It was an honor and a pleasure to have been involved with this year’s writer in residence, Tayari Jones. Aside from any reading or writing tips, techniques and etcetera that come along with creative writers and creative writing workshops, Tayari was a delight to be around. Her passion for her craft was (is) electric, and I both saw and felt the buzz and hum pass right around—first the classroom, and then the room where she gave her reading. If I wasn’t disgusted by the use of the word I’d call it palpable.
Tayari’s focus in our week of workshop was revision. Revision is a funny thing…in that it can let you know that you haven’t come near to completing a piece in the first place, or that you haven’t found your way to the starting line (let alone tied your shoe laces yet). “Reading a story is a spectator sport,” Tayari said, “and you need to get the reader involved.” The reader needs to be there, bleachered, but not sitting—they need to be on their feet, dressed in the appropriate colors, hands cupped around their mouths shouting viciously at the opposing players and chanting with passion for the home team. But first, indeed, they need to know who (or what) to root for before the score even matters…before the dwindling time on the clock brings nervous nails to teeth. One of the first things one must do in revision, then, is make sure a position is posited at the beginning…that a place is staked out where the reader can ground themselves and ready for the oncoming tide, right from the start. Otherwise, they will slowly shuffle to the exits, confused as to why they took those tickets from their friends and made their way to the arena in the first place…heading out early in order to beat the traffic. This seems like such an obvious aspect of one’s story to focus on—the beginning—but surprisingly, it appears to go overlooked more often than one would expect.
I was tickled pink to listen to a few of my peers’ stories that I had read (and remembered) in past workshops undergoing the revision process as we worked with Tayari, to hear their labor of revision paying off…to see that it is a workable process, one that we seldom focus on in the workshop. This was a prideful feeling. A ‘hey-I-remember-that-story-and-the-scrutiny-that-it-underwent-and-now-it-seems-you-have-your-finger-on-the-pulse-of-it…you’ve-really-got-it-going-now-no-doubt-you’ll-finish-that-story-and-it-will-be-great-you-are-really-great-this-workshop-week-has-been-really-great’ sort of feeling. I was happy to be a part of it.
The MFA program constructs a community, pours the foundation of the buildings and erects the edifices of a group of friends—readers and writers—that one hopes (right?) to count on in the future MFA-less world where a penny shines a bit brighter (unless the lotto is won), to find readers of what’s lately been writ. I am glad to be a part of this at FAU, and I think that offering a chance at sharing such a community with a visiting writer/professor who deals in words, and trades in commereced stories and books—a writer/professor who is only here for a fleeting moment…much more fleeting than the MFA career—allows for an extremely focused set of guidelines, with even less time to waste. It allows for the development of a simultaneously distant and proximate relationship, rushed no doubt by time constraints, that forces the student to take note, to note take; it betters the workshop and bunkers the community. Though I would not trade the professors I have been lucky enough to work with and learn from for any other in the ‘field,’ the experience of encountering a decorated and knowledgeable passerby of the same sport, with words, wisdom and insight all her own, is a priceless one, if you are so lucky to be afforded it.
Matthew Parker is a human being. This is an enormous pressure and takes continual diligence upon waking to keep it so. There are too many wires and chords and outletted plugs, and far too many screens to caress to get anything done. In the lulls between the contemplation of these anxieties he tries to write writing.