Inspiring heroes: Eig and McCallum lead workshops on compelling characters

Jonathan-Eig The Chautauqua Writers’ Center workshops for Week Two will focus on creating compelling heroes and breaking the chains of form in poetry.

Prose writer-in-residence Jonathan Eig will lead a workshop called “It Takes a Hero,” and poet-in-residence Shara McCallum will lead an advanced, two-week workshop called “Form Unbound.” Eig and McCallum will also give readings at 3:30 p.m. Sunday on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.

Eig, author of the upcoming Birth of the Pill, will work with students in his workshop on crafting interesting heroes for their writing. Through various writing and reading assignments, Eig and his students will learn what constitutes a fascinating hero and how to create one of their own design.

Eig works mostly in nonfiction, but urged the importance of having a good hero, regardless of genre.

“That’s the goal of the workshop: whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, whether you’re writing your own story or your mother’s story, whether you’re writing a memoir or a diary, you want your reader to really care about these characters, these heroes,” Eig said.

This will be Eig’s fourth visit to Chautauqua. He cited authors such as Herman Melville, Laura Hillenbrand, Susan Orlean and Michael Lewis as a few literary heroes of his own.

“I have just a huge appetite, and my tastes are really eclectic, so it’s hard for me to even talk about who my literary heroes are,” Eig said. “But I think I go for the people who take on the big stories and find ways to make them fresh and exciting.”



McCallum, author of The Water Between Us, returns to Chautauqua for the second time to teach her advanced poetry workshop. The workshop starts in Week Two and will continue through Week Three. McCallum’s workshop will encourage students to experiment with new forms of poetry and to think of poetic form more organically.

McCallum has been teaching writing for almost 20 years in different formats and venues. She’s taught in summer residencies, in university settings and in community settings, and her students have ranged from preschoolers to graduate students. McCallum values the workshop format, because she’s been on both sides of it.

“I know what I got out of it when I was on the other side of it, and I know what I get out of it still, even being the one that is farther along,” McCallum said. “In either case, it’s an engagement with an art, and it’s a space that allows you to think that it has value.”

Some of McCallum’s students this year will be students she taught the last time she visited Chautauqua three years ago, which is something she is excited about. Ultimately, McCallum hopes that her workshop will get people inspired about writing their own poetry.

“It’s about inspiration and finding the tools to make your own inspiration,” McCallum said. “I think poetry helps us to be more present in our lives. And whether you want to be a poet or you want a chance to be more present with yourself, poetry is a vehicle for doing that.”

McCallum and Eig will also give Brown Bag lectures on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall during the week. McCallum’s Brown Bag, called “Who Wears the Mask?” will be at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, and Eig’s Brown Bag, called “The Importance of Bad Ideas,” will be  at 12:15 p.m. Friday.