Writers-in-residence foster new poets, voices

Aaron Krumheuer | Staff Writer

This week, the Writers’ Center will launch a new batch of poets and help prose writers fine-tune their voices.

To kick off their week-long stay at Chautauqua, poet-in-residence Aimee Nezhukumatathil and writer-in-residence Ron MacLean will both read selections from their work at 3:30 p.m. Sunday on the front porch of Alumni Hall.

Nezhukumatathil is an associate professor of English at SUNY Fredonia in Fredonia, N.Y. She is the author of three collections of poetry, At the Drive-In Volcano, Miracle Fruit and most recently, Lucky Fish.

In 2009, she was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship in poetry. She also has won a Balcones Poetry Prize, a ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award and a Global Filipino Award.

Throughout the week, Nezhukumatathil will teach the essential tools, like imagery, rhythm, form and sound, for getting started in poetry during her workshop “The Gladness (and Sadness) of Nature: Poetry for Beginners.”

She will focus on finding poetry in the natural world and teaching attendees how to record their thoughts in a nature journal.

Although many workshop classes at the Writers’ Center are geared toward poets with finished poems, Nezhukumatathil’s workshop will be an introduction to the process of writing and revision, said Clara Silverstein, program director for the Writers’ Center.

“She’s a very inclusive, friendly teacher for a workshop geared toward beginners,” Silverstein said. “It’s very welcoming for people who may be new to poetry.”

The second writer-in-residence, MacLean, is a journalist-turned-author, a recipient of the Frederick Exley Award for Short Fiction and a multiple Pushcart Prize nominee. He teaches at the independent writers’ center Grub Street in Boston and is the author of one novel, Blue Winnetka Skies, and a book of short stories called Why the Long Face? His stories have appeared in Drunken Boat, Fiction International, Night Train and GQ, among other publications.

MacLean will lead the workshop “Guided by Voice,” an exploration into the meaning and use of the often confusing guide of fiction.

“The simplest way to describe it is, the point of view is the camera, the perspective from which things get seen,” MacLean said. “The voice is really much more about the head and the heart that are attached to that camera, those eyes.”

Workshop attendees will spend the week attempting to discern the voice from the point of view, as well as finding the qualities of a good voice and how to cultivate them in their writing. It is a key part of MacLean’s writing process and how he teaches, he said.

“Every story should have its unique voice,” he said. “The structure of the piece, the content and the voice should be tailored to exactly what that story is and what it’s about, its own unique take on things,” MacLean said. “I try, when I sit down to work on a short story, to have everything about each piece be organic to what that piece is about, to make it come alive as specifically and uniquely as possible.”