Literary Arts Friends President Fred Zirm Takes Writers’ Center Reins for 2016 Season

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The Chautauqua Writers’ Center will welcome a diverse range of writing talent as well as a new interim director in its 2016 season.

Fred Zirm, president of the Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends, will serve as interim program director of the Writers’ Center for the summer. Zirm is stepping in for program director Clara Silverstein, who is taking the summer off.

Zirm said he’s looking forward to seeing how the Writers’ Center runs “from the other side of the curtain.” He has participated in numerous writing workshops at Chautauqua over the years and is a familiar face in the literary arts community. He said learning how all of the writers’ accommodations, scheduling and transportation works over the course of the season has been exciting.

“All the backstage stuff,” Zirm said. “I’m excited to be a part of that. And a little bit nervous, because I don’t know the ropes yet, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Zirm said Silverstein did a lot of the pre-season work, which includes securing the writers-in-residence and the week-by-week schedule. He said she will visit at the beginning of the season to help facilitate, and then he’ll become the “point person” for the Writers’ Center. He said he is happy to have Silverstein help prepare him, because she normally runs the program.

Zirm said he was excited by this year’s lineup of writers. He has read some of the writers’ works and said he was impressed by the range of voices and the wide set of skills they’ll bring to Chautauqua. He said he hopes for a lot of dialogue between the writers-in-residence and looks forward to hearing different angles on what it means to be a writer through their workshops and Brown Bag lectures.

For Zirm, there are two elements about the Writers’ Center that make it special. One is the environment offered by the workshops.

“Almost without exception — I’ve been taking workshops for 15, 16 years — I’ve found that you get people who are skilled writers and teachers,” Zirm said. “Without exception, you get a community of people, and the kind of people that tend to be attracted to Chautauqua are interested, engaged, have a wide variety of backgrounds and they give honest but civil criticism. I haven’t been in a workshop where it’s been — though I’ve heard of one or two — where it’s become a clash of egos.”

The other element is a more practical one.

“In the world of workshops, they are a bargain,” Zirm said. “From a consumer standpoint, there’s more bang for the buck.”

Week One

The 2016 season starts with visits from two Philips — Philip Gerard and Philip Terman.

Gerard, author of The Dark of the Island, will lead five stand-alone, one-day workshops, which are gathered under the theme of “Turning Fact into Story.” Although each day’s topic varies, the main goal is learning how to use fact and experience to create narratives. Students can attend any number of the prose workshops.

Poet-in-residence Terman, author of eight poetry collections, will lead “Writing Where We Are at Chautauqua.” Terman and his students will look to the environment around them as a prompt for their poetry.

Week Two

Kim T. Griswell is the author of Carnivorous Plants and has an editorial career that has spanned 20 years. Her workshop, “Finding Your Voice,” will focus on helping students recognize and use their unique authorial voices.

Poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil, author of Lucky Fish, will lead a workshop titled “Bringing the Outside In: Poetry and Wonder.” She and her students will look to the wonders of the natural world as inspiration for their poems.

Week Three

Pushcart Prize winner Ann Hood will lead “Writing the Personal Essay,” in which she and her students examine the work of essayists and write their own.

Poet-in-residence Charles Coe, author of Picnic on the Moon, will help students turn their focus to those they know best with his workshop, “Writing About the People in Your Life.” Coe will gear the workshop toward writing about those people in a way that is sincere and respectful.

Week Four

Emily Fox Gordon, author of Mockingbird Years: A Life In and Out of Therapy, will lead a workshop called “Retrieving Lost Worlds.” She and her students will look at the process of creating memoirs and preserving people and places through writing.

Playwright Zayd Dohrn, whose play The Profane will be performed at Bratton Theater this summer, will lead a special playwriting workshop called “The Great American Drama: Writing Plays That Matter.”

Rachel DeWoskin, author of Blind, will lead a special one-day workshop on July 20 called “Making Your Story Move: Characters in Conflict.” DeWoskin and her students will look at what makes characters tick in famous literary works and how to recreate that in their own writing.

Gregory Donovan, author of poetry collection Torn from the Sun, will re-examine the concept of writing what one knows in his workshop, “Writing Out of Your Mind: Using Science, History, and Imagination.” Donovan and his students will look to the expansive world outside of their own minds as inspiration for their poetry.

Week Five

Tom Noyes is the author of Come By Here: A Novella and Stories and will lead a workshop called “Writing in Place.” Noyes and his students will examine setting and how it can help create dynamic characters and themes.

Jim Daniels will lead a small advanced poetry workshop for writers with previous poetry experience. Daniels will discuss issues of craft and provide feedback for his students.

Week Six

Leslie Daniels, author of Cleaning Nabokov’s House, will lead a workshop on character development titled “Get Your Characters in Trouble.” Daniels and her students will explore how characters drive stories.

Nicole Cooley, author of Breach, will focus on inspiration in her poetry workshop, “Let’s Get Lost While Writing Poems,” on how to use personal minutiae from their lives in their poetry.

Week Seven

Linda K. Wertheimer is the author of Faith Ed: Teaching About Religion in an Age of Intolerance and frequently writes about religion. She and her students will examine faith and how they can write about it in an accessible way.

Poet Molly Peacock will lead a master class called “Sonnet Sublime: Fourteen Lines Transcend Their Limits.” She and her students will look at famous sonnets from the past while composing their own within the form.

Week Eight

Nancy McCabe, author of From Little Houses to Little Women: Revisiting a Literary Childhood, will help her students explore the various ways stories can be told with her workshop, “Fun with Story Structure.” She and her students will look to examples and experiment with the structure of their own work.

Kent Gramm, author of The Prayer of Jesus, will lead the poetry workshop “Writing from the Bible.” Gramm will teach his students how anybody, regardless of belief, can look to one of the most famous books in the world as a springboard for their poetry.

Week Nine

Ron MacLean and Neil Shepard will wrap up the 2016 season at the Writers’ Center.

MacLean, author of Headlong, will lead the last prose workshop of the season, “Raising the Stakes in Stories.” He and his students will explore techniques that can increase tension and escalate conflict in their work.

Shepard, author of poetry collections Hominid Up and Vermont Exit Ramps II, will lead the final poetry workshop of the season, “Getting Inside the Music of Poetry and All That Jazz.” He and his students will examine the ways in which musical technique and form can become part of their poetry.


The author Ryan Pait

Ryan Pait gets a different haircut every summer to keep the people of Chautauqua guessing. This is his fourth summer at The Chautauquan Daily, so if you’re tired of him, that’s OK. He recently graduated with his master’s degree in literature from Western Kentucky University. Don’t ask him about what he’s doing after this summer, but do ask him about the Nicole Kidman renaissance, the return of “Game of Thrones” and what he’s reading.