Friday afternoon and all day Saturday, I was at the Chattahoochee Valley Writers Conference in Columbus, whose focus is both to celebrate the literary heritage in the area (i.e. Nunnaly Johnson and Carson McCullers), and to engage and develop the literary talent of the future. I’ve attended all three years, not only because I have several friends who live there, but also because I find workshops to be energizing and creatively rejuvenating. I long for the days of the Sewanee Writers Conference and the Kenyon Writers Workshop, which were both extended retreats, but these days I have neither the money or the time (off from work) to go to such things, so I have to make do with CVWC and other little minicons when I can.
Jill McCorkle was the keynote speaker on Friday night. She was just as pleasant and delightful as she was when I met her at Sewanee, but I confess to being disappointed that she read her prepared speech instead of partially extemporizing (because she’s pretty funny), or honestly, just reading her fiction.
It was amazing–sometimes I was really engaged in what she was reading, about memory being fluid and the importance of reconnecting to your emotional core, and then other times her damn monotone zonked me right out. CVWC was incredibly lucky to get her–she sort of squeezed us in because an old high school friend of hers was on the steering committee, but she was really on her way to some other literary festival to promote her books–and she stayed through the dinner afterwards, although I wasn’t at her table.
Of the dinner at one of Columbus’s “finer dining establishments” (finer my ass), I will say only that it was awful, and that I complained bitterly on the evaluation. Although, to be fair, the company I was sitting with was great.
Saturday, I attended four workshops: one of family history and genealogy which really isn’t my thing, but the other things being offered were of even less interest to me; Nick Norwood’s poetry workshop, which was better than his one last year, but again, he really didn’t say anything at all about my poem, and there was hardly any discussion about it at all (less than the one I sent last year, and there was 2 words about it last year), unlike on EVERYONE ELSE’S who got at least several comments both from him and from the class–that kind of pissed me off, but whatever; Clela Reed’s poetry workshop which was nice because for one thing, there weren’t a cast of thousands in it, and for another, she let us do some writing and this morning I turned it into a poem; and last, but not least, Karen McElmurray’s memoir workshop, which was a delight at all points.
I had met Karen the night before when Linda (with whom I was staying) and I picked her up and drove her around Columbus. I don’t care what anyone (Chris) says, Columbus is not an armpit–it is a lovely town that I wouldn’t mind living in. We looked around the historic district, Linda stopping at all the historic marker signs so we could read them, and it was just a nice drive. Afterwards, we attended the keynote address, and then we went to the horrid restaurant, but I got to sit with Karen M. She seemed like a really open and generous person, and fundamentally positive about things, though hearing her talk about the subject of her memoir Surrendered Child–having to give up her baby that she had at 16 to adoption–you know that she has had a difficult life. I would have bought it at the book fair at the end of the conference, but she asked me to get her second novel instead, The Motel of the Stars, and write a review of it on Amazon when I’m finished. I told her I would.
We also went to the same sessions while she was waiting for hers, which was the last of the day. And in her session about memoir, she offered us lots of book titles to check out, opportunities to read aloud some texts she brought with her, and gave us some directed writing to do. She also said that if we develop what we started in her class, she would be happy to read it. This is always a generous offer, because as all writers know, if you’re reading someone else’s work, you’re not writing your own. Maybe she wouldn’t make this offer if she weren’t on leave this year–but I might return to what I started in there. I’m always interested in memoirs, even if I don’t have the attention span to really write one. (Hence, maybe this is why many of my poems are narrative, but more on that later.) Karen was just such a nice person. I would like to cultivate that acquaintance and make a new friend.
I also bought Clela’s book Dancing on the Rim, which I had been meaning to get since she debuted it at the July GPS meeting.
I was glad I went, although the drive back in torrential rain was at best, annoying, and at worst, terrifying. And then when I got home, Chris had gone out to a party, and didn’t return until midnight, when I was long asleep.
I hate to quibble, but wouldn’t that line above better read “finer dining establishments” (finer my ass)?
Not that you need me to tell you this, but ignore Bob.
Yes, it would. So I’ll fix it.
But is that the only comment you have?
That was hardly your pithy best, Bob.
Well, I wasn’t there. The only thing I have to say about memoir is that after waiting for the new version of Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, I found it not as fascinating as I had remembered. In a passage that I believe was added to this version, Hemingway describes letting his hair grow to the same length as his wife’s. Though hair raising in its own way, the passage reads like the winner of a bad Hemingway contest.