A workshop, according to Roy Hoffman, is “not only a round-robin of texts, but also a circle of creative souls.”
The author of three novels will teach an advanced prose workshop at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center titled “Journeys (Of the Heart and Page),” rounding out a full week of literary arts programming that includes workshops and Brown Bag lectures from prose writer Dustin Parsons and poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil. Parsons and Nezhukumatathil, who both teach at the University of Mississippi, will lead the workshops “Your Life in Miniature: Short Memoir” and “The Sharing of Joy: Nature Writing That Snaps, Crackles, and Pops,” respectively. All three writers will give readings at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, July 28 in the Hall of Philosophy.
“I selected all the work (for the reading) to give the audience a sample of how I’ve developed as a writer,” said Parsons, who plans to read from his graphic book Exploded View: Essays of Fatherhood, with Diagrams, as well as from new work. “It is important for people, especially those who will be in my workshop, to see that even after a book, even after a small bit of success, there is so much more learning to do, so much more growth that is still waiting to happen.”
This non-judgmental, all-inclusive philosophy guides his workshop, too. With an emphasis on short forms, Parsons and the writers he coaches will study the link between memoir and personal essay, examining how to “suggest a whole life in 300 words” and interrogating the role of metaphor and repetition.
“I want to give everyone time to be heard, to read out loud their own work, to write,” he said. “I want the space to become a place where everyone trusts everyone, and I want it to happen on day one. That’s a tall order. But, magically, it seems to happen every time.”
Nezhukumatathil writes poems of the Earth. Her 2018 collection, Oceanic, explores a communal planet that is strange and wondrous, while Lace & Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens is an epistolary book of nature poems co-authored with Ross Gay. Her forthcoming work, World of Wonder, is a book of illustrated nature essays.
In a 2013 interview with David Winter for The Journal, she shared how she “always” reminded her poetry students to heed a scientific metaphor: “Poems are not frogs.”
“That is, we’re not going to dissect them until all that is left are some unappetizing bits of skin and bone, and yet we need to at the very least check the poem’s heartbeat, see if it is as healthy as it can be, and, of course, along the way, recognize that there are several versions of what it even means to be ‘healthy,’ to extend that froggy metaphor,” she told Winter.
Hoffman, who returns to the Institution as a prose writer-in-residence, is “delighted” to teach a workshop on the art of revision in “an environment as lovely, diverse and dynamic as Chautauqua.”
“There’s the setting itself, an inspiration in its lakeside beauty,” he said. “The arts, and intellectual discourse, are everywhere. And the people who flock here are curious, open, eager to learn. I love taking a stroll in the morning, teaching a workshop in the afternoon — the writing students, beginning or seasoned, bring a breadth of life experience — and enjoying a concert in the evening. It inspires me as a writer and educator.”
Paraphrasing Ernest Hemingway, “the only kind of writing is rewriting,” Hoffman described the creative process as “a journey from inspiration to finished work” that flourishes in the company of an “upbeat, supportive group.” His workshop will be a deep dive into the character development, point of view and narrative arc contained in the work of his participants. By “reading like writers,” they will address each piece’s strengths and possibilities.
“What journeys, actual or emotional, are the characters and the author taking?” Hoffman asked. “How can we help the author succeed?”
Nurturing this “circle of creative souls” requires, for Hoffman, collaborating “in a motivating, non-competitive way.” He characterized his role as “(guiding) a group dynamic” and ensuring that the writer in focus receives helpful insight from both himself and other workshop participants.
“In doing so, we learn a great deal about one another,” Hoffman said.
For Parsons, the most gratifying time in a workshop is when he is able to hear the work generated from in-class prompts and projects.
“The magical moments they bring to life are stunning,” he said. “I’m reminded every time that people might be new to writing, but they have these rich stories they’ve lived, and they need, they want, a way to express them.”