Week One at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center will welcome two returnees: Shara McCallum is a previous writer-in-residence, while Laura Maylene Walter is a former student leading a workshop for the first time.
McCallum will serve as the poet-in-residence, while Walter will serve as the prose writer-in-residence for the first writing workshops of the 2017 season.
McCallum’s workshop is titled “Writing History, Writing the Self,” and Walter’s workshop is called “Getting Weird: Innovative Story Structure.” In addition to their workshops, McCallum and Walter will give readings at 3:30 p.m. Sunday on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.
McCallum has written five collections of poetry, most recently Madwoman, released earlier this year. McCallum said she always looks forward to returning to Chautauqua because it’s a “rarified space” where people value and discuss poetry in their everyday lives.
McCallum also has a few students in her workshop this summer with whom she has worked before at Chautauqua. One even published a poetry collection that McCallum blurbed. McCallum said seeing one of her students have that success is rewarding.
She and her students will be producing and discussing new poems, prompted by history and the connection each writer has to it. McCallum said that can mean “personal history, family history, as well as public history.”
McCallum explores this intersection between the personal and historical in Madwoman, and her enthusiasm for this relationship spilled over into her workshop topic.
“That’s probably why I’m obsessed with this right now,” McCallum said.
She hopes to get her students to take risks with their poems and question history, a process that opens up a vein of vulnerability she thinks is essential to poetry.
“I think it can make you feel very vulnerable, so I hope to be able to encourage them to accept that vulnerability as part of the purpose of writing,” McCallum said.
Walter is the author of the short story collection Living Arrangements, and her writing has been published in numerous publications, such as The Kenyon Review. She was a student in a Writers’ Center workshop around a decade ago, and has also attended the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival.
“I love what Chautauqua does,” Walter said. “I love all the writing programs, and I am thrilled to come and be able to teach a class myself.”
Walter and her students will play with structure in her workshop, thinking of unconventional ways to arrange their narratives. Walter said it’s a good way to help writers “loosen up.”
“Instead of a straight, expected narrative, perhaps the stories are structured around various categories, various themes,” Walter said. “I have fun writing stories like this as a writer, and I hope to show my students that this can be a way to take some of the pressure off when you’re trying to write a new story.”
Walter said this way of writing stories can feel strange or weird at first, but she and her students will still be focused on finding characters and creating conflicts.
“It might just look a little different on the page,” she said.
McCallum and Walter will also give Brown Bag lectures on the porch of Alumni Hall during Week One. McCallum’s Brown Bag, called “Poetry & the Visual Arts,” will start at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, and Walter’s Brown Bag, called “The Power of Rejection,” will start at 12:15 p.m. Friday.