Week Three’s workshops at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center are all about people.
Writers Ann Hood and Charles Coe will help their students explore the ins and outs of the personal essay and how to write about people from one’s own life. Hood will serve as the prose writer-in-residence, and Coe will serve as the poet-in-residence for Week Three.
Hood’s workshop is called “Writing the Personal Essay” and Coe’s workshop is called “Writing About the People in Your Life.” Both writers will also give public readings at 3:30 p.m. Sunday on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.
Hood is a returnee to the Writers’ Center, having first taught there in 2002. She is the author of numerous works, including the novel The Obituary Writer, and has a new novel, The Book That Matters Most, that will be released in August. She is also the author of Comfort: A Journey Through Grief, a memoir about the loss of her daughter.
She’ll draw on her nonfiction skills for her workshop, where she said the focus will be on generating new work. Hood said with a traditional workshop, most people are bringing in polished pieces, but starting with fresh work can be both fun and informative for everyone involved.
“It’s getting people to think about different ways to write about themselves and their lives and topics they care about,” Hood said.
Hood plans to have her students read personal essays and write from exercises and prompts. She wants to expose her students to new voices they might not come across in their own reading.
“Every day we get these fresh, different takes on writing,” Hood said. “I love how I see people realize, ‘Oh, I can write about that? That’s valid?’ Or they discover something new to think about or a different way to write about things.”
Hood said she’s excited to be back in the world of the workshop. Now that she’s finished her forthcoming novel, she said she can return to the environment that keeps her honest as a writer and helps her follow her own advice.
“It reminds you of what you’re supposed to be doing,” Hood said.
Coe has authored multiple poetry collections, including Picnic on the Moon and All Sins Forgiven: Poems for My Parents. This is his first time coming to Chautauqua.
Although his workshop is intended for poets, Coe said he thinks the topic is important for writers in all genres. He said when reading works focused on real-life people, people want to see “a fully dimensional human being, not a cardboard cutout.”
“People don’t like to be lectured,” Coe said. “People don’t like to be preached at. People want to be engaged.”
Coe said he hopes his students come away from the workshop with a new perspective on the stories they already have rattling around in their heads.
“When you start to write about someone, often you’ve been thinking about it for a long time,” Coe said. “And you have this narrative about them in your mind already. I’d like my workshop attendees to leave with fresh insights into that, and realize that the story they have to tell — this script they have — maybe that’s not actually what is most interesting to write about. And maybe it is, and they just come away with new perspectives or insights into that particular person.”
In addition to leading their workshops, Coe and Hood will give Brown Bag lectures on the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall porch during the week. Coe’s Brown Bag, called “Libraries: A Love Story,” will be at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, and Hood’s Brown Bag, called “Why Write?” will be at 12:15 p.m. Friday.