On Writers’ Fest

When I went to Writers’ Fest in 2018, I had the pleasure of meeting and being taught by George Saunders. When we had this last Writers’ Fest, Saunders was getting ready to circulate his new book, Lincoln in the Bardo. After being taught with examples from his short stories which were nothing short of excellent, I was very keen to hear him speak on craft, and to share with us his insight into the cognition and execution of the creative impulses surrounding the short story.

His seminar was indicative of what his students must experience at Syracuse. To have that intimacy and opportunity for interaction with the learning process was something that would be inaccessible from a traditional, large scale seminar, or a auditorium experience. Saunders spoke in depth about his creations and the process of developing meaningful components like characters and action within short fiction and how they can move the story forward through immediacy. Through this immediacy, he and my teachers claimed, was the key to authenticity and how readers could be brought into the space we as writers need them to be in.

Following his presentation and lesson, which was the most advertised and awaited, we were brought into a rotation of smaller seminars and lessons by other writers with an even smaller class, or group to create with. Each writer brought their specialty, or technique to be brought into a classroom setting for distribution, possibly for the first time. We were being given access to what so many people needed to hear, and what was so inaccessible otherwise. Another one of my favorite lessons was from Yvette Angelique Hyater-Adams. She brought with her a “braided story technique,” something that was entirely foreign to me at the time. Through her workshop, which focused on bringing two stories together and intertwining them to create a central narrative, I created my next portfolio story using the technique. This concept of using two influences was echoed in a later workshop where I learned “the jazz method” of writing poetry. This was by far my favorite workshop, and I still use the technique today when writing poetry. The process calls for the integration of a concrete narrative, or predetermined sequence of words or phrases that could be written together to create narrative. This concept of adding arbitrary constriction on the creative process to ignite and instigate new ways of creating is something that I have since praised as the greatest way to access creativity. My mother’s company is built upon the ideas of treating those with brain injury with creative instances similar to those with restrictions similar to that from the workshops. I wrote most of my poems from that year using some degree of predetermined sequencing in order to “write around” the problem, thus creating something entirely new.

I will take with me forever into my writing processes the lessons learned form the elite writers procured by the Writers’ Fest administration. Their insight into craft, and suggestions regarding creative approaches to the issues of the common writer were something that is simply not available outside of that setting and opportunity. For that reason, I am incredibly excited about seeing such talented writers return to our space again and impart more wisdom for the class to execute on.

Sheldon White, Junior Fiction/CNF Editor