Suzanne Stempek Shea with readers at a recent event.
My home in the Western Massachusetts valley is rich with writers living and dead. I regularly park my car at the meter below Emily Dickinson’s bedroom window. Errands and events take me past the Eric Carle museum, and also the house that belonged to one of the creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The only positive aspect of going to an oral surgeon during childhood was that his office was on the same street where Dr. Seuss grew up. Opening the door to a local bookstore, I once nearly smashed into the poet James Tate and a group of his students. Recently waiting to pay for a futon cover at a furniture store, I found Jonathan Harr in line front of me in line.
Around here it’s hard to swing a laptop without whacking into any local ink-stained wretches – or successes including enough whose mantels heft Pulitzers or Caldecotts or National Book Awards. So it would be natural to think we scribes of all sorts socialize, that we attend a writers’ club much like the Elks or the Moose or the AMVETS clubs that dot the landscape. But there isn’t one. Or maybe they’re just not telling me about it.
Over the years that I’ve been teaching, I’ve found that the most difficult skill for most students to develop is revising. Revision means to take what you’ve got, give it a long, hard look, and then to see it a different way—to re-envision it.
This is not the same as editing your work. That means to make changes to what’s already on the page. Shifting the point of view from first to third is an editorial change. Rewriting the material so that the protagonist becomes a secondary character and the antagonist becomes the protagonist is a revision.
The readers for ‘Lost Lit Presents Stonecoast MFA in NYC’: Elizabeth Searle (in pink scarf); counterclockwise from Elizabeth: Bobbie Ford, Cristina Petrachio, Nora Grosvenor, Alexandria Delcourt, Kristabelle Munson, Lindsey Jacqueline, Richard Squires, Alexis Paige.
Backstage in Brooklyn at “Lost Lit Presents Stonecoast MFA in NYC”—a lively Nov. 2nd reading—one fellow reader asked us all, “Is anyone else here nervous?”
Among the all-star group of Stonecoast students who each performed their work with verve, no one could say, No. The onstage energy crackled accordingly. While it may take a toll, “performing” written works can be an exciting and enlightening experience for writers willing to give it their all.
Our next Stonecoast Northeast event is called “A Night at the Theater” and will feature a fusion of theater works and writers who “bring it” to the stage in reading performance. The event takes place December 20th, in the Poet’s Theater series at the Armory Center for the Arts in Somerville MA. Stonecoast alumni, author, and Poet’s Theater curator Richard Cambridge will host. Like me, Richard finds energy in combining the literary and the theatrical to try to create something new. Continue reading →
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When I went out into the publishing market four years ago, I had a newfound agent and two book manuscripts for sale: a China memoir about the years my young boys and husband and I lived in Beijing, and a novel manuscript about a woman finding love in Paris. I’d had the good luck to sign an agent who believed in both my books. Not every agent who was interested in my memoir was interested in my novel. One agent was keen on the novel and not so much on the memoir. But I believed in both books. Deeply. I couldn’t forego one at the expense of the other. So I needed to trust myself to find an agent who would stand behind both projects. I kept talking to agents—I reached out to a dozen and talked to a half-dozen and then I found the fit—a woman who understood both my book projects and was behind them entirely.
A final wave from my board as I await the “Dancers, put on your shoes” opening.
It may have been one of the craziest things I had ever done. The week before I was to leave for the Stonecoast summer residency, I enrolled myself in an intensive tap workshop, as part of Tap City, and I also signed on to perform Tap It Out in Times Square. I would be adding my two feet to the chorus of some 300 others in, as the press release states, “a pre-choreographed orchestral collage of a cappella unison rhythms, contrapuntal sequences, individual riffs, movements and grooves . . . that promotes tap dance as pure music.”
What that meant in terms of time was that I was signing up for more than 25 hours of tapping, including class, practices, rehearsals, and four performances, during the week of July 8th. My morning workshop class was with a teacher who has a reputation for toughness, one whom I had found demanding and a bit intimidating in the past. Yet I knew that she had a lot to teach me and that I had a lot to learn.
Ellen Meeropol and Ruthie Rohde leading the Social Change seminar at the Stonecoast summer residency.
In describing her own commitment to activism, Stonecoast alumna and author Ellen Meeropol quotes Alice Walker: “Activism is my rent for living on the planet.”
Fellow SC alumna Ruthie Rohde has spent years helping homeless and other disenfranchised people tell their stories. Ruthie quotes author Pat Schneider to explain that not knowing how to put stories together can be a “learned disability.” Ruthie says she helps her students realize that they all have “treasures waiting to be brought to the surface.”
Elli and Ruthie have both stepped up to the plate this summer to lead a seminar about uniting Stonecoast students, faculty, and alumni who are interested in writing and working for social change.