The Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall will have a full house in Week Four.
In addition to the regular poetry and prose workshops, the Chautauqua Writers’ Center will host two special workshops during the week. Writers Emily Fox Gordon, Gregory Donovan, Zayd Dohrn and Rachel DeWoskin will all be in residence for the week.
Prose writer-in-residence Gordon’s workshop is called “Retrieving Lost Worlds” and poet-in-residence Donovan’s workshop is called “Writing Out of Your Mind: Using Science, History, and Imagination.” Gordon, Donovan, Dohrn and DeWoskin will also give public readings at 3:30 p.m. Sunday on the porch of Alumni Hall.
Gordon is the author of multiple works, including Book of Days: Personal Essays and is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. She often teaches workshops, and it’s an environment she said she finds invigorating.
“It keeps me alive to the issues that are involved in writing, and makes me feel like I have people I can talk to about writing,” Gordon said.
Gordon and her students will focus on memoir writing and working around what she sees as a commonly held notion about the genre.
“Memoir is thought of as a very self-involved genre, and gets a lot of criticism for that,” Gordon said.
So Gordon and her students will explore the other side of memoir — the part she believes is a little more removed from the self.
“Everybody has a patch of memories, an emotional ecosystem that has to do with place and time, and that will be our focus — to bring back earlier memories, constellations of people and places,” Gordon said. “Each of us is the only one who has those particular constellations.”
Donovan is the author of two poetry collections, the most recent of which is Torn from the Sun. He teaches in Virginia Commonwealth University’s graduate creative writing program and is senior editor of the online literary journal Blackbird. He is a frequent writer-in-residence at the Writers’ Center. His first visit was in 2000.
Donovan said “the population at large” thinks poetry isn’t for them because it seems private and highly emotional and removed from the reader. But Donovan thinks poetry can do anything other genres do, something he hopes to get across with his workshop.
Much of that, Donovan said, is getting his students to recognize the dual power of memory and imagination and how it can charge their work.
“Those two powers, memory and imagination, are linked,” Donovan said. “But imagination is the stronger one because it encompasses a broader field of inquiry.”
Donovan wants his students to take this idea to heart and read broadly into science, history and current events to find imagery that compels them and inspires their poetic work, he said.
The worst writing advice, Donovan said, is to write what you know. He said he wants his students to come away from his workshop ready to write their way into new knowledge.
In addition to leading their workshops, Donovan and Gordon will give Brown Bag lectures on the Alumni Hall porch during the week. Donovan’s Brown Bag, called “The Expanding Universe of Online Journals,” will be at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, and Gordon’s Brown Bag, called “Truth and Lies in Memoir” will be at 12:15 p.m. Friday.
Dohrn and DeWoskin will lead the special workshops during the week. Dohrn’s, called “The Great American Drama: Writing Plays That Matter,” will run for the full week. DeWoskin’s, called “Making Your Story Move: Characters in Conflict,” is a one-day workshop on Wednesday.
Dohrn is a playwright whose new work, The Profane, will premiere Friday at Bratton Theater. Dohrn’s workshop came together through a collaboration between the Chautauqua Theater Company and the Writers’ Center. He taught a special playwriting workshop in 2015 as well.
He’ll be pulling double duty this year, however, because The Profane will be in final rehearsals during the week.
“It’ll be fun,” Dohrn said. “I’ll be teaching in the morning, and then in rehearsals during the afternoon and evening. So it’s going to be a busy time, but hopefully productive for me and for my students.”
Dohrn said his workshop is mainly geared toward playwrights and screenwriters, but he thinks it could be instructive for anyone interested in dramatic storytelling.
“Basically, we’re going to talk about how dramatic stories are put together, how you make audiences interested in the story you’re telling, how you create characters who have needs and desires that are dynamic and push your story forward and how conflict is the engine of dramatic storytelling,” Dohrn said.
Dohrn said the workshop format allows him to see what’s on his students’ minds and how he can use his own interests and experiences to help them.
“If people are kind of struggling to structure the writing they do, if they have something to say, a story to tell, a voice they feel like is compelling, but they’re struggling to make that into a full story — that’s what the workshop is going to be about,” Dohrn said.
DeWoskin is the author of multiple novels and the memoir Foreign Babes in Beijing, in which she recounts her experience of living in China and becoming a soap opera star. She teaches writing at the University of Chicago. This will be her first time teaching at the Writers’ Center.
Her two-hour workshop will focus on character building and how to put them in conflict.
“What we’re going to talk about in the workshop is how to make characters who feel vivid and alive and three-dimensional, how to create voices that are our own, yet not our own,” DeWoskin said.
She said one of the most important elements in literature, for her, is a “preoccupation not with whether the things people do are good or bad, but with why people do the things they do.” She said she is more interested in motivations than a “black and white question” of good and bad, something she hopes to get across with her students.
DeWoskin believes that kind of character work is important for any type of writer, regardless of genre.
“I’m a person who believes fundamentally that work in any of the genres informs work and success in the others,” DeWoskin said.
Though her workshop will be brief, DeWoskin hopes her students come away with a spark of inspiration. She said they’ll take home a “crackling, brilliant scene of their own — something that they start in the workshop, and then they go off into the field of Chautauqua and continue to write until it’s a short story or a chapter of a novel.”