>Sewanee Writers’ Conference — Day 9


Incredibly, we’re nearing the end of the conference. Wednesday morning, though, was as full as could be, with wonderful readings and lectures.

First we were treated to Staff readings, featuring the poetry of Hastings Hensel and Adam Vines, fiction by Jonathan Heinen, and a short play by David Roby. Wonderful stuff–I have to say I was especially moved by Hastings’s poems–but the Fellows reading that followed was also outstanding.

James Magruder read from his novel Sugarless; Matthew Pitt read from his story collection Attention Please Now, and Catherine Wing read poems, including some from her book Enter Invisible. Such wonderful, terrific readings–I continue to be blown away by my fellow fellows.

Next was Padgett Powell’s reluctant craft lecture. Like Richard Bausch, Powell seems to be bothered with the very idea of craft books, and craft lectures are, it seems, simply a variety of the craft book. He hesitates to give advice to writers, but he did it anyway (’cause that’s his job?). He made some excellent points–in his own, peculiar way–but the thing that I was excited to take away from the talk was his reference to Mark Twain’s Rules for Writing, which I have now located: Mark Twain’s Rules for Writers, or Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses. Two that Powell drew attention to were:

#13 – Use the right word, not its second cousin
#14 – Eschew surplusage
These strike me as excellent rules, even for the advice-phobic. The other rules are pretty good, too, and I commend them to you.
I had stories to critique in the afternoon but came back for Mary Jo Salter‘s reading before dinner. She read mostly new work, which was wonderful to hear.
The evening reading was fantastic. Seriously, it was not only my favorite event of the conference so far, but one of the best stories I’ve ever heard. Steve Yarbrough read an amazing piece that was not only a great story, but it was about writing the story–a perfect reading for a literary conference, it seems to me.
There was an open mic then in one of the dorms and I confess that I stayed for just a very short time–it’s getting to the point in the conference when something has to give–no one can do everything.

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  1. >I must say I find it rather irritating and elitist when certain "famous writers" who are hired for the purpose of teaching craft act all put-upon when the topic of craft comes up. If they don't have anything to say, they should stay at home and write!

  2. >bobbye7:

    In this case they do teach craft – one on one, whether privaely or in workshops. They look at a story or a portion of a novel and say what works or does not to them. The author is free to take or leave the advice but it is always given.

    Powell and Bausch (and the rest of the great writers, whether they are writers of fellows or scholars)here are no less than that. Their comments on individual manuscripts are invaluable. If their lectures say that they are uncomfortable, well, certainly: it's like asking an author to critique the works of 50 people without looking at them. I can understand their discomfort.

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