Monday, June 24, 2013

Over the pond and keep going

While I continue with my summer fiction writing course at UCA, and while I'm getting close to the bottom of the stack of novels from my spring Novel Writing Workshop class, I am also furiously working out last minute preparations for our trip across the ocean to UK's Great Writing Conference, which will be held this coming Saturday and Sunday at Imperial College, London.  My wife's cousin, Brendan Pettei, is kindly hosting us for the weekend at his flat in Chelsea.  (Brendan is on semi-temporary assignment in London for a New York-based financial services company.)  It will be great to be met by family so far from home.  Meanwhile, the conference is shaping up to be a stunner.  America's AWP Conference prides itself on being the largest creative writing conference in the world--and it sure is that--but AWP cannot match Great Writing for its international flavor.  As many as fifteen different countries will be represented at next weekend's gathering, including Japan, Finland, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea, and Jordan.  As one might expect, there will be numerous speakers from England, Scotland, Canada, and the United States, along with several from Australia and New Zealand.  It won't be an AWP-sized event (thank goodness), but it appears to be the biggest Great Writing ever, and perhaps one of the best.

Like many of the presenters, I will wear dual hats: moderating a session on Saturday morning and then presenting in a session Sunday afternoon (the final slot of the conference).  The theme of the Saturday session will be "Gothic Surrealism."  The readers in that one are all creative writers (and academics) from England: Tim Rhys, Paul Houghton, and Lisa Mansell.  They are, respectively, two novelists and an avant-garde poet.  I'm very much looking forward to the session.  Not only does their individual work sound fascinating, but it's a special pleasure of the Great Writing Conference to meet and hear writers one would otherwise never have the opportunity to encounter--or even know about.  

My session on Sunday is an intriguing mixed-bag with each speaker embracing places, people, or writers from the past.  I will read from a historical fiction set on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, part of a collection I have developed called Island Fog.   The second presenter, Sarah Penny, a native of South Africa and a lecturer in creative writing at London's Brunel University, is the author of a series for children called The Bundu Bashers.   (That's her in the photo below.)  In her presentation Penny will recount her experience interviewing Ouma Una.  Ouma Una was part of a community of Khomani San (bushmen) who once lived in a section of the Kalahari Desert before the South African government forced them off the land in 1931 and turned it into a national park.  The South African government then required the Khomani San to work for white farmers in the region and forbade them from speaking their native language, N/uu.  Penny interviewed Ouma Una as background for one of her books and based one of her characters on the woman.   At the time of the interview, Ouma Una was the last person alive to have lived in the park before the explusion and one of only two remaining speakers of N/uu.  Sounds fascinating.  The final presenter, Tatheer Faiq (pictured above), is an academic from Griffith University in Brisbane.  She will discuss the work of the nineteenth century Arab writer Mohammad al-Muwaylihi.  According to Faiq, al-Muwaylihi, "promoted a culture of resistance to a prescribed ideological standpoint."  (Always a good thing.)  Faiq will go on to explain that al-Muwaylihi's notion of nationhood was one in which "an idealized Occident met the Orient in a global context."  Sounds like Great Writing in a nutshell!  And thus a perfect last paper for the conference.

When we're done at Great Writing it's off for a little R and R in France, where we will be joined by my brother Jerry and his family.   Well, semi-R and R, I should say, because I will at the same time be reviewing the final projects of my summer fiction writing students--who will email them to me--and then figuring and posting their semester grades.  Sometimes you just have to be very thankful for the internet.


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