Stetzer, Wentworth to lead Week Four Writers’ Center workshops on storytelling





The Chautauqua Writers’ Center will welcome a Chautauqua veteran and a Chautauqua newcomer as its writers-in-residence for Week Four.

Prose writer-in-residence Jay Stetzer has been coming to Chautauqua Institution for “at least 25 years,” and poet-in-residence Marjory Wentworth has never been to the grounds before. Both will lead workshops at the Writers’ Center for the first time.

Stetzer’s workshop is called “The Craft of Oral Tradition,” and Wentworth will lead a workshop called “Beyond the Headlines.” Both writers will also give readings at 3:30 p.m. Sunday on the porch of the Literary Arts Center Alumni Hall.

Stetzer’s workshop is something of a departure for the normal Writers’ Center curriculum because it focuses on the oral, rather than written, part of storytelling. Stetzer, a professional storyteller, hopes to teach his students about the importance of the storytelling “triangle” — the one that exists between the story, the teller and the listener.

“It’s a very living thing, because when you’re telling a story live, the response and reactions of your listeners happen to do something to the teller, and that alters the way you’re going to approach the story,” Stetzer said.

Stetzer wants his students to come away with a stronger sense of their narrative voice. He emphasized the difference between the written and the spoken voice, particularly the expansiveness of the spoken voice.

“When you look at the number of words on the average that a person uses to speak as opposed to write, speaking uses anywhere between 10,000 and 18,000 words,” Stetzer said. “An educated writer is going to use between 30,000 and 50,000 words. There’s a huge difference.”

Though Stetzer’s workshop will focus on the oral tradition, he thinks it will be instructive for writers hoping to develop the written half of their narrative voice as well.

“I’m hoping they can really appreciate the difference between the two and in that appreciation I hope they can take what they learn as tellers and find ways to adapt it for their writing,” Stetzer said.

Wentworth’s workshop is also somewhat outside of the Writers’ Center’s normal curriculum. She and her students will write poems inspired by news articles and photos. Wentworth said news stories can be brief and not focus on the human element, which makes them great jumping off points for poetry.

Writing poems about news stories, which often involve political and social issues, can be difficult, Wentworth said, but she hopes her workshop can show her students ways to do it well.

“I think most of those poems — when they’re bad, they’re really bad. And the ones that are good, they just soar,” she said. “But it’s hard to do it, because it can get pedantic and preachy and obvious. There’s a way to do it — it’s almost like its own art form.”

Wentworth and Stetzer will also give Brown Bag lectures on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall throughout the week. Wentworth’s Brown Bag, called “The Power of Poetry,” will be at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, and Stetzer’s Brown Bag, called “How a Story Finds the Rational in the Irrational,” will be at 12:15 p.m. Friday.