Photo of Ariana Nadia Nash by Philip Baker
On Monday, December 5, at the University of Chicago’s Gleacher Center, the Graham School’s Writer’s Studio held an Open House/Open Mic at which program instructors Eileen Favorite and Ariana Nadia Nash discussed their work and their approach to the writing process with a full room of Writer’s Studio students. Eager not only to learn about the secrets of the writing process, but excited also to share some tricks already acquired, those present marked the evening with engaged and lively discussion, while many took advantage of the (optional) opportunity to stand before the room and read a couple pages of their own work.
The Writer’s Studio, a creative home to writers of all genres and ambitions, offers open-enrollment, noncredit classes designed to inspire and challenge writers who are dabbling in creative or professional writing or eager to hone their craft. Ranging across all levels of experience, with one-day, four-week, and eight-week lengths, classes are frequently conducted as workshops, focusing on the creation of new work along with the discussion of student and published writing. All classes are held in downtown Chicago.
In her introduction to the evening, Gina DiPonio, Program Manager of the Writer’s Studio, focused on the unique strength of the Writer’s Studio, emphasizing the quality of the instructors and sense of community fostered by the program. She added that “a real advantage writers find through the Writer’s Studio is the opportunity its classes and events provide for living the type of writing life you envision for yourself, while taking advantage of its engaged and supportive community.” Testifying to the community’s vibrancy, Ms. DiPonio announced a Writer’s Studio Write-In scheduled for Saturday, January 7, where everyone is welcome to spend a handful of hours writing and discussing their work with other writers present.
The first presentation of the Open House came from Eileen Favorite, author of the novel The Heroines and a Writer’s Studio instructor whose upcoming winter, spring, and summer classes include Advanced Prose Workshop and Writing a Novel Synopsis. In a presentation entitled “Maintaining Creative Stamina,” she described, assessed, and sought to do away with some of the major barriers beginning and advanced writers grapple with as they try to accomplish the writing they want. Recalling one of her favorite responses to the toll of perfection many writers exact upon themselves, a toll whose effects on frustration and procrastination she insisted could not be emphasized too much, Ms. Favorite quoted poet William Stafford, who, in response to being asked how he managed to write, said: “I lower my standards.”
Following Ms. Favorite was Ariana Nadia Nash, winner of the 2011 Philip Levine Prize in Poetry for her collection Instructions for Preparing Your Skin and a Writer’s Studio instructor teaching Poetry: Inspiration to Publication this coming winter. Reading a selection of new and old poems, Ms. Nash took the time to discuss the context in which particular poems were written or the event or influence that occasioned it. Adding to the earlier discussion concerned with the writing process, Ms. Nash remarked that for her, as a poet, “sitting down to write is often only one part of the writing process.” With regard to a poem she then read, she referred to a critical preparatory stage in which writing couldn’t yet be done, saying that “acquiring knowledge through outside sources is often necessary in order to make sense of the inside.”
The remainder of the evening took the form of an open mic, with many of the students present having taken the time to prepare a couple pages of their own to share. Short stories, pieces of longer stories, continuations of stories begun at previous Writer’s Studio get-togethers, poems, and even a scene of dialogue from a play were read. Once completed, the writers present had an opportunity to chat amongst themselves and share stories from the frontlines of their writing experience. From striving to get published to what Writer’s Studio class they were looking to enroll in next, it was a scene of community in which writing mattered and everyone wanted to do more of it.