Politics and place to be focus of Week Five Writers’ Center workshops





The Chautauqua Writers’ Center will welcome two Chautauqua veterans as its writers-in-residence for Week Five.

Susan Choi will be Week Five’s prose writer-in-residence. Choi has previously visited Chautauqua Institution as a Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle author and as a workshop leader at the Writers’ Center. Joan Murray, the poet-in-residence for Week Five, is visiting Chautauqua for the sixth time. She has previously spoken on the morning lecture platform and at the inauguration of the Literary Arts Center.

Choi’s workshop is called “The Role of Place,” and Murray will lead a workshop titled “Quicksand Poems: Religion, Sex, Secrets.” Additionally, both writers will give readings at 3:30 p.m. Sunday on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.

Choi, who is the author of multiple novels, will work with her students on using place as a way to inspire their writing and inform it. Choi said she’s been teaching writing a lot this year, and she feels like each class she leads helps her hone her skills as both a teacher and a writer.

“I think this sort of deliberate attention to problem solving and finding new ways to both come up with ideas and work with the different aspects of the craft of writing to express those ideas in the best possible way — it’s just a great thing for me as a writer as well as a teacher,” Choi said.

Choi said that her workshop will focus on both physical and temporal places. She wants her workshop to be largely generative, with her students coming away with material they can use as a basis for future writing.

“One of the ways in which I like to ease students in who have maybe never done any fiction writing before is to do these generative workshops,” Choi said. “We’ll generate writing together through different exercises.”

Choi said she’s excited to head up a workshop at the Writers’ Center again, because the environment feels more like being a part of a writing group rather than just a class.

“I feel like I might be the teacher, but I’m still confronting the same issues and the same problems as my students,” Choi said. “It feels more like a collaborative atmosphere in a way, and I really like that.”

Murray said her workshop will give her students a variety of ways to approach the subjects mentioned in the title of her workshop: religion, sex and secrets. She said many writers can get stuck or feel “kind of sticky or completely uncomfortable” when writing about these topics.

“We’ll learn how to take control of our material, and I expect we’ll produce a bit of laughter and maybe a few tears,” Murray said.

Murray said she plans to “put herself on the spot” and write along with her students. She said the workshop format also gives her room to nurture her skills as an editor.

“Most of all, I have the pleasure of watching the creative process while it’s actually in process, and I’m often amazed by what both beginning and seasoned poets can produce in less than 30 minutes,” Murray said. “My hope is to give participants new skills, as well as confidence in their ability to sit down and write a decent poem.”

In addition to her workshop, Murray will also host an event with White Pine Press, which operates out of Buffalo. Murray will be in conversation with her publisher, Dennis Maloney, the press’ editor/publisher. White Pine Press published Murray’s most recent book, Swimming for the Ark: New and Selected Poems, as well as poet Robert Bly’s newest book. The event take place at 12:15 p.m. Thursday at the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.

Murray and Choi will also give Brown Bag lectures on the porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall throughout the week. Murray’s Brown Bag, called “Poets: The Unacknowledged Legislators of the World,” will be at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday, and Choi’s Brown Bag, called “The Political Novel: Inferior or Important?” will be at 12:15 p.m. Friday.