All the latest news, ideas, and opinions from Denver's Independent Literary Center: lighthousewriters.org
A lot of people ask us if writing can be taught, and I really don’t know the answer to that. The impulse can be nurtured, the vocabulary of narrative can be taught, and people can learn a great deal from breaking down workshop drafts. But to me, all of this is kind of beside the point. The point of any literary organization like ours is to form a community of people who care about this crazy compulsion some of us have to wrestle with stories (or poems or screenplays or essays); we need help pinning them down.
I was thinking about this when we went to hear Stories on Stage this weekend. The great team there, led by AD Anthony Powell and ED Abbe Stuttsman, has signed onto a mission that could seem kind of modest in its heart. Hire fine actors to read fine stories written by fine writers in front of a live audience. The clean simplicity of this work is reflected in the meticulous staging: A spare podium, a glass of water and flowers on the table, an actor dressed in jeans or casual wear and flats. A lone spotlight. Every time I go to one of these events, as the lights go down, I worry. Was this a mistake, coming here? As someone who teaches short story writing, will I be able to truly enjoy it? I already read (and loved) the story “Too Much Happiness,” by Alice Munro, twice–once in its Harper’s debut, once in the collection by the same name–will I get bored hearing it again? But then the lights DO go down, and instead of becoming absorbed in a kinetic display of images on film or actors on a stage, we in the audience are asked to keep our eyes, ears, and imaginations open. We’re all seeing our own strange little movies, in a way, as the actor reads the words on the page. And we watch, laugh, cry, snort–any number of reactions we’re used to having while reading solo. Somehow doing this with other people around is… nerdily affirming.
There’s plenty of passion in our country, as we’ve seen, and that passion, on the freeways and rally tours of life, too readily turns to rage. So to sit in an audience with strangers and share something like a short story, which you’re used to reading alone? There’s something kind of transcendent about it. That place beneath your ribcage where your cynicism is hardening begins to soften a bit. Hope returns to the room. Affection replaces irritation, suspicion, and indifference, at least for a few minutes. It’s kind of lovely.
Which gets to what we’re doing this weekend. Inside the Writer’s Studio comes out of a dual impulse–to learn some “behind the scenes” craft and life lessons from someone terrific, and to raise a glass with others making the same choice on a weekend day or night. If you’ve read Colson Whitehead, you know he’s constitutionally incapable being anything other than entertaining, so you’re going to enjoy that part alone. But even if you haven’t read Colson Whitehead, and you just feel like being around people who bring a semblance of balance, sanity, and pleasant surprise–we’ve got your ticket. Call 303.297.1185, or check our Web site, or just show up at the Jones Theater on Saturday. We’ll be there trying to share a little love among the masses. At least until everyone throws down their gloves in November. (But no fears, we’ll have our collaboration with Stories on Stage to soothe us then.)
Hope to see you there!