Week Six writers-in-residence tap into memory, conflict

Aaron Krumheuer | Staff Writer


Laura Kasischke and Joe Jackson are looking to increase the intensity of writing this week at the Writers’ Center. Drawing from old memories, obsessions, strife and conflict, they will push writers to turn up the heat on their poetry and prose.

Both writers-in-residence will give readings from their work at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall. They will lead workshops throughout the week and deliver lectures on Tuesday and Friday.

Poet-in-residence Kasischke is a professor at the University of Michigan. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim and U.S. Artists. She has published seven novels and eight books of poetry, her newest being Space, In Chains. This is her fifth time staying at the Writers’ Center, and she has taught as both a poetry and prose instructor.


Kasischke will lead the workshop “Imagination and Material: Finding and Perfecting Your Poems,” in which her poets will learn to turn inward while writing and tap into new sources of inspiration.

Through the use of restrictive rules, such as time limits and very specific writing prompts, she found that her students can better access the subconscious. These triggers help to unlock inspiration, through memories and new imaginings, she said.

“My idea is that it is all in there; you have to contact it to find your material,” she said. “You should never have to face a blank page because there’s so much in the mind to harvest, but you need some tools, some entrée, to figure out how to get it out of there and onto the page.”

Often, it is the moments of greatest intensity in life that hold the most inspiration to write about, she said, and it is her goal to translate that onto the page.

Writer-in-residence Jackson brings intensity to the table as well in his workshop “Conflict in Fiction and Non-fiction Narrative.”

Jackson is a writer and former investigative reporter for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va., where he worked for 12 years on stories that led to the acquittal of a man wrongly convicted of murder and the dismissal of false testimonies, among many other stories on criminal justice.

He found that when pitching story ideas in the newsroom, editors were not just looking for the news; they wanted to know how the news fit a story. In other words, they were looking for the conflict, he said.

“In American journalism and western fiction, what’s developed over the centuries is this narrative arc of conflict,” Jackson said. “You know, our lives are lived in conflict, and that conflict in some way shapes us.”

It is the angle that one can view as the driving force of literature, and more modern theorists have delineated it into man vs. nature, man vs. society, man vs. himself and other such pairings. From even the earliest works like Homer’s “Iliad,” an epic war poem, the central conflict is not just battle but an internal conflict: Achilles’ decision whether or not to fight for the Greeks.

Conflict defines the drama of life, and writers, in some mythic way, tap into it, Jackson said.

“So it helps in these sorts of fiction and nonfiction workshops — it helps early on for the student to sit down and think about what that conflict is,” he said. “That basically informs what the plot is going to be, what the characters are going to be, the personalities of those main characters. It just drives the whole story forward.”

He will help writers consider conflict and discuss the idea in greater depth in his workshop “Conflict in Fiction and Non-fiction Narrative” this week.

Besides his career as a reporter, Jackson has written six works of nonfiction and one novel,  How I Left the Great State of Tennessee and Went on to Better Things. Time magazine named his book The Thief at the End of the World: Rubber, Power, and the Seeds of Empire one of the Top 10 books of 2008.  His newest book, which will be released next year, is about the famous pilot Charles Lindbergh and the losers of the transatlantic race. Jackson holds a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas and lives with his family in Virginia Beach.