Welcome to the Hindenburg Review Writers’ Workshop! You were selected out of a pool of thousands of candidates by our unpaid summer intern, who put the manuscripts you submitted with your applications out on the lawn during a light breeze last May and came back the next morning to pick one hundred of them at random out of the trees. Thank you for your application fee of thirty-five dollars, which may keep our struggling literary magazine alive for another fifteen minutes.
A few pointers to orient you while you’re here:
For the past three years the Hindenburg Review has been published from a small office in one of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges. Technically, that’s true. Professor E. Kilmer, who was denied tenure by the English Department three years ago, publishes it online from a tent on the edge of the college’s lacrosse field, where he can still access the wireless network. From the address in the Review’s masthead, you may have expected to travel to a picturesque village in Massachusetts for this week’s workshop, but after we received your non-refundable tuition fee of three thousand dollars, regrettably we had to redirect you to a non-credentialed learning annex in Nebraska due to scheduling conflicts. The pathos of this situation is something that you might consider employing in your creative work, in the form of tone, theme, narrative arc, etc. etc.
You have each been assigned a room in one of the college dormitories. Some rooms may still have college students in them, the ones who failed their spring classes due to heavy drinking and are trying to make it up over summer session. Should you find someone in your room who has passed out, take a moment to remind yourself: it’s one thing to write a piece with an idea, a message, a description of the facts, but what does it take to move the reader? How can I make my poem, short story, or memoir come alive, in the way that this person lying on my floor possibly never will?
Your Fellow Workshop Participants
The Poets. Normally you can pick out poets in a crowd from the fact that they are frozen in the center of the sidewalk, silently moving their lips, and staring at something that only they can see. But this is a writers’ workshop, so everyone should be doing that. If you suspect that someone is a poet but are not quite sure, then try this. Ask yourself: If I had committed a crime and as punishment were trapped in a room with this person and ordered to look into their eyes without blinking, how long would it take for the abyss to open within me and for me to fall into it? If the answer to this question is “less than five seconds,” then you’ve met a poet. Do not approach someone who you think might be a poet unless you are approached first. If you are a poet, be especially careful not to approach yourself. Save the navel-gazing for the people who made a whole literary genre out of it.
The Creative Nonfiction Writers. These ones are harder to pick. They look a bit like journalists, a bit like novelists, and a bit like you in the summer of 1997, when you wrote in a journal for three weeks after Lesley Wilson dumped you. To smoke out a creative nonfiction writer, muse aloud, while staring into a tree, “Creative nonfiction. Isn’t that an oxymoron?” Once you have ten very hostile people in front of you, to double-check, say: “I’m thinking of writing about my mother’s recent extra-marital affair and then publishing it in a newspaper that is widely read in the town she lives in, but something about that makes me slightly uncomfortable.” A true creative nonfiction writer will lean in and say eagerly: “You should make that experience the center of your memoir.” Remember this week that befriending a creative nonfiction writer is like having unprotected sex with someone who tells you in advance that they have a sexually transmitted disease. You plan on doing it anyway, because their tell-all personal essay about their mother’s sex life made you cry, in a good way.
The Fiction Writers. You will have no trouble identifying the fiction writers once you have pinned down the rest. Contemporary American fiction exhibits extraordinary diversity. There are the short ones and the long ones. There are the hard ones and the soft ones. There are the white, male, heterosexual, cis, able-bodied ones whom the New York Times reviews, and then there are the black, disabled, Latinx, female, LGBTQIA ones whom the New York Times reviews. Did you see what we did there? The second half of that last sentence is fiction. See, fiction is alive and well in America.
We are grateful for the precious time you have taken as graduate students, alcoholics, retired librarians, bitter divorcé(e)s, and grown children living in your parents’ basements to spend this week with us pursuing the writing life. Writing, when it comes down to it, is a matter of stringing one word to another, and then another, and then another, in order to make meaning come into the world. Or something similar. I think I’ve forgotten where I was going with this.
Professor E. Kilmer
Editor of the Hindenburg Review
Rumpus original art by Claire Stringer.
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