For Kristin Kovacic, one of the most essential parts of being a writer is to make art in a world that is growing more dismal.
“We are in a historical moment that feels so dark,” said Kovacic, an essayist and the Week Six prose writer-in-residence at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center. “The events of the day are so dire and cataclysmic — mass shootings and climate apocalypse and political collapse and wars and all of that — it just feels like a very dark time for humanity.”
At 12:15 p.m. Friday, Aug. 5 on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall, Kovacic, whose essays have won the Pushcart Prize and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowship, among other awards, will give a Chautauqua Literary Arts Brown Bag lecture, titled “Starry Night: On Writing in the Dark.”
Kovacic said it might feel pointless, and even selfish, to make art at this particular moment. She reminded writers that creating work is a journey.
“Our art-making is a process, and some of the art we make is not political in the traditional sense,” she said. “I want to think about the value of making art, however modestly. That’s another thing I want to stress: most of us in Chautauqua are in process. We are working with modest ambitions, but we are sincerely attempting to make art.”
Kovacic feels that this desire to create art is important, despite current circumstances.
“So maybe you want to write about how you’re living in a church, or maybe you want to write a memoir about your family and your grandparents, or maybe you want to do some painting, a still life,” she said. “How is it that you justify making that art in a time that’s so dire and urgent in other ways?”
Attendees of Kovacic’s week-long prose workshop, “Between Sentiment and Scorn: Writing Truthfully and Ethically about Family,” are working on recording their personal histories, Kovacic said.
“My genre is the personal essay,” she said. “Most of what a person knows about life is forged in the crucible of family. There’s a lot of knowledge there; there’s a lot of knowledge and understanding — and there’s also a lot of curiosity and mystery. There’s a lot of wisdom and meaning to be found in examining our family life, our relationships with the people we love.”
A lot of what people know, Kovacic said, they learned from their experiences in those close relationships. When it comes to actually writing about those relationships, a paradox can arise: the relationships that affected you the most are the ones that are the most difficult to write about.
“It’s hard to write about people you love,” she said. “But I think there’s a lot of wisdom and meaning to be found in examining our family life. So that’s what we’ll be doing.”