Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Writers' Weekend at the Mark Twain House Provides Immersion in the Skills of the Craft

April 20-21 Event at Author's Hartford Home Includes Lewis Lapham, Alfred Uhry, A. R. Gurney, 15 Workshops, Talks, Panels and Discussions
"The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning," Mark Twain wrote in 1888.

Writers in many genres, and all levels of experience, who want to end up on the right side of this distinction can immerse themselves in the craft at The Mark Twain House & Museum Friday evening, April 20, and all day Saturday, April 21, as the museum launches its first Writers' Weekend.
 
Within a few hundred yards of America's iconic author's beloved home, participants will hear legendary Harper's editor Lewis Lapham keynote the conference and then follow it up the next day with a range of  activities -- from honing a novel they're working on to hearing about the joys and pitfalls of blogging to attending a panel with Alfred Uhry and A.R. Gurney, two distinguished playwrights whose works have influenced millions.

The Friday-Saturday event begins with an April 20 early-evening reception followed by the keynote speech by Lapham, a witty and prolific commentator on wealth and politics and the social scene, who as editor of Harper's and now Lapham's Quarterly has influenced a whole generation of writers and editors.
 
Fifteen panels, talks and workshop sessions will follow on Saturday, including a kickoff talk by novelist Jon Clinch (Finn, Kings of the Earth) and a panel including playwrights Gurney (The Dining Room) and Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy). A panel of faculty and students in the Writing at the Mark Twain House program, which has offered evening courses in fiction, non-fiction and memoir over the past few years, will discuss the ins and outs of teaching the writer's art.

No fewer than two winners of the Connecticut Book Award Lifetime Achievement Award will be participating in sessions during the Writers' Weekend: Lary Bloom, longtime editor of Northeast magazine, columnist, author of many books (including The Writer Within), and sage teacher of writing at the Mark Twain House and many other places; and Bessy Reyna (Memoirs of the Unfaithful Lover), the beloved Cuban-born poet who has been called "a clear-eyed guide to the world we see but don't see" by Martin Espada.
 
Among other authors slated to lead 50-minute sessions on Saturday are Susan Campbell (Dating Jesus), Susan Schoenberger (A Watershed Year) Suzanne Levine (The Haberdasher's Daughter), Denis Horgan (Ninety-Eight Point Six) Cindy Brown Austin (By the Waters of Babylon) and Wendy Clinch (The Ski Diva).  There will be sessions on fiction, non-fiction , memoir, poetry, travel writing, blogging, the business of getting published, and new forms of storytelling unleashed by the existence of the Internet.

The event will run from 7 to 9 pm Friday, April 20, and 8 am to 7 pm Saturday, April 21. A box lunch will be provided on Saturday, and the weekend winds up Saturday evening with a closing reception.

The cost of the Writers' Weekend for participants is $100. This includes the Friday night reception and lecture, all Saturday sessions, a box lunch and the Saturday night closing reception. Participants will also receive a voucher good for a tour of the Mark Twain House at any time. Space is limited to 100 participants, so advance registration and payment is a must: Call 860-280-3130 to register. 

The Writers' Weekend builds on the success of Writing at the Mark Twain House, the writing program that bears out The Mark Twain House & Museum's explicitly stated mission, promulgated in 1955, to develop a literary center. The program has offered fall and spring evening courses in memoir, non-fiction, and fiction over the past few years.

Selected students in the Department of English at the University of Connecticut's Greater Hartford Campus will be serving as interns during the Writers' Weekend. The partnership between The Mark Twain House & Museum and UConn has been arranged through the university's Office of Service-Learning.

More details on participants and sessions will be posted on the Mark Twain House & Museum website, www.marktwainhouse,org; the Writing at the Mark Twain House blog,  http://writingatthemarktwainhouse.blogspot.com/; and the museum's Facebook Page, http://www.facebook.com/MarkTwainHouse.

About the Keynote and Kickoff speakers:

Lewis Lapham: In her brilliant first-hand account of life at the lowest rungs of the American social ladder, Nickle and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich describes Lewis Lapham's editorial style. Discussing issues of poverty with Lapham, her editor, she writes, "I said something that I have since had many opportunities to regret. 'Someone ought to do the old-fashioned kind of journalism -- you know, go out and try it for themselves.'" She meant some young, hungry reporter. "But Lapham got this crazy-looking half smile on his face and  ended life as I knew it, for long stretches at least, with the single word 'You.'" Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly, a distinguished literary journal, and was Editor of Harper's magazine for a total of 27 years. He is the author of numerous books, including Money and Class in America, Theater of War, Gag Rule, and, most recently, Pretensions to Empire. The New York Times has likened him to H. L. Mencken; Vanity Fair has suggested a strong resemblance to Mark Twain; and Tom Wolfe has compared him to Montaigne. A native of San Francisco, Mr. Lapham was educated at Yale and Cambridge.

Jon Clinch:  Jon Clinch's first novel, Finn, was called "a triumph of imagination and graceful writing" by USA Today; his second, Kings of the Earth, is "blunt and brutal yet beautifully told," said Julia Glass. Finn's take on the story of Huckleberry Finn's brutal father brought Clinch in touch with the Mark Twain House just around the time when it needed friends, during a 2008 fiscal crisis. He pitched in, organizing a major event for writers that year, and helped the museum survive and get back on the upswing. Born and raised in the remote heart of upstate New York, Clinch has been an English teacher, a metalworker, a folksinger, an illustrator, a typeface designer, a housepainter, a copywriter, and an advertising executive. He lives in Vermont; his wife, Wendy Clinch, a blogger and author of ski-themed mysteries, is leading a blogging session at the Writers' Weekend.

About Alfred Uhry and A.R. Gurney

Alfred Uhry is the only American playwright to have won a Pulitzer Prize, an Academy Award and two Tony Awards. His first play, Driving Miss Daisy, opened in New York in 1987 and won the Pulitzer in 1988; the film version with Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 1990 -- as well as the Best Picture Award. It was recently revived on Broadway and the West End with James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave. He is the author of The Last Night of Ballyhoo, which won the 1997 Tony Award for Best Play. His book for the musical Parade won the Tony Award in 1999. Other plays incluide Without Walls, Edgardo Mine and the book for the musical Lovemusik. Most recently he co-created the dance-theater piece Angel Reapers with Martha Clark.

A.R. Gurney is one of the most prolific and most produced playwrights in America. He has written more than 32 plays and three novels over more than 30 years. His breakthrough success came in 1982 with The Dining Room. Love Letters (1989), has enjoyed tremendous popularity for many years with its two-character cast. Gurney adapted his novel, The Snow Ball, for the stage; other novels include The Gospel According to Joe and Entertaining Strangers. In 1999, Gurney wrote the libretto for Strawberry Fields as part of a trilogy presented by the New York City Opera. Gurney is the recipient of many awards, notably a Drama Desk Award in 1971, a Rockefeller Award in 1977 and Lucille Lortel Awards in 1989 and 1994.

The Mark Twain House & Museum (www.marktwainhouse.org) has restored the author's Hartford, Connecticut, home, where the author and his family lived from 1874 to 1891.

Twain wrote his most important works during the years he lived there, including Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.  

In addition to providing tours of Twain's restored home, a National Historic Landmark, the institution offers activities and educational programs that illuminate Twain's literary legacy and provide information about his life and times.

The house and museum at 351 Farmington Ave. are open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday, 9:30 am to 5:30 pm and Sunday, noon to 5:30 pm. (Closed Tuesdays through March.) For more information, call 860-247-0998 or visit www.marktwainhouse.org

Programs at The Mark Twain House & Museum are made possible in part by support from the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism and the Greater Hartford Arts Council.

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

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