Week Nine Writers’ Center Classes Focus on Jazz

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Authors Ron MacLean and Neil Shepard will close out the 2016 season at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center.

MacLean will serve as the prose writer-in-residence and Shepard will serve as poet-in-residence, and they’ll lead workshops on ratcheting up tension in stories and finding the music in poetry.

MacLean’s workshop is “Raising the Stakes in Stories” and Shepard’s workshop is “Getting Inside the Music of Poetry and All That Jazz.” MacLean and Shepard will also give public readings at 3:30 p.m. August 21 on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.

MacLean returns to the Writers’ Center this season after teaching in 2011 alongside another of this season’s returnees, Aimee Nezhukumatathil. MacLean is the author of the novel Headlong and teaches at GrubStreet in Boston.

MacLean’s workshop will help his students move beyond just establishing a conflict in their stories — they’ll learn how to escalate it as well.

“In this craft workshop, we’ll look at ways to increase both danger and dimensionality, so readers can trace — and feel — the progress of tension,” MacLean wrote in his workshop description. “We’ll look at published examples, and practice techniques through in-class exercises.”

In an interview with Beth Castrodale of Small Press Picks, MacLean discussed what keeps him writing — advice he’ll likely pass on to his workshop participants.

“In order to stay sane doing this work, I have to remind myself — and have lovely writer friends who also remind me — it’s the writing that matters,” MacLean said. “All else comes from that. Take joy in doing the work.”

Shepard is also a Writers’ Center veteran, having taught during previous seasons and during the pre-season 2015 Chautauqua Writers’ Festival. He released two poetry collections in 2015 and is also a founding member of the poetry-jazz group POJAZZ.

Shepard will draw on those skills with his workshop, where he and his students will learn how different elements of language — from consonance and assonance to alliteration and line breaks — create music in poetry.

“I thought we should adjust our coordinates a bit and look at the music inside poetry,” Shepard said. “Oftentimes, poets are taught to look at the visual imagery and metaphor and then look at the sensible nature of subject matter. And then often belatedly, we turn to the sonics that underlies all the visuals — the sonic is the music.”

Shepard said he and his students will look at very contemporary poetry to help inspire their own work as well. Focusing the workshop on the musical qualities of poetry seemed like a great way to get inspired by the theme of Week Nine, “America’s Music with Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center,” he said.

“As always, I hope they’ll come away with more of a sense of how they can make music and make sounds work to their advantage in poems,” Shepard said. “We’re always trying to make the reader not only experience the sense of whatever we’re writing about, but also get into the deep feeling of it, and that’s often delivered through the sound.”

Shepard and MacLean will also give Brown Bag lectures on the porch of Alumni Hall during the week. Shepard’s Brown Bag, called “The Art of Concealing and Revealing in Poetry” will be at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday. MacLean’s Brown Bag, called “Writing a Bigger World” will be at 12:15 p.m. Friday.


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.