Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The 3rd Annual Writers’ Weekend: Official Schedule


 Questions? Email Director of Writing Programs Julia Pistell at Julia.pistell@marktwainhouse.org.

This schedule is subject to change. The best way to make sure you see everything is to register for the whole weekend!

Tickets for the whole weekend ($160, including two lunches and all programs): http://bit.ly/1ilVdm8

Tickets for Friday night only: http://bit.ly/1ilVdm8

Tickets for Saturday only (includes daytime workshops, Critics, Playwrights & Literary Death Match): http://bit.ly/1ilVdm8

Tickets for Sunday only: http://bit.ly/1ilVdm8

Tickets for the Critics' Panel: http://bit.ly/1ilVp50

Tickets for the Playwrights' Panel: http://bit.ly/1ilVp50

Tickets for Literary Death Match: http://bit.ly/1ilVp50


Friday, April 25th 

6:00 pm: Welcome Reception

7:00 pm: Keynote Conversation with  Meg Wolitzer

Meg Wolitzer's novels include The Interestings; The Uncoupling; The Ten-Year Nap; The Position; and The Wife. She is also the author of a novel for young readers, The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman. Wolitzer's short fiction has appeared in The Best American Short Stories and has won a Pushcart Prize. Woltizer has been reviewed with raves in the The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, the Atlantic, People, and many more prestigious publications. She is a New York Times bestselling author. She will speak on the subject of her writing life and her works.

8:00 pm: Book Signing with Meg Woltizer


Saturday, April 26th

ALL DAY: Buy the books of your favorite authors and get them signed after each session

10:00 am: Workshops

Tim Parrish: In Tension: Conflict in Fiction and Memoir

Conflict/tension/friction--whatever you want to call it--is the engine of good, dramatic, imaginative writing. Conflict can be writ large or writ small in a single word. We'll talk about the nature and role of conflict, complication, and resolution by first looking at examples of conflict at the start of some published memoirs, novels, and short stories. Then we'll identify and discuss what the conflicts are and how they're created through event, prose style, and characterization. Don't expect much lecturing. We'll be talking.

Susan Campbell: Ferreting Out the Facts

Non-fiction writing doesn't have to be boring. In fact, it shouldn't be, so long as you subscribe to the notion that truth is stranger (and richer) than fiction. In this workshop we’ll discuss how to research and present reality.

Susan Schoenberger: Finding an Agent

What does an agent do for you? Do you even want one in today's ever-changing publishing world? If you decide that you do, how do you go about finding one? We'll explore these issues and leave plenty of time for individual questions about the often mysterious and reliably complicated process of finding an agent. 

11:00 am: Workshops

Bessy Reyna: Poetry as Memoir

According to poet Mark Doty, "The great power of Poetry is the preservative. The ability to take a moment in time and attempt to hold it."  In this workshop divided into 3 short segments, we will examine poems from Richard Blanco, Marilyn Nelson and others, which illustrate how poetry can provide the perfect gateway to our memories to transform them into beautifully constructed short and intense narratives.

Mary Sharnick: Making A Scene: Jump Start Your Novel

Novels are written one scene at a time, each scene linking to the next and echoing the former.  In this hands-on class, participants will draft one scene, conflating a particular context, a specific protagonist, and a singular action.  Doing so will both advance plot and develop character. Materials will be provided by the instructor. 

Wayne English: Writing for the Web

Writing for the web is not like writing for print. On the web brevity is paramount. Here you will learn how to write clearly and succinctly. From the gritty to the sublime, this program ranges from  sentence and paragraph length to the nuances of effective communication. The immense power of the published written word is in your hands. Here you learn how to wield it.

Patrice Fitzgerald: Self-Publishing: The Reality of Doing It Yourself

Join us for a workshop on self-publishing.  We will explore the indie musts:  a good book, an appealing cover, whistle-clean editing, and professional-level formatting.  We will also talk about up-front costs, marketing, and the pros and cons of traditional versus independent publishing.  "Hybrid" and assisted self-publishing will also be discussed.  You'll come away from this session with a clear-eyed view of the possibilities for going it on your own rather than waiting… and waiting... for the perfect query letter to appeal to just the right agent.
12:00 pm:  Critics’ Panel

Three world-class literary and cultural critics will discuss their work as critics, the importance of literary critics today, and our current literary landscape. With John Freeman (former editor of Granta), Carole Goldberg (former Books Editor of the Hartford Courant), and David Bromwich (a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences).
1:00 pm: Lunch break!
Lunch will be provided.

2:00 pm:  Workshops

TJ Jarrett: Poetry

What are the six characteristics of great poems? This workshop addresses the methodologies employed by great poets and the personal desire to enjoy a poem instead of reading every one like an English major. We will compare and contrast methods employed by poets (Eavan Boland, Martha Collins, Ellen Bryant Voigt,and Natasha Trethewey)  who are harnessing experience to achieve truth in creative work.

John Casey: What’s Funny

Since we'll be a the Mark Twain House, I think a session on what's funny. One of the essays in my new book is called What's Funny. There's a lot more to be said, and I hope that the participants will add some humor of their own and/or reflections on how and why some things are funny. This wouldn't be primarily a how-to workshop but an exploration, with some concentration on written humor--how the requirements are different from those of spoken or acted-out humor. I'll forward the essay to you, the one that could be the jumping-off point for discussion.

Mike Morin: Pitching for Publicity

You've written the next Fifty Shades of Grey. Now what? Nobody knows who you are and your publisher is counting on you to create some buzz. As a radio host for over four decades, Mike shares what to say and to whom to get that much-coveted free interview time that will get the public excited about your book. He's also an author, so he knows how to work both sides of this process. He'll show you how to reach tens of thousands of listeners in three hours with radio tours. Buzz words to get a host or producer interested in you as a guest. You'll learn to be an engaging guest. Those who are game can try these ideas out in short mock interviews. He'll cover public speaking and even tell you about celebrities who were trainwreck interviews. Writing the book was easy. Getting publicity is the real work! Even if you don't have a book, you're probably an expert in something as a writer and the better you are at telling the world, the larger audience you'll have.

3:00 pm: Workshops

Vivian Shipley: Revising for Publication

If you have submitted your work for publication and it has been rejected a couple of times, that may be an indication that it is not quite ready for publication. Based on my experience as Editor of Connecticut Review, I’ll give suggestions about what you might do in terms of revision to improve your chances of having your work published. The advice I give will be applicable to any genre of writing. 

Patricia Chaffee: Freelancing for Local Markets

Designed with the emerging writer in mind, (and those seasoned folks who need a jump start) this one- hour workshop will give writers the know-how to get that coveted first byline and those much needed published clips. Learn about generating compelling story ideas, approaching editors, finding your niche market, and more. 

Susan Schoenberger: The Fiction Writer’s Mindset

How does a fiction writer look at the world, and how does that differ from a nonwriter or a nonfiction writer? We'll talk about using your unique set of experiences and your personality to bring your characters to life, to convey your insights about the human experience, and to leave your readers nodding and saying, "Yes, that's exactly how it feels."

Mary-Ann Tirone Smith: The Art of the Memoir:  The Remembered Life

Autobiography skirts the surface of a life without allowing the reader access to the messy, conflicted and unapologetically subjective material of a memoir. Let us speak of that subjective mess and learn how to embellish everything but the truth through the creation of an irresistible and compelling narrative voice.

4:00 pm: Playwriting Panel

For the third year in a row, be dazzled by incredible playwrights in conversation with one another. This year, we welcome Edwin S├ínchez (Barefoot Boy With Shoes On), Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor), and Douglas Carter Beane (Lysistrata Jones; The Little Dog Laughed), in conversation with the Hartford Courant’s Frank Rizzo.

5:30 pm: Dinner break!

Find a great meal out on the town in Hartford.

6:30 pm:  Literary Death Match

Literary Death Match, co-created by Adrian Todd Zuniga, marries the literary and performative aspects of Def Poetry Jam, rapier-witted quips of American Idol’s judging (without any meanness), and the ridiculousness and hilarity of Double Dare.

Each episode of this competitive, humor-centric reading series features a thrilling mix of four famous and emerging authors (all representing a literary publication, press or concern — online, in print or live) who perform their most electric writing in seven minutes or less before a lively audience and a panel of three all-star judges. After each pair of readings, the judges — focused on literary merit, performance and intangibles — take turns spouting hilarious, off-the-wall commentary about each story, then select their favorite to advance to the finals.

The two finalists then compete in the Literary Death Match finale, which trades in the show’s literary sensibility for an absurd and comical climax to determine who takes home the Literary Death Match crown.


Sunday, April 27th

ALL DAY: Connecticut Authors and Publishers Book Fair & Signing

10:00 am:  Workshops

Steve Courtney: Telling Someone Else’s Story

When your interest in another person -- whether historical or contemporary -- goes over the line into the pursuit of writing biography, a sort of alchemy takes place. Unusual things happen, and you tread unexpected paths. It's the art of developing a friendship of sorts with your subject -- but then again, not quite a friendship, because strict honesty is an important part of the task. Great biographies -- such as the late Justin Kaplan's Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain -- set aside comprehensiveness and extraneous detail in the interest of presenting a rounded portrait of a human being that continues to resonate. We will hear from participants about their own biographical projects if they have them; study New York Times obituaries, which are usually gemlike examples of the biography form; and do a quick written exercise or two in personal portraiture.  

Ravi Shankar: Collaborate to Recreate; or How to use your Friends to Make Yourself a Better Writer

We will trace the history of collaborative writing from the ancient Japanese art of the renga to the Surrealists writing exquisite corpses, from the practice of the Beats like Ginsberg and Kerouac to generating modern day collaborations with computer programs, and we will look at the art of editing and revision as an extension of collaborative thought. Finally we will put the ideas we discuss into practice by generating a collaborative poem together, playing off one another to write something that will both simultaneously surprise us and that we still have some ownership over. If as Marcel Duchamp said, "all art is a game played between people of different periods," then we will have fun with in rewriting the rules of our own writing practice.

Leslie Johnson: Fiction

Do you want inspiration for new story ideas?  Do you need momentum to move forward with ideas you already have brewing?  This interactive writing workshop will supply strategies for both.  Leslie Johnson, short story writer, will share exercises using fictional voice and point of view to help you “find the way in” to your story idea and get it moving on the page.  Participants will actively discuss, write, share, and leave with some specific tips and techniques for energizing the process of writing short fiction.

11:00 am: Workshops

Aisha Sabatini Sloan: The Architecture of the Essay

When drafting an essay, do you know the ending before you’ve begun? Or are you watching it unfold like a film? Following the life story of an ancient poet or charting the migration of a bird? Are you solving an epistemological mystery? The techniques used in film, photography, architecture, and other artistic traditions can help illuminate unforseen pathways for the essay to follow. During this workshop, we will explore some of the ways that an idea can be expanded in the drafting process— using maps, blueprints, collage, museum curation and other structural models—in order to facilitate the most elegant (and hopefully, surprising) final draft. 

David Handler: Mystery

How does an author of whodunits actually figure out whodunit? Find out this and many other secrets of the trade from one of Connecticut's deftest practitioners of the gentle art of murder. We’ll discuss crafting a mystery and answer all of your most pressing detective fiction questions.

Christine Beck: What Writers Need to Know about the Law

The workshop will give an overview of three legal topics that affect writers:

  1. Protecting your work against unauthorized use or theft.
  2. Avoiding claims of defamation by people you have written about either by name or in a way that makes them recognizable.
  3. Avoiding claims that you have used a trade name or product name without permission.

Vladimir Alexandrov: Researching and Writing a Forgotten Black American's Amazing Life

The Black Russian is Alexandrov’s recent biography of Frederick Bruce Thomas (1872-1928), the remarkable son of Mississippi slaves who became a millionaire entrepreneur in tsarist Moscow and the "Sultan of Jazz" in Constantinople. Alexandrov will use the example of my book to discuss how to do biographical research on people in the U. S., and on Americans who went abroad, by using domestic and foreign archives, as well as libraries, online data sources, and site visits.  He’ll also describe the kinds of surprise twists, turns, and discoveries that often accompany research of this kind and that can make it into a highly enjoyable detective-like quest.  Other topics will include dealing with holes in your subject's life and how to write and structure a biography for a trade press.

12:00 pm: Lunch break

A light lunch will be provided.

1:00 pm:  Workshops

Matthew Dicks: A Sneak Peak Into the Publishing Industry

The publishing industry is oftentimes a mysterious and impenetrable realm. The road that a book follows from the writer's mind to the shelves of a bookstore can be confusing, nebulous and uncertain. In this workshop, author Matthew Dicks will discuss the path that a book travels from the first words written on the page to its first appearance in a bookshop. Including in the workshop will be the sale of the book, the author-editor relationship, the complexities of publicity and marketing, the finances of publishing and much more.  

John Stanizzi: Synesthetic Poetry

A poetry writing workshop that attempts to abandon sense and theme and fact, and instead engages the imagination and intuition and association.  No stress, and surprisingly fun!

Qais Akbar Omar: Case Study of a Memoir

The acclaimed author of “A Fort of Nine Towers” will tell the story of fleeing warfare in Afghanistan, and then discuss the writing of his memoir. Learn how one story became a publishing phenomenon and how the act of writing transformed a horrifying experience into a work of art.

2:00 pm – 3:30 pm: Closing program: Syllable Series!

The acclaimed Hartford reading series, Syllable, brings the opportunity for workshop registrants to read 5 minutes of their work at a time to close out the program. Submit up to 2 pages of work by lunchtime on this day and close out the program with presenting your latest (or most polished) work to a crowd of peers. Readings will be curated by Julia Pistell, Director of Writing at the Mark Twain House, in order to showcase as wide a variety of writers as possible.


The mission of Syllable: A Reading Series is to provide a space for Connecticut writers of all levels to showcase their work, and to expose the public to a variety of writing styles. Syllable aims to be another brick in the strong arts community in the Greater Hartford area.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Writers' Weekend at the Mark Twain House

Looking for a detailed schedule? We'll be releasing the full schedule next week. To make sure you don't miss it, follow this blog and you'll get an email notification as soon as we post it.

In the meantime, please enjoy our announcement (below) and feel free to contact us at julia.pistell@marktwainhouse.org.

3rd Annual Writers' Weekend!
Friday, April 25, through April 27, 2014
Join us for year three of a paradise for writers!
This can't-miss-it event is the best small writers' conference in Connecticut. Our first and second years were smash successes, and we can't wait to offer even more writers, workshops, genres, and opportunities for everyone.
From Keynote Speaker Meg Wolitzer, author of the current bestseller The Interestings, all the way through a Literary Death Match that will pit Director of Writing Julia Pistell against the most fun, famous and talented writers you know, this weekend will be a thrilling and inspiring exploration of literary creativity and craft.
In the shadow of Mark Twain’s breathtaking home, writers of all levels of experience are invited to spend a weekend writing, learning, exchanging ideas, and getting books signed by the authors you’ve been dying to meet. The roster includes: a panel on Criticism with former Granta Editor-in-Chief John Freeman; workshops and discussions on aspects of the writing craft including jump-starting a novel, poetry as memoir, researching for nonfiction essays, and much more; lectures on aspects of publishing including finding an agent, pitching to publicity outlets, and editing for publication; and an all-day marathon of authors selling and signing books.
Sunday morning will feature an expo and book signing of the members of the Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association. Writers range from recurring favorites Bessy Reyna, Susan Campbell, and Mary Sharnick to first-time presenters Matthew Dicks, Vivian Shipley, and Qais Akbar Omar. Also presenting will be Tim Parrish, Susan Schoenberger, Wayne English, TJ Jarrett, John Casey, Mike Morin, Patricia Chaffee, Steve Courtney, Leslie Johnson, John Stanizzi—and more, because we’re adding others every day.
The cost of the weekend is $150 for early birds (price will go up to $160 on April 1st). Costs include an opening and closing reception, coffee, and a small lunch on Saturday. The weekend will kick off at 6:00 pm with a reception preceding Meg Wolitzer’s Keynote Conversation at 7 pm and continue with programs from 9 am – 4 pm on Saturday and Sunday before concluding with a Literary Death Match on Sunday afternoon.
Tickets are $150 FOR EARLY BIRDS and on sale now (will go up to $160 in April!):
Online tickets available at http://bit.ly/1fph07v Or Call The Mark Twain House & Museum at (860) 280-3130.
$150 until April 1st; $160 thereafter. Call: (860) 280-3130 for more information & ticketing. Or, click here for tickets.

Playwriting, Writing for Young Adults, & Writing in Twain's Library: Spring Workshops at the Mark Twain House & Museum

Playwriting: A Workshop with Sarah Moon
Saturday, March 22, 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm
In this workshop, we'll dive into dramatic writing with a handful of fresh writing exercises and short readings from the world's great dramatists. We'll discuss writing habits, keys to great dialogue, vivid characters and effective revision. We'll also cover some of the practical aspects of playwriting like submitting to contests and producing your own work. Why write drama? As Oscar Wilde said, "I regard theatre as...the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being." Come share!
Sarah Moon's plays have been produced and workshopped in Washington D.C., Indianapolis, Boston and New York City. Her play with music,Tauris, an adaptation of Euripides' Iphegenia at Tauris, premiered in the 2013 Planet Connections Festivity in NYC, receiving the Planet Connections Award for Best Book of a New Musical or Play with Music. Other recent New York credits include End of the Dog Days in the 2013 Summer Play Festival at the Players Theatre and Turtles in the April edition of Fresh Produce'd at the Drama Bookshop. In 2004, she received an MFA in Playwriting from Brandeis University where her play Losing the Game won the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Award for Best Original Play. Sarah is currently working toward her PhD in English Composition and Rhetoric at the University of Connecticut.
Call: (860) 280-3130 for more information & ticketing. Or, click here for tickets.
Writing in Mark Twain's Library
Sunday, March 23, 9:00 am to 11:30 am
"To get the right word in the right place is a rare achievement. To condense the diffused light of a page of thought into the luminous flash of a single sentence, is worthy to rank as a prize composition just by itself...Anybody can have ideas--the difficulty is to express them without squandering a quire of paper on an idea that ought to be reduced to one glittering paragraph." – Mark Twain
Sometimes, what we need to write our great novel, or even just a good page, is just a little peace and quiet. Throw in some inspiration from Hartford’s favorite author and we’d call that a successful morning. That’s why we’re introducing a new series called “Writing in Mark Twain's Library.” Sign up for a Sunday morning writing session in the Clemens family home: you and a maximum of fifteen other people will have the house to yourselves. Feel inspired by the beautiful sounds of the fountain in the family conservatory; rest your eyes upon Twain’s bookshelves as you ponder your next word. You’ll spend three hours of quiet in the historic library of our very own Sam Clemens. No doubt you'll begin your own masterpiece.
$50 for two and a half quiet hours in Twain's library. RESERVATIONS REQUIRED. (860) 280-3130, or click here for tickets.
Writing from the First Person for Young Adults: A Writing Workshop with Dayna Lorentz
Saturday, April 12, 1:00 pm - 4:00 pm
I dance, I scream, I cry: Writing in the First-Person Present for Young Adults
Lift the cover of any Young Adult novel lining the shelves of your local bookseller or library, and you’ll likely find that it’s told from the first person point of view, and in the present tense. Bestsellers The Hunger Games, Thirteen Reasons Why, Divergent, and Speak: all first-person, present tense narratives. In this workshop, we’ll discuss the appeal of this point of view for writing YA in particular, and also the kinds of problems it presents and limitations it entails. We’ll look at popular examples of the form, and also write and workshop short pieces of our own.
Dayna Lorentz is the author of the No Safety in Numbers trilogy (Dial/Kathy Dawson Books). The first book in the series, No Safety in Numbers, was selected by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) as a 2013 Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, and the second, No Easy Way Out, was a Barnes&Noble Bookseller’s Pick for Teens. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature from Bennington College. A former attorney, Dayna is now a full-time writer and lives with her husband, two kids, and dogs in Vermont. If you ask nicely, she will show you the proper way to eat a cupcake. Visit her at www.daynalorentz.com and NoSafetyinNumbersBooks.com.
$40. Call: (860) 280-3130 for more information & ticketing. Or, click here for tickets.

Announcing Spring Classes!

Good Tales and How to Tell Them: A Storytelling Writing Course with Tom Lee
Wednesday, March 19, through April 23, 2014, 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Six Wednesday evenings, March 19th - April 23
The Mark Twain House's Storyteller-in-Residence, Tom Lee will lead a class exploring the nature of traditional stories - sometimes hundreds, sometimes thousands of years old.
We will look at stories from a variety of world traditions and discover how telling stories opens up a dialogue with the teller and the listener.
Tom Lee has told stories professionally for twenty years. His interest in traditional stories began while he was working as a cook in a tiny fishing village in Scotland. Tom's first storytelling performances were tales from Grimm, told in the the London pub theater called, appropriately, "The Man in the Moon." In the United States, Tom has worked in classrooms with children of all ages. "When it comes to stories," he says, "children have taught me everything I know." A roster artist with the Connecticut Commission on Culture and a frequent guest artist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Yale Center for British Art. Tom is a fellow with the Connecticut Writing Project at the University of Connecticut. Tom Lee lives in Chester, Connecticut, where he gardens overambitiously. This class is appropriate for anyone interested in telling a good story. Educators, writers, and artists may find it particularly useful in developing their crafts.
$265. Call: (860) 280-3130 for more information & ticketing. Or, click here for tickets.
Memoir Writing Course with Mary-Ann Tirone Smith
Wednesday, March 19, through April 23, 2014; 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Six Wednesday evenings.
With pen or keys, we will revisit episodes in our lives that will not let us go, and we will think on those episodes wearing the analytical hat of the mathematician. We will write and re-write those episodes until we find the key to unlock what we are trying to understand, to grasp, to make sense of. We will not depend on the serenity of “once upon a time,” but instead learn to create the sense that what happened to us then is happening to us now, without the security of probable escape, no promise that everything will turn out just dandy. We will learn what is required to put our memories into an irresistible, provocative and coherent story, for that is what a good memoir is (as opposed to an autobiography and we’ll see the difference). Thankfully, we will be helped along by examining excellent memoirs already published.
Mary-Ann Tirone Smith was born and raised in Hartford, and has lived in Connecticut all her life except for the two years she served as a Peace Corps volunteer on Mt. Cameroon, an active volcano rising 14,000 feet above the West African equatorial sea. She has published eight novels, and collaborated on a ninth with her son, Jere Smith. Her memoir, Girls of Tender Age, was selected as a community read by several cities and towns, and is an ongoing favorite of book discussion groups. Her work has been reprinted in seven foreign languages, and in paperback, audio and ebook editions. Her short stories and essays have been included in several collections. She was awarded the Diana Bennet Writing Fellowship at the Black Mountain Institute, UNLV, where she worked on a Civil War novel just completed: The Honoured Guest: Anne Alger Craven, Witness to Sumter, in Her Words.
$265. Call: (860) 280-3130 for more information & ticketing. Or, click here for tickets.
Fiction Writing Course with Nancy Antle
Wednesday, March 19, through April 23rd, 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Six Wednesday evenings, March 19th - April 23
Study the fine art of writing fiction under the experience and tutelage of Nancy Antle.
Nancy Antle has been writing and teaching for over thirty years. She is a 2013 MFA in fiction graduate from Southern CT State University and is currently a writing mentor/volunteer with the Afghan Women’s Writing Project online which “provides a platform for Afghan women to develop their voices and discover their power in the world.” She has taught beginning fiction writing at Southern CT State University, novel writing for Bulldog Tutors in New Haven and children’s book writing for both Gotham Writer’s Workshop and the Institute of Children’s Literature. She has published short stories, books and poems for adults, young adults and children. She lives with her husband in New Haven.
$265. Call: (860) 280-3130 for more information & ticketing. Or, click here for tickets.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Classes in Memoir, Fiction Start in March


March brings our much-awaited Wednesday evening writing classes to The Mark Twain House & Museum, with two offerings this year: acclaimed authors Susan Schoenberger on "The Art of Fiction" and Bessy Reyna on "The Art of Memoir." Schoenberger's class begins Wednesday, March 6; Reyna's on Wednesday, March 27.

Since 2010, the Writing at the Mark Twain House program at the museum has provided rich offerings that include classes, a spring Writers' Weekend and Saturday Afternoon Writers' Workshops. (This year the Writers' Weekend is April 26-28, and afternoon workshops are planned for May. Details will be announced soon.)

                Bessy Reyna
THE SPRING CLASSES:

Our spring and fall multi-week classes have been especially rich, providing encouragement and peer support for a sometimes lonely endeavor. Almost without exception, participants have walked away from the sessions feeling revived, inspired and ready to move along on their projects -- or ready to get going on one. Beginners and seasoned authors mix in a particularly creative way.
                                                                                                                
...and one session of each class is traditionally held in Mark Twain's own library.

Spring's offerings feature two sterling authors with a knack for getting the word across not only about the creative process, and the craft of getting it down on paper or into pixels, but also about the business of getting work published.

Susan Schoenberger
Schoenberger's sessions have routinely sold out here, an accomplished novelist who brings a clear-eyed, generous and organized view to her teaching style. Reyna is an institution in the region -- poet, memoirist, winner of the 2009 Connecticut Book Award for Lifetime Achievement. Her sessions at the Hartford Public Library and elsewhere are immensely popular. When she brought her talents to our Writers' Weekend last year, her class ran into the lunch break on the patio, where the audience grew and grew.

A WARNING: These classes have a maximum enrollment of 16, and fill up fast. Early registration is recommended.

THE NUTS AND BOLTS:

Susan Schoenberger, The Art of Fiction
Six weeks, Wednesdays, March 6-April 10, 5:30-7:30 p.m. 
$450. Registration Deadline Friday, February 22. Call 860-380-3130.
Susan Schoenberger's first novel, A Watershed Year, had not even been published when it was awarded the prestigious Gold Medal in the 2006 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. Amazon Publishing is re-releasing A Watershed Year and publishing She has been an editor at the Hartford Courant and the Baltimore Sun, a published essayist and short story writer, and a favorite of the Writing at the Mark Twain House faculty.The class will cover the main choices an author has to make when constructing a novel, including point of view, voice, character development, writing in scenes, structure and story arc. Participants will have opportunities to share works in progress for constructive feedback.

Bessy Reyna, The Art of Memoir 
Five weeks, Wednesdays, March 27-April 24. 5:30-8:30 p.m. 
$450. Registration Deadline Friday, March 8. Call 860-280-3130.

Each of us has a story we can choose to tell or not tell, and Bessy Reyna'sshort workshop "Tell Me a Secret: Writing Your Memoir" has been enthusiastically received statewide. It is being expanded for this special class. Reyna is the author of two bilingual books of poetry, The Battlefield of Your Body  and Memoirs of the Unfaithful Lover/ Memorias de la amante infiel, among many others. Bessy has been an opinion and magazine writer as well as a memoirist, and currently writes the arts and culture page for the newspaper Identidad Latina. She has won numerous awards, including the 2009 Connecticut Center for the Book Lifetime Achievement Award in Service to the Literary Community. 

Again, early registration is important; call 860-280-3130.  For questions, contact Writing at the Mark Twain House Director Julia Pistell at 860-247-0998, Ext. 208 (julia.pistell@marktwainhouse.org) , or Publications Editor Steve Courtney at Ext. 243 (steve.courtney@marktwainhouse.org).




Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Leaving Ireland; Choosing a Bride In India

The work produced in Lary Bloom's and Suzanne Levine's Class in Memoir, our Writing at the Mark Twain House offering over the past three springs, has been extraordinary, and members of the classes have been invited to post their work here. Today we post two pieces: "Roscommon 1841," a fictionalized memoir of student Audrey Eckert's ancestors about to leave Ireland for America; and "Time to Marry Off George," by Karen Devassy, about the ritual of bride-choosing in India.




ROSCOMMON 1841

by Audrey Eckert


They’ll not find a speck of dirt when they come nosin’ around after we’re gone, Mary muttered. She folded dried lavender into her best woolen blankets to keep the bugs out and placed them into her dowry chest with a sigh. Twenty-five years ago she came to this house as a bride and the work of decades made it a comfortable home. She finally had a rhythm to her days, an ease to her house-keeping and now Shamus said they had to leave, go to America. You can only take what will fit into your two dowry chests, he told her

At first, she fought him. He was a pinch penny who saved bits and scraps of money while it was clear that they needed to buy another cow. No cow, she said, and now this?  You want me to leave my friends?  Nora?  Kathleen?  They’ve stood by me through births and deaths. I’ll never leave, she stormed, NEVER. Why do you want to tear my heart from my chest?

Don’t you see, woman? Without restraint of proper government, the Brits will strip this land and gnaw on our bones.  You’ve seen crops fail eight of the last ten years, have you not? Did you not notice the winter of the big wind? You make me weary. I’ll walk myself to the village and fetch a copy of the Dublin Evening Post while you compose yourself. He slammed the door as he left.

Again and again they fought. Again and again they left the whole thing simmering on the back burner.

She’d always been proud that an educated man had chosen her for his wife. She placed his favorite chair near the fire and stacked his books on a table nearby. But his constant talk of taxes, political instability and British oppression made her smile. The man was book smart but what did he know about day to day living? There’s always some invader or other. Just take care of your own and don’t bother the authorities. Life goes on, she said, offer it up.

Then, last month, she saw the Reilly girl lurking near the shed. Come in the house, she called. The girl drew back into the shadows. Mary rolled up her sleeves and strode out into the yard. Nan Reilly, I said get in here this minute. Slowly, Nan obeyed.  Sweet Jesus, Mary and Joseph, what happened to you, child? Mary put her arms around the girl and half carried her to the warm kitchen. When did you last eat? Never mind. I just took a quick bread out of the oven and there’s milk left over from breakfast. Sit yourself down.

 After a fury of eating, Mary filled a basin with warm water and washed grime from the girl’s face and hands. Where are your parents, she asked. Oh Missus, since the landlord turned us out we’ve been livin’ up in the woods. We found a cave with a running brook nearby and Da goes out with the boys every day looking for food. They haven’t come back for a long time and I think they were killed in the Galway riots. There’s a whole tribe of us up there. I’m ashamed to say we’ve been eating moss and boiling tree bark for tea this whole week. I thank you for your kindness, Ma’am, but I must be going back.

You’ll not leave without a little basket for your Mother, Mary said. It isn’t much -- some potatoes, an egg and a shawl -- it’s old, but it’s still got some warmth to it. I’ll remember you in my prayers.

You do what you think is best, Missus, but I think God has forgotten Ireland.


                                     
James seldom raised his voice to Mary, but it felt grand to slam the door shut. Silent anger stiffened his joints as he rushed along the road to town. Then, Father John quietly fell in step beside him. You’ve had words with the woman of the house, have you?

Sometimes she’s the devil’s own invention, Father. I don’t understand her.

There’s three kinds of men who don’t understand the fair sex, Lad. There’s the young men, the old men and the middle aged. You’re not alone in your confusion. She’s a good woman when you think about it. She’s given you five strong children.  In this parish she’s loved and respected; I see her at Mass every day.

But Father, she never hears my words. She has to see it with her own eyes or touch it with her own hands before she knows it’s real. She’s always on the move; she’s dusting, wiping scrubbing and never listening. NEVER. I try to teach her that she’ll learn more by listening than by talking. She doesn’t even hear THAT.

Man’s head is for learning and for God. Woman’s head is for man alone. That’s why they must cover their heads when they’re in the house of The Lord. You know that. Let me buy you a pint. We’ll talk for a while and you’ll go home to the earthly comforts of your woman. Take my advice. Don’t try to make her into something she’ll never be. Remember the saying “Is foulamh fual e teach gan bean.” It’s a cold house without a woman.

Between the roaring fire in the stove and a crowd of people, the pub was boiling hot. The two men took their drinks to a quiet corner, far from the fiddler. James leaned across the table. You understand what I’m saying, Father. When the Brits were fighting Napoleon, they bought everything our farms could produce. Since the end of the war, you can’t give away grain, cattle or pork, much less sell it; then, they mustered out 100,000 Irish soldiers without so much as a penny or a thank you. Now, we’ve got landless beggars prowling about. I fear for my family.

That’s not the whole of it, James. For generations, there was a need for spinners and weavers to work at home turning flax into good linen then came the wet-spinning machines. They built textile factories up north for the Protestants while our Catholic cottage workers starve.

Do you remember my friend Edmond Father? He’s gone to Boston. I got this letter from him last week. See this paragraph right here? “This delightful country gives me satisfaction”, he says.” All have more than enough to spare. If a man is willing to work, he will live happy.” I want to live happy, Father, any fool can see what is coming in this sorry land. We must leave.

Mary believed that poverty was a shameful thing, not to be shared in gossip. She never told a soul about her encounter with the Reilly girl. But the following day she made a fine evening meal for Himself.  As she predicted, a full belly set him free to rage against the world. Do you know what those sanctimonious Brits said, he yelled. If we give food to the poor, it will damage moral character. The Irish must learn to stand on their own, they said, not become dependent on charity. First they strip the land clean and then they preach morality? We have to leave this damnable place.

You are right, James Dolan, she said softly. Whither thou goest, I will go.

                                                                                               
                                               
TIME TO MARRY OFF GEORGE

By Karen Devassy
           
In 1973, shortly after my husband Davis, our three children and I arrived for our second visit to India, discussion among his Indian family members turned to the fact that Davis had not been present for any weddings of the four out of five of his siblings who had married. The cost of travel halfway around the world for a family of five had precluded frequent visits to Kerala, his home state. Everyone in his family quickly agreed that now was the time to marry off George, Davis’ youngest brother. Not only was George -- at twenty-seven years old -- well into the marrying age but our visit made the timing ideal.
 So Davis, a couple of his brothers and a few cousins and uncles drove together to consult the local marriage broker.  His job was to inform families in surrounding towns whose daughters were in her late teens or early twenties that George, the youngest son of the Thattil family in Peringottukara, was ready to marry. Only families in our socioeconomic group who could provide a decent sum of money for a dowry -- and, of course, were Catholic -- would be notified and if interested would send proposals through the broker. Too high a dowry could signal a problem with the young woman. For instance, since our Indian family members had comparatively light skin, it would be important for the bride not to be too dark. 
I wasn’t privy to how many proposals arrived. but I do know that five or six were taken seriously. Families with any scandal, such as business failures, mental illness or “love marriages” such as Davis’ and mine, were given extra scrutiny, perhaps even denied consideration. Since George had completed college our family would want a bride with at least a high school degree or some college work.
Once the initial culling process had taken place the same male relatives who had contacted the marriage broker undertook visits to homes of potential brides. My husband’s older brother, Paul, who like most men in Davis’ family spoke English, took me aside and said, “Even though you are a woman we would like you to join us. It will be a new experience for you and the families we visit will enjoy meeting an American.”  Neither George nor his parents were included in this part of the process, though my father-in-law and mother-in-law certainly participated in the vibrant discussions following each trip.
We would all cram ourselves into a couple of small cars and the driver would whiz along the single lane roads as if he were “playing chicken” with oncoming vehicles.  Horns were used constantly to challenge the truck or car hurtling toward us or just to scare pedestrians off the tarmac. The homes we visited, like our family’s, were large with lovely gardens. A few men and a few women from the bride’s family hastened out to meet us. Their men were dressed like ours in long, clean, starched white wraparounds and Western-style shirts. The older women wore all white wraparounds and blouses with gold embroidered scarves and the middle-aged or younger women wore colored dressy saris. After mutual bowing and greetings of, “Namaste” we moved into the parlor for some small talk. About fifteen minutes later we were taken into the dining room where   a feast of sweet delicacies was set. Tea or coffee, already dosed with milk and sugar, were offered.
 After an hour of conversation between the families to assess if they were compatible,  the young bride-applicant, always shy and nervous, would appear from behind a curtain dressed in a brightly colored gold-embossed sari with exquisite makeup on her face  and gold  jewelry around her wrists, ankles and neck.  The gold displayed would become part of her dowry. She would be asked a few questions to assure she was acceptable in presentation and without physical limitations.
“How far did you study in school?”
“What activities do you enjoy?”
            Upon arriving home the men, over coconut toddy, a strong alcoholic drink, would discuss the pros and cons of the aspirant. My mother-in-law and sisters-in-law would join the conversation from the sidelines. Dark complexion, excessive height or noticeable communication problems would decrease her eligibility. George was allowed a short visit with three women whom the family had declared acceptable and his input was valued. After one of the visits George, whose English was not as good as his brothers’, said to me, “I talk to girl but she is too thin.” I answered, “Oh, George, don’t worry about that. After she had has had a child or two she will gain some weight.”
            “But I don’t like her face.”
            “My goodness, now that’s more important, George. If you don’t like her face you must tell your brothers you don’t want to marry her.” And he did tell them.
            After a lovely young woman named Theresa was chosen, several  older female relatives  who had overheard that Theresa was about George’s height expressed concerns that she might be too tall. To sort out this dilemma a kinsman was sent to Theresa’s home to measure her. Although she was a tad taller than George it was decided that her positive qualities outweighed this disadvantage.
            Because Davis and I and our family would be there for just three more weeks wedding preparations began immediately and in earnest. A huge pavilion was constructed in the front of the house with bamboo and reeds. Locally famous cooks appeared on the compound, squatting beside boiling cauldrons of sweets -- such as halwa, burrfi and laddu -- and, as the date for the wedding drew near, meat and vegetable curries. At that time my Indian family, despite being well off, did not have refrigeration. Extra servants were hired to clean the home and property. The family women, including me, went shopping in the nearby town of Trichur for saris with the same gold embroidery design but differing colors.  Mine was a royal blue. The children of the family got matching outfits.
 Day by day the hallways of the family home became inhabited with elderly widowed “aunties” who had come from distant towns for the celebration. They all wore white shirts and wraparounds as other older women but their earlobes had huge holes — two to three inches -- held open with large gold rings. They each had a straw mat on the floor for sitting and sleeping.  A number of them lined up in the corridor outside our bedroom and I had to step around them to go to the bathroom or shower room. They eagerly awaited my every appearance and lavished me with toothless grins and “Namaste” bows.
The wedding Mass itself was held across the street in a simple Catholic church which my father-in-law had donated years before (along with a girls’ school). I don’t remember exactly how many people attended the wedding; there was not a huge number and my mother-in-law, as was the custom, was not among them.  Her job was to coordinate the festivities under the canopy.  Five hundred people including family, friends and townspeople enjoyed food, music and chatter for many hours at our home.  After an hour or two the bride and groom and wedding party drove to Theresa’s home for a similar spree with people important to her family.
            George and Theresa fell in love after their wedding and produced three sons, Vinish, Ronish and Surish.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Memorial Day Memory, and a Surprise at the End of a Dance

The work produced in Lary Bloom's and Suzanne Levine's Class in Memoir over the past three springs has been extraordinary, and members of the classes have been invited to post their work here. Today we post two pieces: "Long Time Coming," a short memoir by Jim Masso (of the Bloom-Levine Class of 2011) and "A Dance," the response to an assignment to provide a story in the form of dialogue, by Ann Keating (of the Class of 2012).



Long Time Coming

 By Jim Masso

 I stood in front of Gary’s headstone for the first time.  Forty-one years had past since his death. I knew the general location of the grave.  In fact, I’d seen the family marker from the road, yet I never went to visit.  Gary was my best friend.

  We met in high school.  I was a senior, he a junior.  We’d hang out all the time.  Girls, dating, music and the Yankees were our constant subjects.  On Sunday mornings I’d meet him in front of church, but instead of Mass, we’d go eat breakfast at a restaurant. With a grin, he’d flirt with our waitress.  After she left, he’d sing a few bars from his favorite song of the week: “A little bit o’ soul will see you through, yeah.”    

  In September of 1968, in order to sidestep the draft, I enlisted in the Army. After basic and advanced training in April of 1969, I shipped out for Vietnam as a 71N20, transportation movement specialist. Gary knew about my overseas orders. Mom and Dad didn’t. Mom would have cried all the time.  I told Dad in the morning before he drove me to the airport. He told Mom afterwards.   While I was home, Gary and I caroused as usual. The night before I left, we made plans to attend a ball game in New York when I returned.  It was the last time I saw or heard from Gary.  We weren’t letter writers.

  I spent my first six months in Vietnam in a hotel converted into a military barracks in downtown Saigon. Mama-sans cleaned the room and took care of the laundry.  I was attached to 3rd Transportation Unit, Movement Control Center (MCC). Our duty:  make sure the ships in dock had enough flatbed trailers to unload their cargo, make sure the paperwork was correct and the convoys loaded with supplies left on time. At night, we hung out in the bars near the waterfront and drank.  Young Asian girls worked in the bars. They sat in the booths with us as long as we continued to drink and buy them watered down drinks called Saigon Tea. I learned quickly it wasn’t good to think about war all the time.

  In mid-July, Gary developed lumps in his lymph glands.   The doctor diagnosed mononucleosis and prescribed bed rest, but the lumps multiplied and became larger.  The doctor performed a biopsy. This time the diagnosis was Hodgkins disease.  The doctor referred Gary to a specialist in Hartford who informed his parents the disease was only in his lymph glands and stoppable with radium treatments.  Gary started the treatments and later told he could start classes in September at the Morse Business School in Hartford.  

  After six months, I had orders to report about 25 miles north to Lai Khe. Three of us from MCC handled the daily supply convoys. We made sure the flatbed trailers were unloaded, reloaded, and headed back south to the large military complex at Long Binh before dark. The PX used many trailers. We kept them supplied with trailers. They kept us supplied with beer and steaks.  At night, we drank the beer, ate the steaks and watched outdoor movies.  Sometimes we got high. There weren’t any mortar or ground attacks during my 3-month stay.  

  Back in the world, Gary commuted every day to Hartford for school and then treatments.  The treatments hurt more than helped as the disease continued to spread.  In November, Gary dropped out of school and entered Hartford Hospital.  The Hodgkins spread into his bone marrow, but the doctor was confident he could stop it though not necessarily cure him.  His brother, Alan, brought him home for Thanksgiving.  The day was painful for Gary.  That night he was glad to be back in the hospital.

  The Bob Hope Christmas Show came to Lai Khe.  Thousands of troops descended on the base for the show.  We laughed at the jokes and applauded the songs. For a couple of hours we were part of a uniquely American tradition as the entertainers shared their Christmas spirit and helped us forget where we were for this family holiday.    
 
 By the middle of December, the end was in sight.  The disease spread to his liver.  Around 3 PM on New Year’s Eve Gary told his brother he had a pain in his stomach. Alan called a nurse who administered a sedative.  Gary fell asleep. His brother went home.  Later that night the family received the doctor’s call. They pronounced Gary dead at 10:20 PM.

  At midnight on New Year’s Eve, the guards fired their weapons in the air to celebrate.  I was almost a short timer:  less than 100 days left in-country.

    In mid-January, the letter from Gary’s brother arrived. Why was he writing to me?  I read the letter and was shocked, then angered.  In it were the events of the last 6 months. Why didn’t he let me know? What could I have done if I knew? Nothing, I was stuck in this goddamn war, 18,000 miles away and wasn’t there to help my best friend battle for his life. I was frustrated and felt useless.  That night I read the letter over and over.             
  
  Being home on furlough was difficult. I didn’t want the thirty days leave to end, yet I did. I was glad to see my parents and girlfriend, but I was anxious to get back to my buddies. For an early Army discharge, I had agreed to another 6 months in Vietnam. I didn’t contact Gary’s family or girlfriend. What could we say?

  The next year I finished active duty. Four years later, I received my BA and married my college sweetheart. Several months after the wedding, I met Gary’s mother in church. 
    
“He would have been your best man”, she said.

I nodded.

  For almost 4 decades, I never talked about Vietnam.  When asked about my military service I’d say, “Vietnam for 18 months”.  No other questions followed. They imagined the rest. Would they have believed the truth about drinking, eating, smoking and girls?

  I hadn’t been in firefights, patrolled the jungle, crawled through tunnels, or killed anyone.  My war was a day at the office, except it was Vietnam.  I moved paper instead of bullets.  Could I tell anyone I had an easy and sometimes fun tour in Vietnam?  There were thousands of war casualties, which in my universe included Gary.  There wasn’t a scratch on my body.  I never fired my weapon.  I felt guilty about my Vietnam service.
 
   Recently, through movies and books I’ve gotten a glimpse into the other side of the war. The part I missed. I’m one of the lucky soldiers.

   Memorial Day was in less than a week. I drove to my parent’s gravesite to bring the two flowerpots home for replanting. As I placed the second one in the car, a warm shiver ran through me.  I looked around the cemetery and knew it was time.  I knew the general vicinity of Gary’s grave. When I found it, tears rolled down my cheeks. I sighed.  It felt right. 

 ‘It’s been a long time,’ I said.
 
 We had a nice visit.


The Dance

by Ann M. Keating

     “My wife told me to ask you to dance, “ he said.

    “She did? How lovely,” I replied.

    “I guess she thought you might want to."

     “I’d be delighted.”

     Taking my hand, he said, “ It’s so nice to see you after all these years.”

     “Yes it is good to be back in the old home town. Many things are different and some are the same.”

    “Just how many has it been? You still look like you did at twenty one.”

    “You flatter me.”

     “Let me think,” he said.  “It was twenty years ago and we were all here at the club.”

    “Yes, it was at the end of the summer party.”

    “Well, here we are right back where we started,” he said as he twirled me around the floor.

    “You always did dance better than anyone else,” I sighed.

    “You’re more relaxed than you used to be. I was never sure if you’d follow.”

    “Sorry about that…I always wanted to but was never sure where you were going to lead.”

    “I remember the first time I saw you. You were standing in the sunlight in Betty’s dining room.”

    “I remember too. You said, ‘Not bad, not bad but you’ll have to do something with that hair.”

    “I said that?”

    “You said that.”

    “That’s not like me at all,” he laughed.

    “ Isn’t it?”

    “You know I’ve never been able to figure it out. You were never what I’d call sexy.”

    “Thanks a lot…not even in a black dress?”

    “Not even in a black dress…but you sure are now.”

    “You haven’t changed a bit…not a bit, “ I laughed.

    “About you…no I guess I haven’t.  What did we do on our first date?” he mused.

   “We went to dinner and a play. Then I seem to remember…"

   “Dancing”, he said. “ We always danced but we didn’t see the play. There were only two seats left and…"

    “That’s right and they were not together. You said, ‘I want to see you and not some old play.’”
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
     “And what did you say?”

     “It was a long while ago. I don’t remember.”

      He said, “You married fast, you know.”

     “I know.”

     “Why?”

     “Because you didn’t ask me, and the music stopped.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “Actually, right now the music has stopped. We’re the only ones on the dance floor.”

    “So we are. But I still don’t know what you mean…I didn’t ask you…"

    “We really should return to the table,” I said.

    “Will you dance the next dance?” he asked.