Archive for the ‘Conferences and Symposia’ Category
Wednesday, May 11th, 2011
“First of all, how are essays different from Facebook? Alfred Kazin wrote, “In an essay it’s not the thought that counts, but the experience we get of the writer’s thought; not the self, but the self thinking.” William Gass said something similar: “The hero of the essay is its author in the act of thinking things out, feeling and finding a way. It is the mind and the marvels and miseries of its makings, in the work of imagination, the search for form.” And finally, in a similar vein, Edward Hoagland argued, “Through its tone and tumbling progression, the essay conveys the quality of an author’s mind.”
A personal essay offers us the tumble of the mind and is, at least potentially, a work of art. It may be brief by comparison to a memoir or a novel, and in its brevity more akin to a lyric poem, but it is longer, more sustained, more revised, more substantial, and more artistic than anything on Facebook. If an essay gives us the story of a mind thinking, Facebook gives us isolated thoughts. It gives us updates; it gives us fragments.
It can also be said, however, that Facebook gives us conversation, or at least exchanges. But the exchanges on Facebook are ephemeral, fragmented, interrupted conversations; that stream of Facebook updates keeps moving down the page and disappearing out the bottom. There’s something sad about that. It’s not a real conversation, because you pick it up only when you’re in the room. It is more akin to those unsatisfying half-conversations we have at high school reunions or wedding receptions than it is to a full and filling fireside chat.
But a trope for the essay from the beginning has been that it is a conversation, or at least that it is conversational. Montaigne wrote, for instance, “I am not building here a statue to erect at the town crossroads, or in a church, or a public square. This is for a nook in the library, and to amuse a neighbor, a relative, a friend, who may take pleasure in associating and conversing with me again in this image.” One of the important phrases in that passage is “in this image.” An essay is not really a conversation; it’s the image of a conversation, it’s a simulation of a conversation. Certainly it uses familiar language; it can sound spoken rather than written – and often does. It can simulate, as Walter Pater first pointed out, a Platonic dialogue. But finally, it is – or at least it usually is – just one side of a conversation. It’s a monologue. “We commonly do not remember,” wrote Thoreau, “that it is, after all, always the first person who is speaking.”
Facebook is something else entirely. It is a lot of people speaking. Sometimes it’s a chat, sometimes a cacophony. But its conversations are overheard, busy, fragmented, and again ephemeral. It’s akin to the crawl at the bottom of a news channel. By contrast, an essay, however occasioned and journalistic, is finally a revised and polished piece of art.”
Curious? Find out more. Ned Stucky-French, from Triquarterly Online. This piece began in a panel discussion at AWP.
Tuesday, May 10th, 2011
I was sad to have to miss the first Welcome Table Press Symposium on the Essay. But the next one is coming in October. From their site:
Join us at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center campus on Saturday, October 15, 2011, for our next symposium, “In Praise of the Essay: Practice & Form.” Our honoree is Phillip Lopate. Speakers include Robin Hemley, Barbara Hurd, Helen Benedict, Joshua Wolf Shenk, and Matthew Swanson and Robbi Behr (creators of Idiots’ Books).
More information and registration forms available at the Welcome Table web site.
Monday, April 11th, 2011
For the past several years, the Creative Nonfiction Collective has kicked off its annual conference with a lively and thought-provoking cabaret of readings. Now, those of us east of Banff can join in the fun. Join host Maggie Siggins, along with Don GIllmor, Wayne Grady, Marni Jackson, Ken McGoogan, Merilyn Simonds, Rosemary Sullivan, and Andrew Westoll for an exciting evening of readings and conversation about this capacious genre.
When: Wednesday, May 25, 8:30 pm
Where: Harbord House Gastro Pub, 150 Harbord (at Brunswick)
This event is conveniently timed just before the Writers’ Union of Canada AGM. So if you’re coming from away, come a day early to enjoy it!
Thursday, April 7th, 2011
There’s still time to register for the Creative Nonfiction Collective’s annual conference. This is one I’m very disappointed to miss. Among the treats in store for those who can make it to Banff at the end of April:
A keynote address by the thoughtful and passionate Karen Connelly, who has written poetry, novels, essays, memoir, and more. Her talk is called, “A New Instrument, Another Music: The Challenges of Extracting Nonfiction and Fiction from the Same Experience,” and I’m sure it will be enlightening.
Workshops and discussions on the controversial category of “momoir,” on writing sex in nonfiction, on building an author platform, and on understanding the fine print of contracts.
And a reading by the witty and talented Sarah Leavitt, whose graphic memoir Tangles has been gathering praise and awards nominations ever since it hit the stands. (Disclaimer: Sarah just happens to be a friend of mine. But I liked her writing first!) Stay tuned for an interview with Sarah soon.
Wednesday, April 28th, 2010
I’m writing from Banff, where I’ve just attended the Creative Nonfiction Collective’s annual conference—two days of readings, panels, workshops and conversations devoted to this exciting, capacious genre. Some of my personal highlights included: Betsy Warland’s hypnotic essay about the writing life (you can find it on her website); Erna Paris’s warm, sparkling, and beautifully modulated keynote speech, which exemplified literary nonfiction’s multiple and overlapping pleasures; meal-time conversations with old friends and new acquaintances; and, of course, the annual Readers’ Choice Awards—and not only because this year, I was the fortunate winner!
What I loved about this event was its generosity. Members of the group are invited to nominate a piece of literary nonfiction published within the last two years. They send a short excerpt of the writing to the President, David Leach, and at the conference they read the excerpt aloud to the assembled participants. (The President reads if the nominator is unable to attend). Conference-goers then cast secret ballots to choose the winner.
The nominated work does not have to come from a book, which means that it’s possible to bring attention to newer or less well-known writers through the nominations process. And for me, Lynne Bowen’s reading of Kaitlin Fontana, and Myrna Kostash’s reading of Eufemia Fantetti were among the most vivid and powerful of the evening. What a gift to hear these voices in such a setting! And a gift to those nominated, too. I know I felt honoured to be included in such wonderful company. Also, the readings inevitably illustrate the full range of the genre, which includes everything from narrative or fact-based reportage to memoir to the fragmented, mosaic-style lyric essay.
A nominator’s passion for his or her nominee is infectious. I won’t soon forget Jerry Haigh’s rendition of a rousing and hilarious selection from Paul Nicklen’s Polar Obsession, or Fiona Tinwei Lam’s moving introduction to the work of Sharron Proulx-Turner.
My nomination this year went to Shawna Lemay’s Calm Things. I have reviewed the book on this blog, and I’ve also interviewed Shawna. It felt so good to introduce a book that I’ve admired to readers who would appreciate it when they found it. True to my expectations, when I mentioned the book’s title, publisher, and author, many grabbed pen and paper to write them down. They care. They’re interested. They want to find new work and learn from it. It’s this spirit of generous curiosity that for me, characterized the conference as a whole.
Thanks to the organizers for inviting me, and thanks to all participants for making it such a great experience!