Week Four Writers-in-residence to bridge gaps in writing, culture

Aaron Krumheuer | Staff Writer


The Writers’ Center this week welcomes Jacqueline Osherow and Janice Eidus, two writers who will lead workshops into the cross-currents of culture and the center of writing.

Both writers will read selections from their work at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall and later in the week as part of the Chautauqua Jewish Writers’ Festival.

Osherow, the resident poet for the week, is a distinguished professor of English at the University of Utah. She has written six collections of poetry, her newest being Whitethorn, published by LSU Press. Osherow’s work has appeared in The Norton Anthology of Jewish-American Poetry, Best American Poetry, The New Breadloaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, the Paris Review, The New Yorker and several other publications. She has won numerous prizes from the Poetry Society of America and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ingram Merrill Foundation and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.


She will lead a workshop this week, “‘People on the Bridge’: Poetry Across Arts and Cultures,” which she named after the poem by the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, who describes a woodblock print by the Japanese artist Utagawa Hiroshige.

It is an example of poetry bridging cultures and thereby interpretation, a theme Osherow will explore with the poets in her workshop, she said.

Osherow said she sees her Jewish faith as its own meeting point of culture. She is very affected by the poetry of Psalms, and she is a Jewish poet writing in English, which is already a cross of several traditions, she said.

“Jews are by definition cross-cultural, because we’ve been in other cultures forever,” Osherow said. “You see that if you were to go to, let’s say, a Moroccan synagogue, it doesn’t look like a synagogue in New York, which doesn’t look like a synagogue in Venice, which doesn’t look like a synagogue in Prague. The culture in which these people lived had a tremendous effect in the way they interacted with their own religion.”

Eidus, the writer-in-residence for Week Four, also is a Jewish woman. Her newest novel, The Last Jewish Virgin, puts a humorous spin on the classic vampire myth, what she called her “literary, Jewish, feminist, fashionista vampire novel for grownups.”

She has written five other books and has been published in a number of anthologies and essay collections, including Worlds in our Words: Contemporary American Women Writers, Neurotica: Jewish Writers on Sex and DIRT: The Quirks, Habits, and Passions of Keeping House. She has won two O. Henry prizes and a Pushcart Prize.

A prolific author, Eidus said she would not have been able to write as often as she has if it were not for her ability to free herself from distractions. She will share her techniques to become centered in writing in her workshop “Mindful Fiction: Writing in the Moment.”

“You know, in quote-unquote real life, you start to write something, then the baby cries or the delivery man comes or you get hungry, and it’s very hard to stay centered,” Eidus said. “One of the things I want to do in the workshop is really help people to center on the process of writing, so that when they leave Chautauqua and go home, they really can center themselves.”

Music, visual arts, meditation, other literature and current events are all tools to help free up the writing process, she said, which is an invaluable way to become productive.

“I’m a big believer in not waiting for the muse, because if you wait for the muse, you might write five times a year,” Eidus said.

This is the first visit to Chautauqua for both of this week’s Writers’ Center writers, and they also will be appearing in the week’s Jewish Writers’ Festival, at the Everett Jewish Life Center at Chautauqua and Alumni Hall.