole book project. I’m not giving that one up.
I’m not going to another one of my friend Kaylie’s readings. Two books in a year? She should let somebody else have a chance for a change. I could have done that book if I’d tried. And the other one, too. (see PRIDE).
I want to be the best and most-admired writer here, but also I want everyone else to love me so much they don’t mind that I’m so fabulous. And I want to have all that adoration without having to go to the trouble of really reading other people’s stuff (see SLOTH) and telling them how good it is and, you know, sharing the limelight (see ENVY). And I’m really not bragging, Father, but my essay is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius and I’m pissed as hell at that Eggars guy for stealing my title (see WRATH).
Well, that’s about it, Father. Do I have to stick around? Can we skip the penance part? (see SLOTH)
Irene Hoge Smith lives near Washington, DC. She is a psychotherapist, writer, and writing workshop recidivist. She participates in an alumni writing group with the New Directions writing program at the Washington Center for Psychoanalysis and a memoir workshop with the author Sara Mansfield Taber. She has attended workshops with Rebecca McClanahan and Dinty W. Moore (at Kenyon Review Summer Writers Workshop) and Mark Doty (at the Blue Flower Arts Winter Writing Workshop). She is working on a memoir (about her mother FrancEyE, who lived and had a child with the poet Charles Bukowski in the early 1960’s) and nonfiction essays.
February 6, 2010 § Leave a comment
Applications are now available for The Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, a week-long series of writing workshops held June 19-26, 2010 on the campus of Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.
The Kenyon Review Writers Workshop focuses on the generation and revision of new work. Instructors employ challenging exercises and lead the groups in close readings and discussions of participants’ work. In addition, the instructors schedule personal meetings to discuss workshop assignments and other projects. This year’s session includes workshops in fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction. Workshop leaders include David Baker (poetry), Linda Gregerson (poetry), Rebecca McClanahan (literary nonfiction) [Brevity editor] Dinty W. Moore (literary nonfiction), Ron Carlson (fiction), Tara Ison (fiction) and Nancy Zafris (fiction).