LOOKING BACK: SEWANEE WRITERS’ CONFERENCE 2006

First, the scene:

 Sewaneee, TN, home of The University of the South–10. 000 acres, 1300 students (most gone for the summer).   Seat of the the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee. Sylvan setting–green expanses, yet no sprinkler systems (odd sight for a Californian), limestone, neo-gothic halls and churches. Streets named for Diocesan states (Library on the corner of Georgia/ Alabama.) A cemetery with founders’ headstones proclaiming them officers, C.S.A. 90+ miles from Nashville, 50+ from Chattanooga. The town= convenience store, coffee shop, ice-cream store, post office, a few other establishments. Nearest town = Monteagle, pop. 1238.  A place and time to gather and meditate, cultivate, read, listen, write.

For More background and thoughts from last year that come close to matching my own feelings, check out beatrice.

The way it went:

No need to review the list of notables (click on the website in the title above if you want to know.) Fiction writers (poets and playwrights also have workshops and do readings at the plenary sessions) were divided into groups of 15 with two author/teachers sharing the leadership duties. We met every other day, so there was a chance to observe other groups meeting on alternate days. Sewanee, like other conferences, sets up a fine program of readings and lectures. The differences between this and other conferences I’ve attended are time (Breadloaf is about the same length, but I’ve not been there.) and money. In addition to a sum from his estate, Tennessee Williams bequeathed the rights to his works to the Sewanee conference because his maternal grandfather (Rev. Walter E. Dakin) who graduated from the UofS’s School of Theology.  In addition to the participants, there is a staff of “Scholars” and “Fellows” who help tend to logistical duties such as setting up receptions and running people back and forth to the airport  in return for tuition and board. Perhaps a small stipend, though I don’t know that. The scholars are promising writers. The fellows have published novels. I think I’ve got that right, anyhow. They join the workshops as regular participants, and their work is critiqued along with everyone else’s.  The level of writing and discussion is high.

As for me, the short story I submitted for review (not the one that got me in) got shredded in group, but I did a partial rewrite in time for my hour-long conference with Barry Hannah, and determined I was at last headed in the right direction. In addition, he reviewed some of my other work and told me to go back to what I was doing before I started trying to write kind of story the group had savaged (CF Millard story on the “Writing” page.)

How it turned out:

In addition to making new personal and literary friends and contacts, I’ve identified my voice, quit trying to self-consciously write literary fiction, and feel as if I’ve laid a burden down. Would that every two weeks of my life were so fruitful.

What about you?

This is the time of year for conferences. Where have you been? How did it go? How did it turn out?