Writers’ Center’s radical ideas include friendship, fiction and poetry



Jennifer Shore | Staff Writer

Week Eight at the Writers’ Center adds something extra to the classes and lectures — friendship.

Writers-in-residence J. David Stevens and Gabriel Welsch met while earning their master’s degrees at Penn State University, and they have remained close ever since.

Their families usually vacation together every year, but Welsch said he is excited to spend the week at Chautauqua as friends, vacationers and colleagues at the same time.

The week’s morning lecture platform is “Radicalism,” which Stevens will include in his weeklong workshop, “Writing on the Edge: Radical Fictions,” and Brown Bag Lecture, “Literary Radicalism: How Far Have We Really Come in 200 years?,” at 12:15 p.m. Friday on the Alumni Hall porch.

Stevens said his workshop will discuss radical samples of contemporary fiction, with the word “radical” loosely defined.

“Radicalism is a broad subject,” Stevens said. “The truth of the matter is almost any piece of literature could be considered radical. It’s a radical act to think that I have something to say, and it’s radical to believe somebody out there wants to hear it.”

He devotes time and energy into working and reworking manuscripts day after day — that commitment, to him, is a form of radicalism.

“He’s a good teacher,” Welsch said. “I think people will gain a lot from him being there. His lecture is bound to be entertaining and erudite at the same time.”

Welsch will present “Finding the Net: The Urge for Order in Contemporary Poetry” at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday on the Alumni Hall porch, and his workshop series will be “The Fine Line in Poetry.”

This is the third year he has been at the Writers’ Center, which gives him insight on what can be accomplished in one week.

“The overwhelming majority of people will say that what differentiates poetry from prose is the focus on the line as the essential building component, as opposed to the sentence or the paragraph,” Welsch said, “so I’ll be looking at different conceptions of the line over the week.”

Clara Silverstein, director of the Writers’ Center, said she likes Welsch’s idea of putting a poem together as a unit and line — not a sentence.

“I like his idea of negative space,” Silverstein said. “You have that in art, so you have parts of the painting that isn’t filled, so the line breaks.”

Some writers discuss imposing lines and breaking lines, and Welsch said during the week, workshop attendees will discuss how line is developed.

“On a very practical level for those who are writing, I’ll challenge them to think about their relation to line — this thing they haven’t tried before,” Welsh said. “This sort of surprise comes into writing when you do those kinds of exercises.”