Sunday, June 21, 2009

Writers' conferences

I'm about to spend a few days teaching at the Colgate Writers' Conference, in Hamilton, New York, not far from where we live. I generally don't seek these things out, preferring to spend my summers picking lint out of the furrow in my brow, but I read at Colgate a few years ago and thought everyone there was kind, friendly, and a lot of fun. So this year I went all-in.

We have only taught at one conference before, in Michigan back in the early 2000's, and though the people there were also quite nice, every single one of Rhian's students dropped out--I think one was sick, one was in rehab, two of them locked themselves in their cabin drinking all week--something like that? And she ended up sitting indoors with our then quite young and feisty children, rereading the handful of books she'd brought and going out of her mind with boredom.

Anyway, I'm surprised now, as I was then, at the range of work students submit--all the novels I'll be critiqueing this week have problems, but all of them have a lot of potential too, and I'm looking forward to discussing them with their authors. But really, I'm not going to lie to you here, I am getting some of that frisson of anticipation as I wonder what kind of crazy drama might ensue in the coming days--a fire? A nervous breakdown? A torrid affair that ends up with people half-naked and unconscious in the middle of the street? I wish no ill fortune on anyone of course, but the novelist in me (specifically, the Alison Lurie in me) is hoping for fireworks. In any event, I'm bringing my cameras.

Do you guys attend conferences in the summer, or teach at them? Any good anecdotes you can share? And what are your favorite (inevitable) writers'/artists' conference/retreat novels? American Genius springs to mind, and I know there are others...

...and if you're in the Hamilton area, stop by campus Monday night, I'm going to read a new short story, alongside my friend and colleague Alice Fulton.

10 comments:

christianbauman said...

Although I haven't been for a few years (unfortunately), I've taught at the Winter Getaway in Cape May, NJ, a fantastic gathering of writers run by poet Peter Murphy. One of the upsides is that even if things get dull in class, there's always the option of strolling the frozen beach (takes place in January). But I was lucky in the 3 or 4 years that I taught there that things rarely got dull in class. Talent of my students was wildly variable, as it will be in these situations, but always a good time, always enough passionate people to keep the blood flowing.

It is only conflicts that have kept me from Winter Getaway these past few years, and I hope to return someday. But, as sounds with you JRL, I tend to avoid these like the plague these days. Got many many invitations for them when first novel came out, and I accepted almost all the invitations. Yikes. Some were just downright werid. Okay, most were just downright weird.
But some fairly amazing experiences, as well. The one I remember most is helping a woman with her memoir about moving back in with her ex-husband to care for him as he died of cancer. Both from the emotional aspect of her story, as well as the clear raw talent she hosted in her pen, I happily worked with her and was honored to do so. Kind of like being a midwife to a first-time mom, is what I felt like. I knew how to do this, had done it before, and my job was to -- as naturally as possible -- coax her story out of her. 15 bad conferences/retreats/workshops were worth that one experience for me.

rmellis said...

HAVE FUN.

Not too much.

I have a fantasy of turning our place into a writer's colony/conference -- we can put some cabins in the woods.

bigscarygiraffe said...

you'd have to incorporate the chickens somehow..

Anonymous said...

I have no personal experience, but H.F. says that inevitably, someone really, really neurotic shows up and acts out in a sort of comical way. Based on his numerous examples, I am writing a story about it...
but I have digressed...

I was on a week-long sailing course once which brought out very weird stuff in people. The teacher treated us like kindegartners and I regressed....

Have fun, John !

-Nancy

jrlennon said...

Christian, it sounds like you've really enjoyed these! So far I like this one a lot--a great workshop this morning, and an interesting talk (from Jennifer Brice on sentimentality--a great topic).

I think I have only ever been invited to two, the Michigan one and this one. And have done them both.

bigscarygiraffe said...

John...that was epic. So glad I could make it!

jrlennon said...

Thank you!! That was a great crowd...I like this conference more and more.

T.G. said...

Hey John,

It was a pleasure to meet you and hear you read at Colgate. I thought it was a really great experience all around. I've been to one other conference: Napa. And I really liked it. But I have to say, I thought this one was better. Warm vibes, great readings, workshops, and talks. I just thought it was very memorable all around, and I hope you'd consider teaching there again. I'd be among the first in line to sign up for your class! Take care.

Cheers from Berkeley,

Thomas Gamburg

jrlennon said...

Hey Tom! Yeah, I think I'm in, if Matt wants me back. I agree, it is a truly wonderful group.

Thanks also for letting me use your cell phone to call Rhian!

Anthea said...

Hi there, John (& Thomas!)....

Colgate was great. Is great. This is the only conference I've attended - 6 times - maybe a little embarrassing to admit, but I just absolutely love the place, the town, the people. And from what I've heard through the years from other conference goers, CWC is right up there.

I thoroughly enjoyed all of your readings and performances as well as your friendly, good-natured presence. You made it more fun, John!

I posted a bunch of photos on my Facebook page...one of you with your guitar crooning Kodachrome. Feel free to send an invite.

Here's to buttered toast & pajamas on the couch.

All best,

~Anthea Karanasos-Hubanks