Usually, when you pull your name out of a hat, you're the recipient of a mediocre door prize. At an "Open Workshop" with professor and novelist Sands Hall, you get provocative feedback on your writing--from Hall, as well as from groups of your peers--in a fun, frenetic format. And this is exactly the type of opportunity students were craving when they petitioned Writers House for support to plan their own programs, specifically those that would enhance their curricular writing lives.
"I really feel the need for a place where I can get honest feedback on my work, and often I need more than the two assigned workshops in my creative writing classes," says Sarah Medeiros '11. "And," she adds, "it's a LOT of fun!"
Energetic. Non-threatening. Incredibly useful. These are just a few of the descriptions offered by other participants. Even the name, "Open Workshop," generates a sense of invitation. You can show up with a polished piece en route to the Philadelphia Inquirer, an existential prose poem written entirely on a napkin, or anything in between. The key, Hall points out, is the format.
Hall has taught the "Open Workshop" at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley for over a decade. James Frey, author of How to Write a Damn Good Novel, developed the workshop, and since Hall has taken up the mantle she has kept his tenets intact: breaking into small groups and electing a spokesperson; the private meeting with the facilitator; and speaking about the writer and the writing in the third person. This last one is vital and is what makes students and others more comfortable sharing their pieces with an audience.
"No, I'm not nervous," Medeiros says about reading her work aloud at the OW, and for this creative writing student, the payback is worth it: "How nice it is to have two or three distilled reactions to your work, instead of fifteen different opinions," she says of the group-speaker format. "The same amount of feedback is there, but it's honed into what they believe is the most important."
This could be a poem's social critique being masterfully woven in rather than blatantly put on, or that the author of a stream-of-consciousness story examine his own conscience, or that in terms of things that billow, a sail is probably number one.
Often in workshops, writers learn things that they already know, but as Medeiros says, we often need someone or "many someones" to reaffirm it. "When you discuss others' work," you bond with your group-mates," she says. "So if you haven't been very involved with the Writers House before, you can come and make friends with a whole new group of people."
Reference Librarian Scott Vine was a bit more cautious than Medeiros. He did not come to the OW the first time he was invited. Now, he is glad that he did, explaining that he was able to resubmit his piece to the Inquirer, much more satisfied with the quality.
"I didn't know what would happen," Vine says "and that was the pleasant, memorable surprise." Certainly pleasant, but not a surprise, Vine's piece was indeed published by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Other "For You, By You" nights this semester included an Open Mic, a student play reading, and a 1920s reading and mocktail party.
Students and Alumni Meet in New York
There's nothing random about securing a juicy internship unless you're Peter Svaerzbein '02, who while working in a camera shop parlayed a chance meeting with a magazine editor, into an internship, and then into a job. "Always take advantage of unlikely opportunities," he stressed to a group of Franklin & Marshall students who went on a Writers House trip to New York City to lunch with alumni in writing, publishing, and the arts. Other alumni echoed the advice, adding "perseverance"and the "importance of Franklin & Marshall connections," like Randy Wilkins '02, who met his current boss Spike Lee, when Lee lectured at th College. Students followed the luncheon with an internship presentation at Random House Inc. This trip was co-sponsored by Career Services and made possible by the Danielle DiGiacomo Ganek '85 Student Initiatives Fund.
Alumni in attendence: John Parsley, '01, Senior Editor, Little, Brown and Company; Danielle DiGiacomo Ganek '85, novelist; Kathryn Waggener '05, Education Programs Associate, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Margarita Delcheva '07, MFA student at NYU and intern at Poets House and Ugly Duckling Presse; Christine DiDomenico '08, Assistant to the Executive Director of the FDNY Foundation; Elizabeth Byrne '07, Assistant Editor, Thomas Dunne Books; Kathleen McDevitt '09, Assistant Account Executive, Edelman; Peter Svarzbein '02, freelance photographer; and Randy Wilkins '02, filmmaker.
Intersection Publication Celebration
For creative writing professor Marci Nelligan and her co-editor, Nicole Mauro, the sidewalk can be as academically engaging as the classroom. Their recent book Intersection, based on the pioneering work of sociologist Jane Jacobs, is a collection of essays about sidewalks and public spaces that poses questions about entitlement, race, class, ownership, the vitality of cities, and more.
Intersection was an especially apt title for the publication celebration at Writers House, which for a day was the nexus for multiple curricular avenues: Art & Art History, Sociology, Urban and Cultural Studies, and African American Studies. Add a performance piece by Intersection contributor William Pope. L, famous for his sidewalk "crawls," and a lively panel discussion that included Claire Potter, esteemed sociologist and history professor from Wesleyan University, and the result was a shared intellectual streetscape that spanned the Franklin & Marshall campus, and beyond.