Issue #142 — August 14, 2012
Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop
Wherein Sapling friend Amy Wright shares the highlights of her time at the Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop in Gambier, OH.
By Amy Wright
Location: Kenyon College Campus, Gambier, OH
What’s offered: Workshops in nonfiction, fiction, and poetry; daily readings by Kenyon Review Workshop faculty, fellows and participants that are later uploaded to the KR website; craft talks; shop talks; mentor conferences; and social events
Cost: The 2012 cost for the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop is $1,995, which includes tuition, a room, and breakfast and dinner. There is a $200 discount for returning participants. If accepted, one is asked to complete an enrollment form with a nonrefundable deposit of $500. The Writers Workshop offers both college and graduate credit.
Application Process: Admission decisions are made on a rolling basis. The application form must be filled out online, and includes a request to upload a resume and writing sample. Applicants are notified via email upon acceptance, with fellowship winner awards being announced in January on average.
Fellowships: Fellowships are awarded based on merit. These positions are highly sought as they come with a tuition waiver and include working closely with respected workshop faculty.
Novel workshop: A recent addition to the summer program is an optional 3½ day genre-specific treatment that follows the workshop, extending the writing experience for those who want to focus on revising the first sixty pages of a novel. The pilot class was team-taught by Geeta Kothari and Nancy Zafris. The intensive includes three six-hour meetings with writers divided into large and small groups. There are no writing assignments in the evenings, as there are with the Writers’ Workshop. This opportunity is open to current or former Kenyon Review Fiction Workshop participants.
The Inside Scoop:
The workshop experience: Each workshop is limited to ten participants. Last year—my first—I signed up for Dinty W. Moore’s literary nonfiction workshop, and learned more about craft and process than I would have thought possible in one week. This year, to my delight, I received a fellowship and returned to work with Dinty. His expertise in the short form is particularly conducive to Kenyon’s format, which includes 3-5 minute recorded participant readings, which is approximately 350-500 words.
Workshops meet six days from 8:30 a.m. to noon. Naturally, the success of any workshop depends on the participants, but with a strong leader, one can count on receiving helpful criticism. Dinty assigns brief, manageable readings and organizes his workshop around discussion and writing prompts. Here, he has a talent for drawing upon the senses and the psyche with prompts that range from explorations in the texture of memory to his famously successful “Instant Experimental Mini Essay in a Can, Just Add Water.”
The Kenyon dynamic: Both years I attended, I met an outstanding group of writers whose backgrounds ranged from law to biology. Likely because the workshop organizers are down to earth and value talent over accolades, this workshop attracts a diverse demographic. I enjoyed conversations in the dining hall with novelists and professors, an octogenarian, a bartender, and a Brooklyn high school teacher. I appreciate the interaction between writers at varying levels of comfort and publications experience, as a writer and a magazine editor who also comes to discover new voices.
While I have heard stories of egoistic competition or petty squabbles at conferences, I found the Kenyon workshops both years to encourage an ambiance that was supportive and generative, with a focus on production and genuine engagement.
I cannot speak for the poets and fiction writers, but the nonfiction workshops fostered humor, openness and group revelations. While I did not attend Rebecca McClanahan’s workshop, it was clear from her participants’ readings that they too trusted their audience with powerful emotions freshly accessed.
The campus: The Kenyon Campus is a peaceful setting, replete with fields of corn and wheat, the Brown Family Environmental Center, and the Kokosing River trail. An athletic center is also made available to participants who want to work out. Be forewarned though that few of the participants I spoke to made time for recreation, as they were busy writing.
There are a few charming, tree-lined tucks that provide solitude or company to write outdoors. A few local establishments provide everything from ice cream to bandages, should one need a creature comfort. There is also the Gund Gallery, which offers free exhibitions. Bike rentals are also available for those who want to explore the area.
The “scene”: The night scene consists primarily of the indoor and outdoor tables at the Village Inn and the Kenyon Inn, or a short drive to nearby Mount Vernon. The limitations of venue make it possible to join a conversation with David Baker and Carl Philips over a small table, or to gather in a circle on the patio. Each night it was common to see faculty, fellows, and participants hanging out casually, but revelry is moderate since participants often return to their living quarters by nine or ten p.m. to work on their assignments.
The room & food: The living quarters provide ample space to hang out with other participants or just lie on a sofa and relax. Every participant gets a single room on campus in student housing. I stayed in an apartment my second year that was brand new and pristine, but my dorm accommodations my first year were also clean and comfortable. Breakfast and dinner is provided with a $30 local voucher for lunch. There are vegetarian and vegan options. The first night is a formal catered meal, and the last night—a highlight—featured Indian cuisine served at Editor David Lynn’s home.
The wrap-up: The faculty is generous, the participants hard-working and enthusiastic, the fellows available for questions and guidance. Both years, I have gone home with what Dinty calls “seedlings.” Last year’s sprouted into publication, and I forecast this year’s will spread even more, considering my fellow workshop participants and I have formed an electronic writing group to continue the work we began at Kenyon.
To learn more about the Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop, visit: http://www.kenyonreview.org/
Amy Wright is the Nonfiction Editor of Zone 3 Press and Zone 3 journal, as well as the author of three chapbooks—Farm, There Are No New Ways To Kill A Man, and The Garden Will Give You A Fat Lip, which won the 2012 Pavement Saw Chapbook Contest.