I’m really glad that summer writing workshops resumed this year after the abyss that was 2020.
Last week, I “went” to the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop—even in the virtual setting, I’d argue that was one of the most intense conferences I’ve done. The thing about Kenyon (and I don’t know why more workshops/conferences haven’t done this) is that it’s generative, so you don’t bring something you’ve already written to have people give you comments on it, you produce new work every day. Then you come into “class” and read that work, and get a new prompt for that night, then do it all again the next day. I came away with starts to five essays, which is really impressive, if you think about it.
I worked with Dinty Moore, a really amiable man who teaches at Ohio State and runs Brevity magazine, one I’ve admired for a long time (and have published in its craft-related blog). He stipulated that our responses to the prompts should be 300 words or less, so it felt like writing flash if you could contain a whole story in so few words. Of the five essays I began, I think one of them is suited to that shorter form, but the others gave me nice entry points into considerably longer works.
My workshop-mates were incredibly talented; it was a joy to listen to their stories every afternoon. (The conference was structured so that we met for 90 minutes starting at 1pm ET, then there were panels and readings in the afternoon, and faculty readings or open mics in the evening.)
The tough part was that, since the conference was virtual, I was still working and doing all my other life stuff. I had to push back a client deadline to give myself the brain space to generate work (300 words doesn’t sound like a lot, but was actually pretty challenging), and I missed the last day of class because I had a childbirth class to attend. Alas.
On the bright side, being at home allowed me to show my spouse more of what I’m up to at these conferences: talking about writing and listening to great readings. Over dinner, we listened to Kaveh Akbar recite poetry from what looked to be a monastery in Italy and Jamie Quatro read a fiction that felt like an essay about alternating days waking up a Christian and an atheist that felt all too relatable.
Ultimately, the point of art is to create emotional resonance, to sound some gong in some part of yourself that awakens you, even if it’s only the tiniest part of you, to something you didn’t know about yourself. It felt extra intimate to have that experience with my spouse. I’m grateful for it.