Columbia University (N.Y.)’s posting for a Science Writer.
Posts Tagged‘Writing Residencies’
Columbia University (N.Y.)’s posting for a Science Writer.
PERSISTENCE AND PURPOSE: AN INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES CONLEY
By Erika Dreifus
One July day back in 2004, I arrived at the Prague Airport to begin two weeks participating in Western Michigan University’s Prague Summer Program (PSP). Among the first people I met as the PSP contingent gathered to board a bus to the city was Charles (“Charlie”) Conley. It turned out that Charlie and I had been assigned to the same fiction workshop. Back then, Charlie was an MFA student in the program at the University of Minnesota. I’ve followed his progress post-Prague, and since there has been so much to follow – including multiple fellowship and residency awards – I asked Charlie if he’d be willing to be interviewed for the newsletter.
Charles Conley, born and raised on Long Island, is currently a fellow with Teachers & Writers Collaborative in New York and was a 2008-2009 fellow at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Southern Review, The Harvard Review, and Canadian Notes and Queries. He is the recipient of an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant in 2010 and a SASE/Jerome Grant for Emerging Writers in 2007. In May, he will be attending the Sozopol Fiction Seminars in Bulgaria.
Please welcome Charlie Conley.
ERIKA DREIFUS (ED): Charlie, please tell us what a typical day is like for you as a Teachers & Writers Collaborative Fellow.
CHARLIE CONLEY (CC): I do most of my best work when I have a well-established routine, and I’ve been lucky recently to have fellowships that allow me to do that. The day I’m going to describe to you is representative of probably 80 to 90 percent of my days at Teachers & Writers. I get into the office between 7:30 and 8:30 (how close that is to 7:30 is almost a direct correlation to how my writing is going-the better, the earlier) and drink tea or coffee while I go through my emails and read the Times online. Once my brain is awake, I start writing-for almost all of this fellowship period I’ve been revising short stories, though I participated with a couple of friends in National Novel-Writing Month in November (I was getting to the office really early that month). I write until about 11:00 and switch over to my fellowship responsibilities.
Teachers & Writers Collaborative is a teaching-artist organization that’s been around since 1967. We also publish Teachers & Writers magazine and books about teaching creative writing and literature. My work here has involved researching and writing grant proposals to fund next year’s fellowship; working on the “resources” section of our website, primarily the lesson plans; writing for the magazine; observing teaching artists in the classroom; and co-curating (with Carla Ching, this year’s other fellow) the 2020 Visions Reading Series. Additionally, I just started co-teaching with David Stoler, an experienced teaching artist, which is just a great experience (as well as being great experience for future work in the schools I might do), and I’ve had the opportunity to sit in on the planning meetings T&W has been conducting this year in response to the changing Department of Education and funding environments.
ED: For contrast (I suspect!), please tell us about a typical workday at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Mass., where you were a fellow in 2008-09.
CC: Actually, the contrast is not as stark as you’d expect. At Provincetown, I was waking up probably between 8:30 and 9:30, drinking coffee while I read emails and the Times. I’d start and finish my writing later, and the writing day was probably longer in Provincetown (though I suspect I’m just as productive now, despite-or maybe even because of-my fellowship responsibilities). By lunch on most days I’m done with my writing, and if I haven’t started by about noon I’m not going to write that day. I’ve tried, but something essential about the way my mind works just seems to change in the afternoon and anything but the most basic editing makes me feel like I’m working in an unfamiliar language (and not in a good way).
I’ve never been the kind of writer who can work for eight hours in a row. I try to make up for that with diligence, which is pretty unromantic, and I don’t think what anyone pictures when they imagine “the writing life.” It certainly wasn’t what I imagined.
ED: What changes have you noticed in your writing (and/or writing habits) since you began your journey through residencies and fellowships?
CC: That journey began shortly after I got my MFA from the University of Minnesota in 2006. If I remember correctly, I taught that first semester after graduate school. In what would have been the spring semester, I had two residencies-two months at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center in Nebraska (which I believe you’ve also been to) and a month at Can Serrat, near Barcelona, Spain-and I’ve been alternating semesters of teaching, periods of travel and residencies, and fellowships ever since (which I see as three distinct phases).
Even when I’m teaching, it’s not a full course-load, so whatever phase I’m in, I tend to have long days with a lot of space in them. In this situation, writing is what grounds me. Getting that day’s writing done earns me the rest of the day for myself (teaching a class only earns me money). In grad school-and before grad school, when I had a career-writing was something I squeezed into the free time I found. Now, the day is built around it.
ED: What advice do you have for writers who may just be starting to approach fellowships and residencies?
CC: To find out about these things, Poets & Writers is a great resource, as is The Practicing Writer e-newsletter, where I found out about a couple of things I eventually got. Being friends with other writers and sharing information with them is also helpful (a recent grant and my current fellowship were both word-of-mouth discoveries). Deadlines come year-round, so it’s important to keep track of everything in one place-I have a single spreadsheet where I keep track of everything, especially when I’ve applied in the past and what stories I’ve sent (so I don’t resend work they didn’t respond to the first time).
I rarely get something the first time I try, so in my case diligence has paid off. The Fine Arts Work Center fellowship came on the third try. The first year I was a finalist, but the second year I wasn’t even a finalist, which was disheartening. Actually, I half-jokingly consider all the applications and story submissions I do as opportunities to practice being rejected. It’s one of the essential facts of the writing life-at least mine-and I’m getting better at accepting it.
When I get to a new residency, the first thing I do is figure out what my writing routine will look like in this new place. Where will I actually write? What desk or table is the most comfortable, has the best lighting, has the fewest distractions? How will I get breakfast? Is it provided? If so, at what times? Is Internet available? If not, how will I replace that waking-up part of the routine? (Usually by reading a book about writing before I start writing.) The answering of these basic questions tells me how my routine will go.
Then I try to be friendly. Residencies are a great opportunity to meet artists working in different disciplines from all over the country and the world. There’s a real chance to meet people I’d never get to meet otherwise, and I try not to waste it.
ED: Besides your upcoming reading in New York City (on Monday, May 10), is there any other news you’d like to share?
CC: Thanks for mentioning the reading, which is something I’m really looking forward to. [Co-reader] Steven Polansky was a professor of mine at the University of Minnesota, and he taught a class called “English Prose Style” that profoundly affected the way I think about my writing. The reading is a celebration of his newest book, a novel called The Bradbury Report. I just found out I will be one of ten fiction writers attending the Sozopol Fiction Seminar in Bulgaria at the end of May. I’ve been applying since the first time the seminar was offered, three years ago, and was a semi-finalist both times. So once again, persistence proves my greatest virtue.
At the end of June, I have a two-week residency up in Pocantico [site of the Rockefeller family estate] as a part of my T&W Fellowship. The Rockefeller Brothers funded this year’s fellowship, and this is an additional benefit they’ve generously offered. Then in early August I’ll be heading to South America to (re-)learn Spanish, travel, write, and research, particularly a story set in La Paz, Bolivia. The Elizabeth George Foundation was kind enough to provide the funds for me to stay through the end of the year.
In all this, it’s sometimes easy to mix up the ends with the means. I pursue these opportunities because they fuel my writing (with time and ideas and interactions with new people), not the other way around. I just finished a story I’m very excited about and feel pretty near the finish line on another. Making each story as good as I can and then doing my best to find readers for it is why I do all the rest.
ED: Wise words to end with, Charlie. Thank you so much, and safe travels to you!
A version of this interview was published in The Practicing Writer.
AROHO Retreat: Digestion
Second of two guest posts by Chloé Yelena Miller
AROHO, pronounced as one word, is the acronym for A Room of Her Own.
Oneness was the unofficial theme of this year’s retreat. A group of 80 or so women gathered in the red desert to share ideas, challenge each other, and form one community.
I wanted to write this blog post at the weeklong retreat. In my creaky bed, I tried to summarize what was happening. But even at the airport returning home, I was overwhelmed.
So I asked AROHO friends on Facebook what their favorite moments were:
Barb Johnson, Gift of Freedom Award Winner and author of More of This World or Maybe Another, wrote, “Rita Dove. Transcendent readings. Wonderful conversations. Dancing. Discovering that hummingbirds chitter.”
Jennifer Mattson, NPR contributor and instructor, added, “Rita Dove, twice. Conversations with Barb Johson, hiking and the Georgia O’Keeffe tours…. and of course late nights with the roomie.”
“Two moments: The first evening, one of the women explained the perseids (she goes somewhere each year to see them), which was a first clue this would be an interesting, informed group. Also, Meredith [Hall]’s exercises for memoir writing” were oral historian Abbie Reese’s favorite memories.
Summer Wood, Gift of Freedom Award Winner and author of Arroyo, shared: “Ellen [McLaughlin]’s phenomenal monologue following Rita [Dove]’s lovely, generous reading. I thought I was going to explode out of my skin.”
I filled up a notebook. I wanted to remember Mary Rose Betton teaching us about reading our work aloud, starting with our natural voice (which can be found by simply saying, “uh huh”). I wanted to remember Rita Dove saying: “After a project, I promise myself to do something completely different. Something that scares me.” On writing for public radio said, Jennifer Mattson said: “Always mumble when you write. Read and write at the same time.” I keep thumbing through the notebook.
Many women arrived planning to write throughout the days. Since I work alone from home, I wanted to meet people and attend classes. I tried not to sit in my room, but rather talk with other writers who were up for conversation.
I mentioned in the previous post that I attended Smith College, an all-women’s school. Perhaps because I’d already experienced being part of a supportive, all-women’s network, I was particularly interested in finding honest critiques of my writing.
Luckily, author Laura Fraser’s workshop on creative nonfiction did just that. She was firm and clear. I’d read her book An Italian Affair before leaving. I knew she was successful in her freelance career. She was candid in class, shared tips with us and encouraged us to be precise. She noted the “one rule.” Every piece, paragraph, and even sentence should have one point. She recommended On Writing Well by William Zinsser, and as I reread the book on the plane, it reverberated with Laura’s points and her writing. She helped the students in the class trust each other, ourselves and our writing enough to want it to be as good as possible.
There were moments the setting distracted me from the writing. It turns out that I am as afraid of coyotes’ howling as I am of sleeping in a room with an unlocked door that opens up to the outside. This retreat caught me a little off guard with how rural it was. This Jersey girl needs a tougher skin.
That said, I’ve never been anywhere where the stars shone as brightly as they did at night. I’d also never felt as safe and as challenged as I did there.
As soon as I got back home, I took a long, hot shower and then logged into Facebook to find my new friends. I trust that some of us will be sharing writing for years to come and prompting each other not only to write, but to write well.
Thank you to everyone who worked to organize this wonderful retreat.
Please extend a warm welcome to our guest blogger, Chloé Yelena Miller, whom you may remember from a previous post. Today, Chloé shares some thoughts as she approaches a writing retreat. She’ll be back with another post once she has returned home. Chloé has poems published or forthcoming in Alimentum Journal, Lumina, Privatephotoreview.com, South Mountain Poets Chapbook, Sink Review and The Cortland Review. Her manuscript, Permission to Stay, was a finalist for the Philip Levine Prize in Poetry. She teaches writing online for Fairleigh Dickinson University and edits Portal Del Sol. She received an M.F.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and a B.A. from Smith College.
A Women’s Writing Retreat: One Woman’s Treat and Necessity
Chloé Yelena Miller
I have never seen a desert, and I am obsessed with Georgia O’Keeffe. The Writers’ Retreat, hosted by A Room of her Own, adds writing to the mix of a desert landscape and O’Keeffe’s home. What could be better?
I have been in love with O’Keeffe’s work since I first saw an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York as a child. The landscape that helped to form her art was so different from my own setting: urban New Jersey. I remember sitting cross-legged on the carpet in my parents’ living room looking through her oversized book One Hundred Flowers. This upcoming retreat feels like a homecoming as visual art brings me to a writing space.
A black and white portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe has been pinned over my desk since high school. It has traveled with me from New Jersey to Massachusetts to Italy to New York and finally to Michigan. This year’s retreat’s theme is “My Country is the Whole World” (Virginia Woolf.) Perfect.
We all need more time and space to write. While I am working part time and have been dedicating much of my time to my writing this last year, being surrounded by other writers and attending classes (far from laundry, bills to pay, and other time-
consuming tasks) can only spur my writing, editing of past work, and contemplation of ideas. I truly can’t wait. (On the other hand, there is a pile of procrastination that must get done before I can leave.)
I enjoy the company of forward-thinking, creative women. There are always potential risks to gathering folks around one aspect of themselves, but since we will have two – writing and our gender – in common, we shouldn’t have any problems. I imagine this will be similar to my experience at Smith College. I chose Smith College not because it was an all-women’s school, but because of the type of motivated students it attracted. There is indeed something special about being surrounded by women.
I look forward to attending classes, writing and hopefully talking at length to the other writers. I will be in a workshop led by Laura Fraser, whose book An Italian Affair I recently gobbled up in three evenings. From the memoir, I think she is a woman after my own heart. I have been doing some freelance writing and hope to improve my hand at not only being honest, but including facts in my writing (a puddle-jump from my poetry.) I promise you the same in a blog post when I return.
I hope to return rejuvenated and with a long list of books to read, craft challenges, ideas for future pieces and if I’m lucky, the start to a few new pieces.
Aside from small festivals and short workshops, I haven’t returned to the humble state of student for some time. As a writing teacher, I know how important this is. I was a poetry writing graduate student at Sarah Lawrence College and attended the Western Michigan State University’s program in Prague (where I met our lovely, creative and energized Erika) and was a resident at the Vermont Studio Center. I learned something new in each program.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, as perhaps it might keep me honest), I will be finishing teaching an online course during the retreat. I hope I will have some time every day to log into the class and grade papers as they come in. I’m a wee bit nervous about combining the two activities and doing both well simultaneously. I will also admit that while I can’t wait to see the desert, I am not someone who loves the heat. I will report back about how hot “dry heat” really is.
Writing students must expect as much from the program itself as from the other students. We all have a lot to do to prepare. I’ve been reading works by the authors who will be there, listening to interviews online, and tweaking my own writing for workshops. I’m ready.
Over on my Web site, you’ll find a “Resources” page designed to assist practicing fictionists, poets, and writers of creative nonfiction. A considerable chunk of the page is devoted to a chronological listing of the resources spotlighted in each month’s Practicing Writer newsletter. The newsletter will soon celebrate its fifth birthday, so I think this is a good time to remind you of the years’ worth of “finds” you can peruse via a single screen. Enjoy, and have a wonderful weekend.
At long last, the day has come. Today is the LAST day you can access our e-book detailing 275 contests, grants, scholarships, and similar opportunities to enrich your writing practice without paying “entry” or “reading” fees to do so–and at a vastly discounted price. Tomorrow our guide will be withdrawn from circulation. Get it while you can!