Week Three at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center features two returning writers-in-residence, Marjorie Maddox and Jonathan Eig.
Maddox will serve as poet-in-residence, and Eig will serve as prose writer-in-residence.
The two haven’t taught at the Writers’ Center together before this summer, but they do share a serendipitous connection: while Maddox was working on a book about Branch Rickey (her great-granduncle), she turned to Eig’s biography of Jackie Robinson as a source. Rickey played a part in helping Robinson break the color barrier in Major League Baseball.
“It’s a cool, happy little accident that we would be scheduled during the same week,” Maddox said, noting that she’s excited to meet a fellow baseball fan in Eig.
Maddox’s workshop is called “In Short: Poetry and Other Brief Forms,” and Eig’s workshop is called “Giving Yourself Permission to Write.” Maddox and Eig will also give readings at 3:30 p.m. Sunday on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.
Maddox is a professor of English and creative writing at Lock Haven University and previously taught at the Writers’ Center in 2012. She’s published 11 collections of poetry and a collection of short stories titled What She Was Saying. She also writes children’s books. Maddox said she wants to bring her experience in these different genres to her workshop.
The initial focus of the workshop will be on poetry, Maddox said, and then she and her students will branch off from there. They’ll look at one- to two-page stories and essays, as well as children’s stories, and think about the boundaries between these genres.
“It’s fun to see how you might take a certain theme or topic and write about it from the perspective of poetry, but then you might think that it would work well as a short essay or as a very short story,” Maddox said.
Maddox said she hopes her workshop will offer her students a chance to have fun and take some risks with genres they might not have tried writing in before.
“Writing is really a practice of discovery,” Maddox said. “You discover a lot about yourself and about others by experimenting with poetry or short fiction or short essays.”
Eig has written for The Wall Street Journal and is the author of multiple biographies, including the upcoming Ali: A Life, on Muhammad Ali. Eig and documentarian Ken Burns are developing a project based on Ali’s life.
This will be Eig’s fifth visit to Chautauqua. He said he missed out last summer because he was finishing up a book. He last taught at the Writers’ Center in 2014 with Week One’s poet-in-residence Shara McCallum.
Eig said he wants to show his students how to “build up the muscles” that make for a better and stronger writer. He and his students will do different exercises to help take some of the writerly pressure off their shoulders. Eig’s experience is in nonfiction, but he said the exercises should be helpful for writers from any genre.
“There’s no real mystery behind it,” Eig said. “You can do the work and you can get better. It doesn’t matter where you’re at in your writing life.”
Eig said he hopes his students will take his workshop’s title to heart.
“I hope they feel like they can give themselves permission to write,” Eig said. “Anybody can do it, and I want to demystify the process. Hopefully they’ll feel like they went through a boot camp and they’re in better shape as writers than they were when they started.”
Eig and Maddox will also give Brown Bag lectures on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall during Week Three. Maddox’s Brown Bag, called “Confronting this World One Poem at a Time” will be at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, and Eig’s Brown Bag, called “Biography as Love Affair” will be at 12:15 p.m. Friday.