Returning writers use Chautauqua to funnel inspiration



Jennifer Shore | Staff Writer

Ann Hood and James Armstrong, the Writers’ Center writers-in-residence for Week Two, return to kickstart Chautauquans into summer by incorporating setting into prose and news into poetry.

Both writers will begin the week with readings of their work at 3:30 p.m. Sunday on the Alumni Hall porch.

“They are able to plug into Chautauqua more quickly than someone who hasn’t been here,” said Clara Silverstein, director of the Writers’ Center. “I think they both seem to really understand what Chautauqua’s all about.”

Start and personalize prose

Hood said her previous visits revolved around memoir writing, and this time is no different.

Her weeklong “Writing Place: How to Use Setting in Personal Essays” workshop allows Chautauquans to explore memories and good writing while incorporating their experiences on the grounds.

“One of the things that has emerged over the years I’ve taught there is how much people love Chautauqua,” Hood said. “No matter what the topic is, I always get lovely essays about their experience and memories there, so (Silverstein and I) thought it would be an interesting workshop to have people actually use the place to invoke writing.”

She tends to use neutral topics that are not only fun to explore but also have the potential to open up deeper emotion.

“I often use food as that entrée to say to someone, ‘Write about your family dinners growing up,’ ” Hood said. “It seems like a simple thing like, ‘Oh, I can remember that,’  but then you remember your grandmother who maybe you haven’t written about before or you remember the fact that your dad worked all the time and wasn’t there for dinner, so it opens up a door to an interior world as well.”

She will present a Brown Bag lecture at 12:15 p.m. Friday on the Alumni Hall porch titled “Once Upon a Time” that will help Chautauquans identify the “true start” of a story.

Hood, a two-time Pushcart Prize winner, has penned best-sellers such as The Red Thread, The Knitting Circle and Comfort: A Journey Through Grief. She contributes to The New York Times and NPR.

“I think it’s going to be a wonderful week,” Hood said. “The people in the workshops are always so excited to be writing and to be there. No matter what the topic, I find it’s always fun and exciting.”

Committing time and identifying news

Armstrong, who currently teaches at Winona State University in Minnesota, plans on incorporating his lesson plans into his Chautauquan workshops.

“After having taught creative writing for more than 15 years, it’s been my gradual realization that one of the things that people most need is permission to write as much as possible,” Armstrong said.

His workshop, “From Trickle to Flow,” will allow attendees the chance to take the time to write — a lot. First, he will give Chautauquans prompts and ample time to write poetry, and the second part includes reading work and giving feedback to others.

“The best prompt of all is to sit down and to write the first thing that comes into your mind,” Armstrong said. “One of the things you have to do, especially in poetry, is you have to listen to what it is that the part of you that actually does the writing wants to write about.”

At 12:15 p.m. Tuesday on the Alumni Hall porch, he will host a Brown Bag lecture called “Informed Voters Need to Know — About Poetry.”

“I’m looking at the whole notion of information and news and what kind of news does poetry bring us, and why should we turn to poetry for information about politics,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong, a PEN-New England Discovery Prize recipient, has published two poetry collections, Monument in a Summer Hat and Blue Lash.