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The Refrigerator

Recently, my fiancée and I moved into a new apartment. One of our first guests was our good friend Anne Barngrover, who also happens to be the head TA of the Reynolds Writing Program. As soon as she walked in the door, she handed us a small box. “You’ll love this,” she said. Inside, we found hundreds of magnets, all containing various words and sentence fragments. For two people who love to play with words as much as we do, it was like opening that birthday present that makes you forget about all the other presents, since your grandmother thought you needed another sweater one size too big. Now, our refrigerator has multiple personalities. In one area, you’ll find the spot where we make fun of each other (it sounds mean, but I swear, it’s funny). In another, you’ll find my fiancée’s poetry, where she pieces together fragments to make some very cool passages. The refrigerator has become one of my favorite parts of our home.

We write with our refrigerator magnets every single day. We rearrange sentences. We pair fragments that have no business being together. We experiment. We laugh. A writer should write as much as possible. But we all know that forcing ourselves to put the pen to page every day can get a little tedious. My advice for you: find a way to make it fun and different for yourself every single day.

Filed under: Miscellaneous

Please Allow Me To Introduce Myself…

Hello friends of the Reynolds Writing Workshop!

I thought I’d take some time to introduce myself. My name is Dan Sweatt, and for the foreseeable future, I’ll be taking over as the groundskeeper at the Reynolds online fairgrounds. I’m so excited for the opportunity to communicate with you all here on our snazzy site. I’m a 2009 graduate of Denison University, where I majored in Creative Writing and Communication. I’ve been a Teaching Assistant with this program for the last four years, and have enjoyed every sleep-deprived minute. While I did not attend the workshop as a high school student, I did propose to a former Reynolds camper, so that has to count for something, right?

I adore this camp. It’s an incredible opportunity, one that I was foolish enough not to pursue when I was a high school student. I was a bit of a big fish in a small pond – editor of the school paper, editor of the school’s literary journal, and always with a journal. This isn’t bragging. I know a lot of us were or are in the same boat. I made a mistake that I see a lot of young writers making. I thought, “I’m already good enough.”

I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was no genius back then, despite what I really wanted to believe. I wasn’t William Wordsworth, I wasn’t one of the students from Dead Poets Society. I wasn’t even Harriet The Spy. I wasn’t smart enough yet to realize that as a writer, you can never stop learning.

The other day, I read a feature on Grantland.com profiling writer Junot Diaz (I’m not going to link to it, since Mr. Diaz has a mouth that would make a sailor blush). He’s a funny, fresh, and incredibly unique voice in the current literary landscape. At least, that’s what everyone tells me. I’ve never read a word that he’s written. About once every 72 hours, I come across a review for a book or the name of a writer that sounds vaguely familiar, and think, “Hm, I really need to read that/her/him.” It’s kind of a rush, really. I think we all feel it – that fresh realization that we aren’t alone. On this day, I was particularly struck by this realization, and spontaneously hopped onto Amazon.com and ordered the complete works of Junot Diaz. I’ll dive in this weekend, and I can’t wait.

Now, imagine a week full of these moments: when we discover both the writings of those lucky few who get published, and those of our talented peers. That’s what Reynolds is all about.

In regards to this little corner of the internet (I believe the kids are calling it a ‘blog’), it will be a space where I come by to update our Reynolds family on developments in the program, as well as to discuss whatever literary monsters make their presence known inside my brain. I’ll try to have some fun with everyone here, and might even enlist the help of my fellow TA’s. Don’t let their looks fool you – they’re brilliant people.

If you’re an interested prospective camper, please take the time to explore our website and Facebook page. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us on either of the pages, and we’d be happy to help you out. If you’re a friend of the program, please keep us in the loop with all that you’re doing. We’d love to hear from you all.

Happy writing to one and all. I’ll be back soon.

Filed under: Miscellaneous — Tags: , , , , ,

After the Workshop

I hate Sundays.

When I was a kid, they meant scurrying to finish homework, having to go to bed early, dreading the school day.  Now, they mean a pile of laundry, unanswered emails, a garden with weeds and drooping tomato plants.

A few Sundays ago also marked the end of the Reynolds Young Writers’ Workshop—and though I’m grateful for my own bed, my own food, no morning announcements and no cheerleaders, the week stretches out before me: long and empty.  Lonely.

I will miss my students, my teaching assistants and fellow faculty.  I will miss your enthusiasm, your energy, your ideas, and your joy.  I will miss you—and your love of writing, which is contagious.

This week, there are no exercises, no anthology deadlines, no readings, no other writers around.  No one’s sprawled on the yard with a book in her hand.  No one’s writing on a napkin in the kitchen.  My neighbor’s chain-sawing a felled tree into bits.  The other neighbor’s target practicing again.

The loneliness—the new loneliness around here—reminds me of a correspondence I had with a staffer at a writing workshop I attended, many summers ago.  He wrote of the summer workshop “as a booster that gets us through the year, isolated, often wondering what and why we are doing what we do.”

Yet more than once during our week together, I heard people say: I only write when I’m sad and it’s so hard to write when things are good. I want to try to clear something up about that.  For one thing, you need to write every day—and I certainly hope you aren’t sad every single day.  For another, it’s not sadness that fuels your writing—at least it isn’t for me—it’s memory.

We write about where we’ve been, not where we are.  We write about the people we’ve left, not the ones we live with.  We write about mistakes because they haunt us.  We write about love because it haunts us too.  We write about the past—when maybe we happened to be unhappy or lost or in another place—because the present is too close.  We’re still in it, and we don’t know what to say about it.  Not yet.

Maybe this might comfort you after the workshop, as we are going our separate ways: You will write about this place where you learned about prose poems and dialogue and memoir and heat, where you figured out how to read on a stage, where you walked up and down a hundred stairs. You will come back to it, if only in your work—and it will be there for you.

Have a wonderful life.  Don’t forget–when you’re ready–to look back.

Filed under: Miscellaneous

The Hill is Home

Earlier this week, a 2011 Reynolds student posted on her year’s Facebook group: “Knowing that Reynolds is happening right now and we don’t get to be there makes me so sad. I feel sort of homesick, and we were only there for a week!”

Someone who never has been a part of Reynolds may puzzle: Is it possible to be homesick for a place where you have lived for only a few days’ time? Let’s look at this week, Reynolds 2012. Today: Friday, Day 5. The students know this hill–sun on their backs, honeybees in the clover, deer loping the grassy stretch between the gym and East Quad. They know Ebaugh Pond slicked with algae under the cover of nightfall. The flicker of lightning bugs. Whit’s Frozen Custard. They’ve journaled on bricks and stone. Played cards on a dorm room carpet. They’ve read poems and heard stories placed in such distinct settings as a Louisiana swamp, a Midwestern grain mill, an Iraqi war zone, and a small town in Kentucky where kids play in abandoned fields and football is king.

As Denison instructor Mike Croley stated during his workshop on Wednesday, “Don’t be afraid to set things in the places you know best.” These are the places that stick with us long after we leave. Nestle in our hearts. Get under our skin. These places, for better or for worse, make us see the world in different ways.

To answer the question posed earlier: Yes, it is in fact possible to be homesick for a place where you have only lived for a few days’ time. Reynolds always manages to do that to a person, year after year, because, even for such a brief time, it always feels like home.

Filed under: Miscellaneous

You Have Entered the Reynolds Zone

Arriving at Reynolds is like entering a time warp. The days here are so jam-packed full of good things that they feel—on the one hand—very long. On the other hand, they can also feel too short—there’s never enough time to squeeze everything in!

Monday was our first full day of writing goodness! Fortified by a well-balanced breakfast (and coffee) in Curtis Dining Hall, we headed over to Barney-Davis for morning announcements and broke into our genre classes—poetry, fiction, and fiction/creative nonfiction. These classes are perhaps as exciting for the TAs as the students. Ali Stine shared lots of really wonderful poems, and gave us an assignment to write some of our own–using the tabloids for inspiration. Pretty rad!

In the afternoon, we broke into our cross-writing sessions, and so poets got a chance to try to write some prose, and prose writers had an opportunity to try their hand at nonfiction.

After cross-writing, we had the awesome opportunity to try out translation in an awesome workshop led by Peter Grandbois, Denison professor and author of The Gravedigger, The Arsenic Lobster: A Hybrid Memoir, and Nahoonkara.

Grandbois helped us get down to the nitty-gritty nuances of language–we got a chance to see how important and crucial words and their connotations can be, and how different words have different weights and registers and emotional effects and implications. We discussed how, when working with translation, all those meanings are within the realm of possibility. We talked about how to negotiate between sound and sense: as translators, how can we remain truthful to the meaning of the original work, while at the same time not having to sacrifice lyricism, or the way things sound?

Grandbois asked us to think about how, in both prose and poetry, “each word educates the next word; each line educates the next line; each sentence the next sentence; each stanza the next stanza.”

Grandbois also asked us to think about how, as writers, we are all about specific, vivid, concrete imagery/ Sometimes, that imagery isn’t built of the first words that come to mind. As Grandbois said, “The first word that comes to mind often is not the best one. Usually it’s the sixth or seventh or eighth word; the first word is usually a cliché.” Trial and error, as well as persistence, are necessary both in translation and in writing original work.

And, as if that was not enough for one day, we had the wonderful opportunity to hear Margot Singer read to us as the sun set over the treetops visible from the Barney-Davis Board Room.

After an inspirational reading, writers had an opportunity to ask Dr. Singer questions. Here are just a few words of wisdom Dr. Singer shared with us:

“Read widely and hungrily; read like a writer.”

“Reading is the way to get out of a writing rut.”

“A Zen archers look a little off target, not right at the target. Writing is a little like that.”

“An ending should not be wrapped up with a big bow. If it does, it often feels contrived.”

“End with an image.”

 

 

Filed under: Miscellaneous

DAY ONE.

“Reynolds is our Christmas,” head TA Anne Barngrover shared this evening with a packed lounge of 34 young writers. And the woman speaks the truth…for us teaching associates, this week rivals the winter holiday in jubilation and good company. We return year after year to share the energy each cohort brings up the hill’s winding driveway.

And this week promises to be a fantastic one. Today was move-in, with writers driving and flying to Granville from 16 states. We convened for dinner and shared introductions, both in workshop groups and as a big ole group afterward. As I write this now on a lounge computer, a handful of students are also clicking away, already writing and being writers.

But enough from me. Below are several first impressions and comments from the writers themselves:

“I’m connecting with people who actually like what I do for once. They  understand where you’re coming from, and what it means to write because you want to.” –Amber Jurgensen

“We saw a deer, that’s one thing.” –Emily Carnevale

“I’m looking forward to spending time with people who like writing as much as I do.” –Katherine Rothe

“So far it’s a lot more welcoming than other camps I’ve been to. I like it when you come to a place and people freak out over sharing their favorite books.” –Sam Goldsmith

“I love the campus.” –Nathan Altman

“I’m looking forward to reading other people’s poetry. I love to read people’s work and read my work to other people.” –Jackie Knight

“Well, my roommate seems really cool. We just spent a half-hour talking about our favorite bands.” –Sarah Demarest

“After what I’ve seen today, I can’t wait for the rest of the week.” –Allie Vananam

“It’s just super rad.” –Audrey Metzger

“[I’m looking forward to] spending time with people who are fun to be with. I like how trusting and welcoming you TA’s are.” –Micah Heaney

There you have it. Let the Workshop begin!

 

Filed under: Miscellaneous

June 17 is nearly here!

Well, the sun is shining, the campus is peaceful, and everyone here in Granville is getting excited for a wonderful workshop week! We have an amazing lineup of visiting writers, including Denison’s own David Baker, Peter Grandbois, and Mike Croley. And I know our incredible Teaching Associate Staff – which includes Anne Barngrover, Abby Current, Jen Luebbers, Lauren Mallett, Matt Miller, and Dan Sweatt! – have lots of surprise and fun in store. So sharpen your pencils, turn on your creative juices, and get ready to write!

Filed under: Miscellaneous

More exciting news!

These Reynolds alums! More congratulations are due to Amanda Tangredi (2007), whose poem, “Pinned” has been accepted for publication in the 30th anniversary issue of the Allegheny Review! And to Elisa Gonzalez (2006), whose essay, “Digital Leftovers, All The Words I Knew, Family History” has won the super-prestigious 2011 Norman Mailer College Writing Award for nonfiction. (Click on the link and scroll down to read her essay online.) Wow!!!

Filed under: Miscellaneous

Congratulations MadLab Playwright!

A big shout-out to Ezer Smith (Reynolds ’11), whose short play was one of ten accepted for MadLab’s Young Writers Short Play Festival! His play will be produced in Columbus this summer. We can’t wait!

Filed under: Miscellaneous

Denison Professor Peter Grandbois Earns Accolades!

Look whose face is on Denison’s webpage this week – our very own Peter Grandbois, talking about fiction writing, magical realism, and his latest novel, Nahoonkara! (Reynolds participants from 2011 will remember the reading he gave from the book as well as his wonderful workshop on writing fiction.) Check it out – and read the book!

Filed under: Miscellaneous

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