Final week at Writers’ Center focuses on new directions for characters and poetry



The Chautauqua Writers’ Center will close out its 2014 season with visits from prose writer-in-residence Evan Fallenberg and poet-in-residence Susan Grimm.

Fallenberg will lead a workshop called “Rousing the Troops: Character Development,” and Grimm will lead a workshop called “Approaching the Poem Sideways.” Fallenberg and Grimm will also give readings at 3:30 p.m. Sunday on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.

Fallenberg, a noted translator as well as an author, was introduced to Chautauqua through a childhood friend. He said he is excited to return. Fallenberg’s friend is also letting him house sit for her during the off-season so he can complete his next novel.

“You know how I feel about Chautauqua if it’s the place I most want to be in the world to be able to finish a novel,” Fallenberg said.

Fallenberg will work with his students on creating memorable, indelible characters, which he believes to be a balancing act.

“On the one hand, you have to make characters relatable, so that the reader will, in some way, be interested or identify with that character,” Fallenberg said. “But on the other hand, you have to be wary of the obvious. Because if all you’re going to do is write the obvious, then there’s really no point in writing. So they have to be at the same time a little bit unusual, intriguing, unique, but not too far outside the boundaries of what we know to be plausible. That’s always kind of tricky.”

Fallenberg said that one of the best ways to approach a story is through characters. He said he will focus on characterization, scene writing and story with his workshop, three elements he believes to be central to creating good characters.

Building characters is important for “pretty much all writers,” Fallenberg said. Regardless of genre, interesting characters can draw people into a story.



“We could certainly come up with a story or a novel that doesn’t have characters; although I wouldn’t be too interested in reading it,” Fallenberg said. “But generally speaking, yes, I think that strong characters — and when we use the word ‘strong,’ that’s maybe a misnomer; it should be more like clearly delineated, rich, deep, interesting, intriguing characters — I think that’s really the kickoff for everything.”

Grimm, author of the poetry collection Lake Erie Blue, has worked with others on reading and writing poetry for nearly 20 years, and said one of her favorite parts about teaching is the surprise that comes with the territory.

Grimm will work with her students on tackling poetry in new or unexpected ways.

“What I want to do in the workshop is come at poetry in a different way — not coming as the usual self or not bringing the usual skills,” Grimm said. “I want them to take a new direction. To veer off to the left, somehow.”

Grimm said she will look at some examples of poetry with her class as a way of giving direction. Students will also work on writing exercises in class that she hopes will be continued outside of class. Grimm said she has always found challenging poems more interesting, which helped inspire her workshop.

“I think it must be coming out of my fondness for big, messy poems,” Grimm said. “The last time I was at Chautauqua, I think I was trying to address difficult poems. And so I don’t think I’m talking about difficult poems this time, but there’s still something — I guess the not-taken path is what I’m interested in.”

Grimm hopes her workshop will show her students that there is more than one way to write a poem.

“And I’m sure they already know that,” Grimm said. “But sometimes you forget. When you sit down at your desk, you often will just approach a poem the way you always have. So I want to shake up their pathway to the poem so that maybe they’re coming at it in a different way.”

Grimm and Fallenberg will also give Brown Bag lectures on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall during the week. Grimm’s Brown Bag, called “Beginnings, Endings, Titles, and White Space,” will be at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, and Fallenberg’s Brown Bag, called “Reading Globally” will be at 12:15 p.m. Friday.