AWP Seattle – Memoir in 2014

AWP is a yearly gathering of the “Associated Writers and Writing Programs.” This year around 15,000 members of the group met in Seattle for 3-4 days of readings, panels, discussions, parties, and networking. This is the professional organization for MFA and PhD programs in Creative Writing, as well as a venue for publishers of Creative Writing. As you might imagine, the book fair is spectacular and includes displays from over 500 publishers of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, including small presses whose books can be hard to find.

With so many people and so many possibilities, anyone’s AWP experience can differ from the next. This year I was only a “virtual” attender, but as you might imagine, Dinty Moore and the Creative Nonfiction Crowd were in attendance. Dinty Moore, editor of Brevity, asked a number of people to do blogging about Creative Nonfiction sessions for the Brevity Blog. Here’s a great blog post by Ann Liu Kellor that’s relevant to our extended personal essay assignment:

AWP 2014: Full Disclosure: How to Spill Your Guts Without Making a Mess

As an added bonus, recent GC grads Mary Roth and Anna Ruth texted me from the conference to see if they could meet me for coffee. Instead, I’m going to interview them about their highlights of the conference for this blog. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, if you are serious about Creative Writing as a course of study or a profession, you’ll definitely want to stay aware of this annual conference, which can be both overwhelming and at the same time bring some of those famous writers and intimidating journals to the human level. Next year’s AWP will be April 8-11 in Minneapolis, MN.  Check the AWP site for details.  And check the Brevity Blog for more reports on AWP – each one has something to offer the curious student of writing.

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If Sentences Were Cars . . .

Thanks to Dinty Moore for posting this great quote by Claire Messud on his Facebook page:

“So, too, among the many different kinds of writer in the world, there are those of us who see the sentence as rather like a station wagon. In compiling the sentence, efficacy—or, more precisely, precision—is important; capacity is important; and clarity is important. This kind of writer, at least, doesn’t think in little stoppered declarative sentences. It isn’t like that. Not really ever. Perhaps for some people. But not for us. For those of us whose thoughts digress; for whom unexpected juxtapositions are exhilarating rather than tiresome; who aim, if always inadequately, to convey life’s experience in some semblance of its complexity—for such writers, the semi-colon is invaluable.” ~ Claire Messud

Oh, the sentence as station wagon!  I can just picture that aqua green boat of a Plymouth my parents had while I was in high school–packing it full of everything I wanted to take to college, and more: sleeping bags and comforters jammed up against the rear windows, padding a rocking chair and an easel, my paints and canvases, crates of books, a few houseplants . . . .

What kinds of sentences do you load and drive?

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Telling True Stories

This blog is for my students in English 334: Writing Creative Nonfiction at Goshen College. We’ve just started our quest to find out what Creative Nonfiction is by exploring a range of writings–from the personal essay (Seneca, Sei Shonagon) to Notes from No Man’s Land by Eula Biss, recent recipient of the National Book Critic’s Circle Award.

What’s Creative Nonfiction? Lee Gutkind, editor of Creative Nonfiction, calls it “True Stories, Well Told.” Is it distinguishable from literary journalism, the memoir, the “new” journalism, the essay, etc? Who comes up with these labels anyhow?  Phillip Lopate’s anthology, The Personal Essay, demonstrates that people have been writing this sort of thing for about two thousand years, long before it had a literary category.

To understand something of the publishing world’s outlets for nonfiction storytelling, we’re subscribing to Creative Nonfiction, the magazine, and reading Brevity.com, the journal of brief literary nonfiction. Today we discussed the excerpt from Lee Gutkind’s memoir in the 50th anniversary issue of Creative Nonfiction, and essays of choice from Brevity. We’ll also explore some local outlets for creative nonfiction writing, such as Goshen Commons and Edible Michiana, and a homegrown one at Goshen College, the Journal of the Center for Mennonite Writing.

All 14 students are keeping Writer’s Notebooks, and 5 of them have elected to do this as a blog. The Writer’s Notebook requires a minimum of 5 entries per week, as a mix of writing exercises and craft notes on readings. I’ve already found that the student blogs offer valuable insights into the writing process for the entire class, so I decided that I would start one, too, and link to theirs. Meanwhile, the students who are keeping their work in a notebook or in the computer will have a time to share as well, either on our Moodle course page, or on a “best of” blog for our class.

On my own blog I plan to post examples, helpful links, writing hints, and some of my attempts at the exercises I’ve assigned.

We’ll see whether I can keep up with my students, who have so many amazing stories to tell from their own lives. I’ve begun the listening, and I’m loving it.

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