Imagine your life story from the point of view of a spoon. The ethical question to ask might be what an actual spoon might think of this. The honest question to ask might be whether or not anyone would find your life story interesting enough to read.
“The bell-ringing will go on for a while,” said Sherra Babcock, Chautauqua Institution vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education. “And it will be loud.”
Nancy McCabe earned an MFA in fiction from the University of Arkansas and a Ph.D. with a dissertation on fiction from the University of Nebraska — but she currently writes nonfiction. As someone who specializes in creative nonfiction and memoir, McCabe knows that life has a way of not going as planned.
Themes of war are certainly common among Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selections. This season, two selections — Week Two’s The Stick Soldiers by Hugh Martin and Week Eight’s The Long Walk by Brian Castner — are veterans’ accounts of their service in Iraq.
While driving through a crowded marketplace with his bomb squad in Kirkuk, Iraq, Brian Castner stopped the convoy to buy a watermelon.
Holding up traffic, he haggled an Iraqi man from $10 to $5 for two watermelons. That night, sitting on a picnic table, Castner and his friends cut them up into thick, juicy slices and “scrambled like young boys to get seconds.”
The poems published in Mary McLaughlin Slechta’s collection Wreckage on a Watery Moon began to take shape in 2004, the year her father passed away. In 2005, the collection was accepted by a press and, in 2006, finally published.
The Chautauqua Writers’ Center brings in two new workshop leaders during Week Eight. Nancy McCabe, prose writer-in-residence, will lead a prose workshop encouraging participants to use tools from fiction to craft creative nonfiction and memoir. Poet-in-residence Mary McLaughlin Slechta will help students in her poetry workshop tap into the past to access new narratives and voices.
There are authors among us. Some are strolling across Bestor Plaza in jeans and sweatshirts, others sit on the porch of Alumni Hall in slacks and sweater vests. There are more authors on the grounds of Chautauqua Institution than just those seen speaking in the Hall of Philosophy or leading Chautauqua Writers’ Center workshops.
Tom Noyes will give a lecture today on anxiety — a lecture that he did not know he was going to give until last week. Luckily, as a writer of fiction, Noyes is comfortable with a bit of anxiety.
The last time Kati Marton visited Chautauqua Institution was roughly seven months after the death of her husband, the former diplomat Richard Holbrooke. At the time, she was already writing the seeds of her memoirs, the Week Eight Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selection Paris: A Love Story.
“I started keeping a journal right in the days after Richard’s death,” Marton said, “because that’s how I work things through, that’s how I process things — by writing them down. I guess that’s what writers do. And I didn’t know what would come of it.”