Published books: from Writers’ Center workshops to bookstore shelves

Jennifer Shore | Staff Writer

In the 2012 Season, two-hour weekday sessions with the writers-in-residence totals more than 180 hours — each poet or prose writer tailors the classroom to fit their genre or expertise, and Chautauquans can get first-hand feedback on their work from successful authors.

Although an endless number of poems and pieces arise out of the workshops, The Chautauquan Daily got to know three published authors, their work and the connection to Chautauqua.

Red & Blue: A Memoir of Two Tour Guides in Alaska
Judy Shuler, Hildegard Ratliff

Judy Shuler co-wrote Red & Blue: A Memoir of Two Tour Guides in Alaska with Hildegard Ratliff, which is a reverse travelogue based on her 45 years in Juneau, Alaska.

“This is a book about people who were tour operators and watching the people that were traveling — the people we were guiding,” Shuler said. “It’s also about the natural history, and natural history is such a big part of being in Alaska.”

Shuler kept notes in the form of little vignettes, but did not piece them together until she took Michael Ruhlman’s “Writing Your Life” class in 2006.

“I was able to make the leap from little independent stories to creating a whole unified book,” Shuler said.

She admitted to Clara Silverstein, director of the Writers’ Center, that her years as a newspaper staffer and freelance writer were not enough to navigate the publishing world on her own, and Ruhlman’s advice and guidance helped the book along.

Woman with Crows
Ruth Thompson

Ruth Thompson’s first book, Here Along Cazenovia Creek, was written in part at Chautauqua, and she said many poems have direct connections to the Institution.

“The Lake” is a poem referencing Chautauqua Lake, and she wrote “Spring” in 2010 during Phil Terman’s advanced poetry workshop.

Four poems from her newest book, Woman with Crows, were first published in the literary journal Chautauqua; and “A May Afternoon at the Poets’ Group,” which won the Mary Jane Irion Award, is also included.

Thompson said she often walks around the grounds with a voice recorder and writes — or speaks — poetry while taking in her surroundings.

“I’ve written a lot of poems walking in the very early morning hours on Lake Drive,” Thompson said.

The Pattern Maker’s Daughter  Sandee Umbach

Sandee Umbach spent seven straight summers taking classes at the Writers’ Center, and she credits a few writers-in-residence with her current relationship with writing.

One year, William Hain, who is “really awesome with structure,” addressed one of Umbach’s biggest weaknesses, which caused her to re-evaluate the structure of her poetry.

“He really was reiterating how important form is, and I went back and re-wrote nearly every poem I’d ever written with form and with Bill Hain’s voice in my head,” Umbach said.

She also took two classes with Neil Shepard, who suggested she enroll in an MFA program; she attended Wilkes University, where Shepard teaches.

“Neil, after knowing my poems from all the Chautauqua workshops, was my mentor during my entire MFA program,” Umbach said. “He is really one of the reasons why I have a book today.”

She didn’t begin writing The Pattern Maker’s Daughter at the Institution, but Hain and Shephard improved her form, discipline and focus, “which all stemmed from working with them at Chautauqua.”

The Pattern Maker’s Daughter is a collection of poetry, where Umbach captures her coming-of-age story in western Pennsylvania; her father, a pattern maker at a steel mill; and the natural disasters in the 1970s.