Writers' Center /
The Chautauqua Writers' Center is a lively community of writers at all levels of development who cultivate the courage, craft and vision necessary to grow as artists under the tutelage of nationally recognized authors. Started in 1987, the original core program of eighteen summer workshops, readings and lectures has grown to include the Chautauqua Writers' Festival, the Chautauqua Literary Journal, and an active support organization, Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends. Whether you are an accomplished writer looking for peer support, a novice striving to take your work to the next level, or simply an avid reader in love with all things literary, we welcome you and hope to see you at one of our many programs.
Writers' Center Programs at-a-glance
Weekly poetry and prose workshops — Each workshop is taught by an experienced, published author in a small group setting. Most classes are limited to just 12 participants. All workshops are held on the second floor of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall. (Located on the south end of the grounds on Wythe Ave. across from the Hall of Philosophy.) For specific questions regarding workshops, please contact Clara Silverstein.
Registration begins in April for the 2012 season. Call the ticket office at 716.357.6250 to register by phone; register online; or visit any of Chautauqua’s three ticket windows (located at the Main Gate Welcome Center, the Turner Community Center, or the Colonnade) to register in-person during the season (June 23 – August 26, 2012).
Readings on the Porch — Each Sunday from 3:30 – 4:30 p.m., the week's poet and prose writers-in-residence read from their own work on the porch of Alumni Hall. (free)
Brown-bag Lectures — Each Tuesday and Friday from 12:15 – 1:15 p.m., the week’s poet and prose writers-in-residence (respectively) offer a public lecture on the porch of Alumni Hall. Bring your lunch! (free)
Chautauqua Poetry Contest — Sponsored by Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends. No submission fee. Two prizes. One for an adult poet and one for a poet age 18 or younger. Submission forms available at the library and the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.
Hauser Prize — Sponsored by Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends. Prize offered in prose. Contest is open to all who come to Chautauqua for the summer season. No submission fee.
Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends — $30 annual membership in this literary arts support group includes a copy of the journal Chautauqua, membership in the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (CLSC) and perks such as social events.
Brown Bag TalksPoetry | Prose
Poetry Workshop LeadersTuesdays, 12:15-1:15 p.m.
Literary Arts Center Porch
Week OneJo McDougall
So You're Writing a Memoir. Who Cares?
Perhaps you’re writing a memoir or thinking you should. But should you? In an era sated with over-sharing sound bites, is one of the basic qualities of human existence – telling one’s story – still relevant? Will anybody care? Competing with instant social connections, has the memoir’s long run coming to an end? Using brief excerpts from contemporary memoirs and her own book, the author discusses the pros and cons of memoir writing in 2013.
Week TwoPhilip Terman
Poetry in the Public Arena
The literary community often debases the “occasional poem” – a poem written to describe or comment on a particular public event – as amateurish and one-dimensional, a vehicle for stock imagery and predictable metaphor. This attitude has helped to diminish poetry’s significance as a cultural necessity. That some of our civilization’s greatest poets have written occasional poems, not to mention their fundamental place in many world cultures, should encourage us to better support poetry’s place in our public arena.
Week ThreeKevin Young
The Modern Hoax in Literature and Society
From fake memoirist James Frey and journalist Stephen Glass to athletes Lance Armstrong and Manti Te'o, the hoax and its sustained lies have come to dominate our airwaves and even our news outlets. What does the hoax say about us? About writing? Poet and essayist Kevin Young, who is at work on a book about this subject, looks at the rash of recent hoaxes, with their implications for self-invention, innocence, and the truth.
Week FourWilliam Heyen
“Archie”: Friend and Mentor Archibald MacLeish
Archibald MacLeish, from whom poet William Heyen received about 80 letters during MacLeish's twilight years, insisted that Bill call him "Archie." Heyen will read from these letters from his mentor, remember the great man, praise him for reminders of how to live, and consider what may be MacLeish's central instruction about poetry, and about all art: how it is smarter than we are, and how it goes on thinking about itself unto eternity.
Week FiveTodd Davis
An Infinitesimally Brief History of Joy, Ecstasy, and Happiness in American Poetry
Too many of us think of poetry as awash in grief, written out of the suffering life inevitably doles out in unequal measure. While poetry is a great consolation, it can also provide a means for expressing our experience of happiness. We’ll consider how poems including Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” and Wendell Berry’s “The Mad Farmer’s Love Song” explore the tradition of joy, even laughter, in the American literary landscape.
Week SixGeraldine Connolly
Poems That Create Healing Places, Sacred Spaces
A poem can be used to create a sacred or healing space: a house, a village, a room that is imaginary or real, but regardless, comforting . From Rumi to Emily Dickinson, from Shakespeare to Wendell Berry, a poet’s intense connection to a place can become mythic. Imagery and sensory detail from the physical world, a particular attitude and tone coupled with a unique point of view, can create a work of art that is restorative and consoling. We will discuss Rumi’s “Guest House,” Yeats’ “Lake Isle of Innisfree,” Adam Zagajewski’s “To go to Lvov,” as well as other poems that create a safe and nurturing space.
Week SevenWilliam Wenthe
Question(s) of Political Poetry
Between Shelley’s notion of poets as “unacknowledged legislators of the world,” and Auden’s idea that “poetry makes nothing happen,” lies the ongoing attempt of poets to write poems that speak to public concerns. How does this attempt manifest itself today? The topic is enormous; but prompted by a statement of Holocaust victim Etty Hillesum – “I am not afraid to look suffering in the eyes” – this talk will look at the role of suffering, in both senses of the word, in political poetry.
Week EightMary McLaughlin Slechta
Writing in Uncertain Times
A very human response to uncertainty is paralysis, yet artists of all times have managed to articulate our fear and confusion, steering us toward hope. What strategies might we employ in our own uncertain times of financial and environmental crises, terrorism and war, illness and loss? How and why to keep writing? Examples include Poems to Live by in Uncertain Times (edited by Joan Murray; a previous CLSC book club selection) and Poets Against the War (edited by Sam Hamill).
Week NineNicole Cooley
Tiny Texts: Flash Fiction, Short Poems, One-Minute Plays
This talk focuses on miniatures, tiny texts that play with language in wonderful, fun ways and at the same time ask us to rethink our ideas about reading and writing. We will look at short forms in early 21st century American writing, from haiku to prose poems to micro-fiction to tiny diaries written on index cards. We will discuss silence, omission, erasure, page space, and look closely at the linguistic strategies employed by texts that define themselves as “shorts.”
Prose Workshop LeadersFridays, 12:15-1:15 p.m.
Literary Arts Center Porch
Week OnePhilip Gerard
On Fire For Research
This talk passionately celebrates the joy of going out into the world to find stories, with plenty of examples of interviews and discoveries from the writer’s own experience. Location plays a huge role. Gerard explains why he believes in the importance of walking the ground, feeling the place in your muscles and eyes and ears, as you unearth its secrets.
Week TwoKristin Kovacic
Writing Like a Kid, Again: Effective Literary Approaches from Children and Adolescents
Many adults are obsessed with regaining, or retaining, our youth. We play baseball as senior citizens, “friend” our high school pals on Facebook, copy our daughters’ fashion. But who wants to write like a teenager, or a middle schooler, again? An experienced teacher shares the motivations, strategies, and gifts that youth bestows on beginning writers, and she’ll suggest ways in which adults can use these to rejuvenate their own work. Excerpts from the work of astonishing young writers, as well as their own thinking about the writing process, will frame the discussion.
Week ThreeKent Gramm
Perfect Tribute: Writing The Gettysburg Address
Many Americans learned that Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address on the back of an envelope while on the train from Washington, but few know that this "fact" is entirely false. Where did the legend come from? Why was it invented, and what are the implications of that invention? How was the Address actually written, and what can we learn from the process?
Week FourKaren Day
In Children’s Literature, Why Are All of the Mothers Dead?
Children’s stories are filled with girl narrators and their dead mothers – from folk tales like Hansel and Gretel through Disney movies such as “The Little Mermaid” and “Pocahontas” to today’s Newbery award-winning classics such as Walk Two Moons. Why? Does a heroine need to be motherless to garner sympathy? Is the daughter-mother bond so strong that authors need to do away with mothers in order to free the daughters? We examine this phenomenon and consider several hypotheses, including those of certain Freudian revisionists whose theories on mothers and daughters changed the way we view adolescent development in girls.
Week FiveKim Todd
Curiosity: Vital Force or Cautionary Tale?
The itch to answer questions is the engine of science, innovation, and art, but curiosity has a mixed reputation. Seeking to satisfy it can give life meaning; at the same time, myths and parables paint it as a trivial distraction. Charles Darwin himself, whose desire for knowledge led him to spend five years on The Beagle, contrasted "real investigation" with "mere damnable and detestable curiosity." In this talk we'll investigate the literary history and psychology of curiosity, explore the interplay of curiosity and creativity, and examine the ways writers have used the triggers of curiosity to craft irresistible works of art.
Week SixLaura Kasischke
The Prehistoric Storyteller
The first stories were, of course, never written down and never read because the invention of writing came long after human beings told their first stories. Yet we can learn about the art of the story from a consideration of its origins. What elements of the contemporary short story, the kind of story we read in magazines and anthologies today, have their origins in those first stories? What part of the human experience remains unchanged from those prehistoric days, and what can this tell us about what we expect, desire, and need from our stories today? The story is at the heart of our communal lives, and seems always to have been. We will discuss the human storytelling impulse and its evolution, with the goal of finding the source of the story’s power.
Week SevenZelda Lockhart
The Big Sister Diplomat in Fiction
How did it come to be that the oldest girl child in a family is often the family diplomat? In this talk Lockhart shares both the humorous and tragic attempts at Big Sister Diplomacy in the works of Amy Tan, Jill McCorkle, Helena Maria Viramontes and her own works. The female protagonists of these authors attempt diplomacy by biting back their tongues in some cases and giving a good right hook in others.
Week EightNancy McCabe
Crossing the Line: Autobiographical Fiction and Fictionalized Memoir
The line between fiction and nonfiction can be a fine one, and more and more in recent years, has created confusion and controversy among both readers and writers. What distinguishes the genres? What expectations do writers and readers bring to work based on how it’s labeled? This talk will focus on the sometimes blurred boundaries between genres, examining what, if anything, distinguishes autobiographical fiction from memoir that sometimes contains speculative or imagined elements.
Week NineRobert Leleux
The Power of Memoir: Changing the World One Story at a Time
“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?” asked the poet Muriel Rukeyser in the poem “Kathe Kollwitz.” “The world would split open,” she answered. Without exaggeration, telling the story of your life has the potential to alter consciousness and change the world. But what is the nature of memoir’s extraordinary power? What are the characteristics of a powerful life story? And what are the ethical exigencies of such storytelling? This talk explores these questions.