Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Class in Memoir with Lary Bloom and Suzanne Levine


Acclaimed Writing Course for Novices and Veterans Will Be Held For Third Year March 7-April 25; Registration Deadline February 15

Watching Lary Bloom and Suzanne Levine teach their extraordinary joint class in memoir writing is a study in complementary creativity -- each teacher's style is so different, yet each builds on the other's work with grace and precision.

First there's Bloom -- eloquent, reminiscent, funny, surprising, with a real skill at drawing out the stories that the members of the class have often kept within themselves. Then there's Levine, who will gently rein in her co-teacher and partner with a quiet reminder that puts the class back on track. She, it's clear, revels in his ebullience; he revels in her skill at keeping to the rails.

And both teachers apply themselves with diligence and generosity to the work of their students, whether novices or Connecticut Book Award winners. Participants make real progress. "My first drafts usually seemed to please people, so I didn't need to go any further," said one student after taking the class. "Now I have your voices in my head and they won't go away."

Bloom and Levine will offer their famed eight-week Class in Memoir once again this spring at The Mark Twain House & Museum, the third time around for this much-waited-for event.

In 2010 the memoir class started the museum toward the fulfillment of its long-held goal of being a center for writing. This effort -- Writing at the Mark Twain House -- has blossomed since, with classes in fiction and non-fiction, individual talks and workshops by a range of writers, and a Writers' Weekend planned for April 20-21 this year.

A Class in Memoir offers writing instruction and workshops at the home of one of the American masters of the craft. The class will include intensive, hands-on work on the craft, with the goal of producing a short work by the end of the session to be published on the Writing at the Mark Twain House Blog. It will explore such aspects of the memoir craft as scene-setting, dialogue, character development and narrative.

It's a particularly appropriate genre for the home of Mark Twain, whose Autobiography, released recently after a century under wraps, became a surprise bestseller.

Twain's ideas about memoir reflect Bloom's and Levine's: "An autobiography that leaves out the little things and enumerates only the big ones is no proper picture of the man's life at all," Twain wrote; "his life consists of his feelings and his interests, with here and there an incident apparently big or little to hang the feelings on."

Compare reviewer Carolyn Alvfin's comments on Bloom's style: "Seasoned editor Lary Bloom knows what any good screenwriter knows -- people love stories. Stories that include honest detail, true emotion, conflict, a point of view, and that show ordinary people's struggles and journeys. ...He encourages journalists and non-fiction writers to take the time to explore the human drama behind the obvious bullet points of their works-in-progress."

"Writing programs at The Mark Twain House & Museum provide an exciting and appropriate development for our mission of preserving Mark Twain's legacy," says Jeffrey L. Nichols, Executive Director of the Mark Twain House & Museum. "Twain, of course, was a memoirist - he wrote about his youth on the Mississippi, his days in the west, his life in Hartford - and I think he would be tickled by this."

Bloom and Levine will offer A Class in Memoir starting Wednesday, March 7, through Wednesday, April 25. There is a fee of $600 for the eight-week course. The registration deadline is Wednesday, February 15.

The class runs from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Mark Twain Museum Center, 351 Farmington Avenue, Hartford. One session will be held in Mark Twain's library in the historic house.

To participate, a serious interest in the memoir form is the only requirement; beginners are welcome. To register, please send a brief letter or email of interest to Steve Courtney at or call 860-247-0998, Ext. 243. Registrants will be limited to fourteen. The tuition fee must be paid in full by the registration deadline, February 15.

Lary Bloom is a legendary figure in the Connecticut literary world, known nationally as a pioneer of the New Journalism. For 20 years, he edited Northeast magazine at The Hartford Courant, fostering a new kind of work that used the tools of fiction to tell the stories of ordinary people -- while maintaining strict truthtelling. He nurtured writers from Wally Lamb to Cindy Brown Austin (both of whom first pubished in Northeast), and turned the magazine into a Connecticut literary incubator for nurturing creativity of all types. His much-read weekly column -- unusual and unpredictable takes on unsung Connecticut characters and their achievements -- today find a home in the pages of Connecticut magazine.

During his two decades at Northeast he wrote essay collections and The Writer Within, which provides lessons in nonfiction writing learned from his years as a Sunday magazine editor. He produced the Twain's World series, essays on Hartford's cultural heritage that were collected in a book of that name. But many achievements took the magazine outside its traditional boundaries of its cover.

He was a founder of the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, which featured many of America's greatest poets, including Stanley Kunitz, Sharon Olds, James Merrill and Lucille Clifton; Art For All, a public art project featuring work by Katharine Hepburn, Dave Brubeck, and many visual artists; and Mark Twain Days, a citywide celebration that featured the music of Ray Charles and the Kingston Trio, and the comedy of the Smothers Brothers, as well as activities such as jousts and Gilded Age baseball games. Another major public project was Connecticut Voices, during which 50 distinguished state authors (including Arthur Miller, William Styron, and Annie Dillard) were profiled, and then read from their books on public radio.

Since leaving Northeast, he has collaborated with former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge on his controversial memoir, The Test of Our Times, and wrote, with Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Letters from Nuremberg. The teaching he did as an editor has continued in tandem with Levine: classes at The Mark Twain House & Museum, at the Florence Griswold Museum, and the renowned literary bookstore R.J. Julia in Madison, Connecticut. He is on the faculty of Fairfield University's MFA writing program.

Suzanne Levine, a noted poet, may seem an odd choice for a teacher of memoir, but a closer look -- particularly at her acclaimed Haberdasher's Daughter, a work of "razor-sharp observations, crystal-clear imagery and quietly startling observations," in the words of Wally Lamb. The book makes clear the connections between the worlds of poetry and memoir. There is the matter of defining one's life through memory, which the reminiscent style of poetry she excels in provides generously. And there is the ability to make music with words, which can be applied to any kind of prose, when in the hands of a master.

Haberdasher's Daughter was published by Antrim House Books in 2010 and was a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in California Quarterly, Passages North, Interpoesia, Permafrost Quiddity International Literary Journal, Southern California Review, The Chaffin Journal, Stand Magazine UK and Whiskey Island Magazine among others. A Pushcart nominee, she was a finalist in the 2009 Midnight Sun Chapbook Competition and a contributor to the anthology Forty Fathers (2009). She holds an MFA from Vermont College.

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