Highlights from the 2012 Southampton Writers Conference-Session I by Faith Leslie

Posted: July 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

Being a first timer at the Southampton Writers Conference this year, and after being reminded throughout the fall and the spring semesters once every week how great it was going to be, I naturally had some skepticism about how these few weeks were going to go. Now that I have experienced session one of the conference, I can joyfully tell you that those five days, while exhausting, were edifying, enriching, intellectual, hilarious, delicious, but even more importantly, those five days encouraged me more in my writing than any class ever has. And I’ve taken some pretty great classes. So I decided to make a list of the many highlights of the first session. You might not think all of these are important, but they are. Trust me.

1. The constant supply of coffee. Now I know this isn’t actually a literary highlight, but we all need our coffee. Especially writers. And their coffee is delightful. And you can always choose between iced or hot. So if you’ve just come in from writing on one of the many benches on campus under the hot sun, you can cool yourself off by making a Starbucks-worthy cup of iced coffee. If you’ve just had a lecture in the Antarctic temperatures of Duke Lecture Hall, why not warm yourself up with a tasty goblet of hot caffeine? I don’t know why you wouldn’t.

2. Helen Simonson’s voice. She’s from England, so her voice makes angles instead of points, her jokes are always funny, and her stories always delight. My favorite part of her reading was when she talked about the use of rifles in her book, and how she knew nothing about them until she held one and found power in the act of possessing it. Her lilting accent lowered as she described herself holding it, and I think, just then, we all wanted to be her. I mean, come on. Everything is funnier when you say it like Helen Simonson.

3. The library. It has windows instead of walls, the computers are shaped in a long squiggle, and it has a beautiful print studio where Scott Sandell can show you how to print anything you would ever want to print. Also, comfy chairs. Enough said.

4. Steady pulses of excitement that run through each faculty member. It’s contagious. And it affects us all. Julie Sheehan’s wide smile and supportive nods encourage while Robert Reeves’ inclination to introduce us all to each other widens our world. Emma Walton Hamilton’s long eyelashes and even longer list of resources pushes us to discover while Carla Caglioti’s calm countenance relaxes us when we feel too overwhelmed. They all radiate warmth and kindness, and this is what makes the conference so wonderful. This unabashed light.

5. Learning the deep secrets of fellow writers at open mic night. We support, we encourage, we cheer. And this makes many happy to be brave and read their words out loud. It’s the best way to get instant gratification. I have never been to an open mic night where I’ve been disappointed. It’s always something new that I haven’t heard before. And the brave readers are original for the simple reason that they chose to write these lines. And they chose to say them.

6. Mary Karr, the definition of fearless. Her low, crackly voice enchanted me and made me cry with laughter. If you haven’t heard her speak, go to YouTube. Now.

7. The hidden marriage of Leslie Ayvazian and Frederic Tuten. During a panel about imagery and voice, the four panel leaders had gotten on the subject of Armenia (an example of the fascinating range of subject matter in panels). Tuten said his wife’s mother was Armenian, and since Ayvazian is Armenian, she asked him what the mother’s name was. Tuten thought for a moment and said, “Uhh I think it was Ayv…Ayv…Ayvazian?” The playwright laughed and responded, “Oh so we’re married?” The lecture hall burst into laughter and for the next ten minutes, Ayvazian made witty comments on their apparent marriage, and only after Julie Sheehan, the moderator, wiped her face of tears, she continued the panel.

8. Taking notes becomes fun. Here are just a few examples of the notes I took in panels, lectures, and interviews.

“Every year you get a year taken away but in exchange you get a year of wisdom.”—Peter H. Reynolds

“No one will do your thinking for you. Tell me something no one has told me before.”—Mitchell Kriegman

“Do you care enough? That is how you write a book.”—Susan Scarf Merrell

“And the body becomes the soul, the soul, the body.”—Christine Vachon

While I could go on and on and while eight seems like only a few, I must stop now and go to sleep. For sleep is one item that I don’t get to put on the list, because attending the conference denies us all sleep, but for the good of our souls. While we don’t sleep, we meet another playwright at the corner bar. While we don’t sleep, we get to sit under that shady tree that everyone fights for before breakfast. While we don’t sleep, we think, we feel, and we hope for the next words that will float to us, showing us that the world is not solid, but layered, like each ocean wave that crashes over the last, reaching further for us, making us see.

  1. Matthew says:

    Great post. Before I comment further: who wrote it?

  2. Joe Labriola says:

    Steady supply of coffee, number 1!

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