Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Meg Wolitzer Keynotes Annual Writers Weekend at Twain House

Meg Wolitzer. Photo: Nina-Subin
The Mark Twain House offers more writers, workshops, genres, and opportunities at its third annual Writers Weekend April 25-27.

From Keynote Speaker Meg Wolitzer, author of the current bestseller The Interestings, all the way through a Literary Death Match that will pit the Mark Twain House's Director of Writing Julia Pistell against the most fun, famous and talented writers you know, this weekend is an 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 of and book signing by 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, Ravi Shankar, Leslie Johnson andJohn Stanizzi.

The cost of the weekend is $160. This includes an opening and closing reception, coffee, and a small lunch on Saturday. The weekend will kick off at 6 pm Friday with a reception preceding Wolitzer's keynote at 7 and continue with programs from 9 am to 4 pm Saturday and Sunday. For tickets: 860-280-3130;  here for tickets.

Here's the full schedule:

Friday, April 25

6 pm: Welcome Reception
7 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 pm: Book Signing with Meg Woltizer

Saturday, April 26 
ALL DAY: Buy the books of your favorite authors and get them signed after each session 

10 am: Workshops 
Edwin Sanchez

  • 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 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.

noon 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 pm: Lunch break (lunch will be provided)

2 pm: Workshops

  • TJ Jarrett: Poetry 
TJ Jarrett’s recent work has been published or is forthcoming in African American Review, Boston Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Boxcar Poetry Review, Callaloo, DIAGRAM, Ninth Letter, Linebreak, Rattle, Southern Poetry Anthology, Third Coast, West Branch and others. Workshop description TBD.

  • 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 pm: Workshops

  • Vivian Shipley: Revising for Publication 
Vivian Shipley has published five chapbooks and nine books of poetry, most recently, All of Your Messages Have Been Erased (Southeastern Louisiana University Press, 2010). She is a two-time recipient of the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement, and two of her books—Gleanings: Old Poems, New Poems and When There Is No Shore—were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Additional honors include the Library of Congress’s Connecticut Lifetime Achievement Award for Service to the Literary Community, the Connecticut Book Award for Poetry, the Lucille Medwick Prize from the Poetry Society of America, the Robert Frost Foundation Poetry Prize, the Ann Stanford Poetry Prize from the University of Southern California, the Marble Faun Poetry Prize from the William Faulkner Society, the Daniel Varoujan Prize from the New England Poetry Club, the Hart Crane Prize from Kent State, the Connecticut Press Club Prize for Best Creative Writing, and the Binghamton University Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award. Workshop description TBD.

  • 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 pm: Playwriting Panel
Douglas Carter Beane


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.

7 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 27
ALL DAY: Connecticut Authors and Publishers Book Fair and Signing

10 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 TBD 
11 am: Workshops

  • Aisha Sabatini Sloan: The Art of the Essay 
Aisha Sabatini Sloan’s essays have been named notable for the Best American Non-Required Reading and Best American Essays anthologies of 2011, nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and published in Ninth Letter, Identity Theory, Michigan Quarterly Review, Terrain, Callaloo, The Southern Review, and Guernica. Her first book of essays, The Fluency of Light: Coming of Age in a Theater of Black and White was chosen as a finalist for the 1913 First Book Contest in 2011, and ultimately published by the University of Iowa Press in 2013. She has taught writing at the University of Arizona for six years, and is currently a contributing editor for Guernica: A Magazine of Art & Politics. Workshop TBD.

  • 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.

noon: Lunch break  A light lunch will be provided.

1 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: Poetry 
Ken Ludwig
John L. Stanizzi is the author of Ecstasy Among Ghosts, now in its fourth printing, Sleepwalking, Windows, Dance Against the Wall (www.antrimhouzebooks.com), and After the Bell (BigTable Publishing). His poems have appeared in The New York Quarterly, Tar River Poetry, Rattle, Freshwater, Passages North, The Spoon River Quarterly, Poet Lore, The Connecticut River Review, and many other publications, as well as being featured on The Writer’s Almanac. Twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, in 1998 Stanizzi was named The New England Poet of the Year by The New England Association of Teachers of English. He teaches English at Manchester Community College and Bacon Academy, where he also directed the theater program for fifteen years. He lives with his wife, Carol, in Coventry, Connecticut. Workshop TBD.

  • 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 to 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 two 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 Pistell 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.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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