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Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop begins

I don’t know about you, but when I arrived at Kenyon for the Writers’ Workshop, I sat in the grass. I had a glass of wine. I had a leisurely dinner. And then I tried to write 1250 words about urgency.

The assignment arrived after David Lynn’s welcome speech, and it was specific to our fiction workshop. Jane Hamilton is one of four fiction instructors this year–the others are Nancy Zafris, Geeta Kothari, and Lee K. Abbott. Rebecca McClanahan and Dinty W. Moore guide the nonfiction writers; Stanley Plumley and David Baker are in charge of poetry. Jane sent us off the first night with the urgency writing prompt. Had you asked us a few hours before, when we were trapped in a terminal full of panicked passengers and flashing signs full of flight cancellations, any of us would have been happy to tell you a thing or two about urgency. In Gambier, we were not prepared to write with spite.

Here are a few things I had forgotten about Kenyon: you can sit in the bookstore, uninterrupted, and read an entire literary magazine in the afternoon. Your commute anywhere is approximately five minutes. This is why people in Ohio measure differences in time. Rain is less of a hindrance than a mildly wet noisemaker (with so many trees, you hardly get wet). As much as we complained about the dining hall during college, it is relaxing to eat without planning a meal, shopping for ingredients, or handling the cleanup.

It’s easy to forget how easy it all is–life with no commutes, dinners without preparation, people here to read to you every night–as soon as you become focused on your work. We’re writing from noon well into the night, sharing in the morning, revising through the next day. Each afternoon there is a talk or activity. Today is Jake Adam York’s talk, “Coach Class, Center Seat: How the Poet Explains What He/She Does (And How This Can Get You In, or Into Trouble).”

For most summer writers, this kind of time and focus is a luxury. A week to think about writing: it’s practice for efficiently squeezing in a few minutes’ time between dinner and sleep, sleep and work, once we return home.

Last night, the fellows shared their work in Brandi Hall. Tonight we’ll hear the instructors and celebrate them with a reception at the Bookstore.

And the Gambier setting makes for a luxurious summer trip. That is, other than the writing, reading, workshopping and revising. Which is work, really, but please don’t tell anyone. I’d rather just think of it as a place we are relaxed enough to write stuff.