Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Guest-Blogger Poet Cathleen Calbert on the Providence Area Writers's Group

I miss my Washington DC writers group (which Leslie Pietrzyk has written about on her blog, Work-in-Progress). I had to give it up because I'm spending more time in Mexico these days and, in part, the architecture of my novel was ballooning into something more than a bit too big for a bimonthly critique of a 35 page chunk. That said, believe it, I will give every one of the members--- Kate Blackwell, Kathleen Currie, Katharine (Kitty) Davis, Ann McLaughlin, Leslie Pietrzyk, Mary Kay Zuravleff, Carolyn Parkhurst, Amy Stolls--- heartfelt thanks in the novel's acknowledgements. At the AWP bookfair in New York City last month, Cathleen Calbert (pictured left) and I got to talking about writers's groups--- and as hers sounded so fine, and the comraderie of a writers group is a subject of fascination for many, I asked her to guest-blog about it here. By way of introduction: Cathleen Calbert has published three books of poetry: Lessons in Space; Bad Judgment, and Sleeping with a Famous Poet (cover pictured above). Her stories and poems have appeared in many publications, including Ms., The New Republic, and The Paris Review. She has been awarded The Nation Discovery Award, the Gordon Barber Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, and a Pushcart Prize. Currently, she is the Director of Creative Writing at Rhode Island College.

I was lucky enough to have met C.M. Mayo at an artist colony and to spend time with her again at another colony years later. I write well at home, being plagued by nothing more than a couple of very small dogs, yet I am a fan of colonies and retreats because of the camaraderie: the chance to talk shop, commiserate, and champion. But residencies are tough to carve out of one’s life, so my primary source of artistic amity has been a writers’ group, with which I have been involved for over a decade. You’d think veterans such as we are would have had enough of workshopping back in our student days, but writing is a lonely pursuit, and, unless one has a fantastic editor, it’s difficult to get thoughtful feedback on one’s work. Not that I always have loved responses I’ve gotten from the Providence Area Writers’ Group! Certainly, I have groused to my husband over a glass of wine about how the group just didn’t get it, just didn’t get me. Time and again, though, the wisdom of the critiques set in within a few days, and I moved from frustration to gratitude.

“We don’t give criticism,” an editor of a literary journal once said. “No one really wants criticism.” My God! I thought. It’s true! Then what am I doing teaching Creative Writing? I shared this anecdote with my PAW Group pal, Ann Harleman, who told me, “No one wants criticism, but everyone wants help.” And this seemed to me a greater truth. Everyone wants help.

That’s what the PAW Group, in its various incarnations, has given me. Wonderful people and wonderful writers— Rand Cooper, Jim English, Ann Hood, Elliot Krieger, Marcia Lieberman, Judy McClain, Nancy Reisman, and Lucy Stevens, to name some—have been members of the group, and I remain grateful for their help as well as for the schmooze and the friendship. After all these years, I also am nearly as pleased by these friends’ successes as I am by my own—and that’s saying a lot for a writer. So I am happy to have the opportunity to share links to websites of the current members of the group. Read their work. If you find a great passage, I’ll be happy to take credit for it...

Adam Braver is the author of Mr. Lincoln’s Wars; Divine Sarah, and Crows Over the Wheatfield. His books have been selected for the Barnes and Noble Discover New Writers program, Borders’ Original Voices series, and twice for the Book Sense list. His work has appeared in journals such as Daedalus, Ontario Review, Cimarron Review, West Branch, and Post Road. He teaches at Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI, and is a Writer-in-Residence at the NY State Summer Writers Institute.

Ed Hardy grew up in Ithaca, New York and has an MFA from Cornell. He’s the author of two novels: Keeper and Kid and Geyser Life. His short stories have appeared in over twenty magazines, including Ploughshares, GQ, Prairie Schooner, Boulevard, Yankee, and The Quarterly. He has been a newspaper reporter and editor, first for the Burlington Times Union, a weekly north of Boston, and later for the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune. He has taught creative writing at Cornell and Boston College and currently teaches nonfiction writing at Brown. His short fiction has been listed in The Best American Short Stories and he has twice won fiction fellowships from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.

Ann Harleman is the author of the short story collections, Thoreau's Laundry and Happiness, which won the Iowa Short Fiction Award; and the novels, The Year She Disappeared, and Bitter Lake. Among her awards are Guggenheim and Rockefeller fellowships, three Rhode Island State Arts Council grants, the Berlin Prize in Literature, and the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where she is on the faculties of Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design.

Hester Kaplan is the author of The Edge of Marriage, a short story collection; and Kinship Theory, a novel. Her awards include an NEA, the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, Writer's Community/YMCA Writer-in-Residence Award, Rhode Island State Council on the Arts Fellowship, and work chosen for inclusion in Best American Short Stories 1998 and 1999.

Elizabeth Searle is the author of three books of fiction: Celebrities in Disgrace, a novella; A Four-Sided Bed, a novel nominated for an American Library Association Book Award, and My Body to You, a story collection that won the Iowa Short Fiction Prize. Her most recent work is Tonya & Nancy: The Opera (2006), which has drawn worldwide media attention.

---Cathleen Calbert

---> To read more of Madam Mayo's guest-blog posts, click here.
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