Saturday, July 23, 2016

Dispatches from the 20th Annual West Virginia Writers' Workshop: Day 3

'Just going to leave this here. 
Hello from day three of the 20th Annual West Virginia Writers’ Workshop! We started our day with a brilliant craft talk from Howard Owen, called: “How to Start a Writing Career After 40.” The best part of Howard’s craft talk was how his advice actually applied to any of us, at any stage in our writing career. Howard had brilliant suggestions for writing with discipline and pragmatism.  My favorite suggestion he had (other than reading everything you can) is how he finds pictures from newspapers and magazines that resemble what he imagines a character to look like, and then puts it up on a story board, so that the character’s image is not only in his head, but also in front of his eyes when he looks up. I love that idea, and I might borrow it myself (which Howard also suggested: borrow all of the good ideas and inspiration you can)! Howard has published fifteen books since he turned forty, and he’ sixty-eight now, with more books on the way.  He had a brilliant perspective about writing and living and process and experience, so thank you Howard for an inspiring talk!

Howard in action. 
We then had a powerful panel about performance from David Hassler, Alonzo LaMont, and Ethel Morgan Smith.  The full title is: “A Panel on Public Performance of Poetry and Prose and Plays.” All three panelists addressed the perils, pitfalls, and pleasures of writing for performance (of course I’m trying to be as alliterative as the title of the panel is).  David Hassler, the director of the Wick Poetry Center at Kent State University, spoke about unearthing oral histories of the Kent State Shooting, which happened when he was young but which no one really talked about. Alonzo LaMont talked about Telling, which you can find on Facebook as The Telling Project, a performance project that seeks to bridge the gap between veteran and civilian experiences and discourses.  Ethel talked about transitioning From Whence Cometh My Help from prose to performance, and the power of testimony. Eventually our discussion turned towards the political performance in the world right now, and the role, or even obligation of the arts to testify, and even to heal. Thank you to all of the panelists for a superlative discussion! We laughed, we cried, we testified, and it was magical. 

Maybe it helps that our panelists are so darn good looking. (It sure doesn't hurt!) 
After the panel presentation, writers were able to have a catered lunch, and hear the writings from the high school workshop writers.  What an amazing group we have this year! All of the readers had such passion and energy, and, coupled with their writing talents, the lunch reading was a revelation. (After all, not every reading will have someone open with Bertolt Brecht’s “The Lovers.”) Thank you high school writers, and thank you Natalie for your teaching and reading with the high schoolers every year. We know that it’s an intense endeavor. (After all, folks only have four days to write, and work together on revision.) But every year all of the high schoolers rave about getting to work with you and are so excited to present their work to us. One student has returned for all four years of high school, and we are going to miss her when she goes to college next year. Hooray for Natalie, and hooray for all of our writers this weekend! 

'So professional...
Our afternoon reading featured David Hassler, Alonzo LaMont, and Howard Owen.  David Hassler read from May 4th Voices, which is an oral history play that recounts the Kent State Shootings in 1970’s. (My favorite was a high school teacher blessing Pavlov, when a potential fight evaporates as the class bell rings.) Alonzo read a dramatic monologue of "B-SideMan," which will be performed in New York in October. The monologue built from the wild madcap humor of the summer of love, and a small college in Vermont, to meditations on fatherhood, the death of a child, and the life of an artist. Pretty much the entire room was in tears after he finished reading. Howard read from Grace, his most recent Willie Black mystery novel that will be released in October. When I talked to the other writers tonight, even ones who don’t always read mysteries, they were most struck by how accessible Howard’s work is, and how he makes the genre so exciting to both mystery novel experts, and novices alike. Every single writer this afternoon brought their A-Game to their readings, and it was an amazing day. We were kind of all reeling as we split into our Workshops. 

David Hassler
Alonzo LaMont
Howard Owen
For this last workshop, I sat in on the tail end of Natalie’s High School workshop before I met for a manuscript one-on-one with a high school writer.  Both of those events were fantastic, I have to say. I’m really grateful to Natalie for giving us the opportunity to talk about all different kinds of writing with high school writers who are so enthusiastic about the craft of writing, and about finding new things to read! 

Some pictures from the High School Lunchtime Reading
Our last evening of the Workshop is always our Open Mic dinner, so thank you to Mother India on High Street for their third year supporting our Workshop! Our takeaways this year include the fact that Karen Valentine never needs a microphone, Mark is going to work on his Elvis impression, and that poems are always better if they mention cake. But as it is every year, it was a wild and wonderful time down on south High Street.  I just came home from meeting a couple of writers at the Iron Horse Tavern, and they were still recounting their favorite moments.  

Renée's little polaroid was a huge hit this evening! I didn't make it to each table, but I made it to a lot of them.  
Karen Valentine killing it, as usual

Actually everyone did an amazing job!

Well, that’s it for today, Tenants. Are you following us on assorted social media? Because you should.

Be sure to "Like" and follow us on Facebook: @WVWritersWS

On Twitter: @WV_Workshop

And on Instagram: wv_writersworkshop

The hashtag that Renée came up with is #wvww20 for our 20th Anniversary, so use that when you attend and post about our events! 

Tune in tomorrow, as we talk publishing, and say goodbye until next year! 


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