Tag Archives: George Mason University MFA

Live From Chicago–AWP 2009 Day 2

Still no camera (long story) today but tomorrow is looking good.
Day started with an hour in the athletic club on the stationary bike, which had its own tv from which I could watch footage of the plane crash in Buffalo. Sigh. Then breakfast at Corner Bakery four blocks away and the ritual stop at Dunkin Donuts on the way back to the sessions. I miss DD terribly in AR, which has sold its soul to Starbucks.

Folks, I just wrote a long, chatty draft that just got erased because the Hilton internet decided I needed to be reupped at that very moment. I just can’t rewrite all that. I’ll have to just give a brief rundown.

My panel, Teaching Students to Teach Creative Writing. Went surprisingly well; people actually knew my work. Moderator, Joyce Peseroff, brilliant, witty, incisive. I was the only one who didn’t comment on the color of the drapes, following her lead. Brian Bouldrey also on the panel, he of The Autobiography Box and many others, very entertaining guy, teaches at Lesley and Northwestern. Got to ask if he knew Bill Lychack; of course he does. Bill, if you’re reading this, your reading of the story about the cop who has to shoot the dog blew him away, and the rest of the audience too, apparently. I got to say I knew him when. . .

Next panel. Mentoring Creative Writing students to sustain themselves after they graduate. Well, if you can’t say something good. . .. Note to self, I should propose a panel along these lines for next year, since I’m doing a heck of a lot more than suggesting creative writing students “work at the writing center,” so they can “think” about ways to support their writing.

And then, Web 2.0 and the Creative Writing Classroom. Well, I am not a techie in the least and I was way ahead of most of the panelists. Monda, you would have been muttering under your breath the whole time. Enough said.

Arizona State MFA, Writing in the Community. Worth all of them put together. I heart ASU. My favorite panelist was the beatific woman who wanders the terminal wards of the Mayo Clinic asking patients, “if I can come in and have a conversation with them and we can write a poem together.” Some of the lines, “your hands danced with clay.” “I am a cancer factory.” Otherwise known as lyric medicine.

A few hours in the room decompressing, checking email and napping with Little House on the Prairie in the background. An absolutely delicious pre-Valentine’s dinner at Giaco, recommended by concierge, at 14th and Wabash. Butternut Squash tart for dessert. Perfection.

Made an appearance at the George Mason MFA reception where we could have won the award for oldest alums there (I think door prizes would have been apropos). I guess the prize was a lovely conversation with a ’99 alum, poet Anne Shaw. A quietly charming woman. Apparently she can’t get any Mexican food in Brattleboro VT, where she lives (she teaches at Franklin Pierce). I feel compelled to invite her to UCA just so she can get her fill of Mexican food.

Now, time to check in with the kids. More tomorrow. Bye y’all,
SV

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A John Updike Story

A great American author died today. John Updike. And while I’m sure the web is abuzz with tributes, I feel I must add my own tidbit about the man, what made him a “great” man to me.

In the early 90’s, Updike came to read at George Mason University, when I was an MFA student. He was our headliner that year, getting paid a lot of money to come. All he was required to do was read to a large crowd, answer a few questions, and then leave. But, we learned, just before his visit, that he wanted to do more. He wanted to meet with “some students, some budding writers, perhaps.” He liked meeting with students, our program director said.

So about a dozen or so of us, perhaps more, gathered in a classroom on the Mason campus to sit in uncomfortable molded chairdesks in the glow of this famous American man of letters, to ask him questions and listen to his kind, patrician wisdom, because he had requested it.

Even then, we knew his request was special. Now, twenty years and countless writers’ visits later (all good people, most of them) I have never known it to happen again. For a writer, of his stature especially, to ask, “could I meet with the students as well?”

After his meeting, a small group of my friends took him to the metro so he could catch the train back to New York. At his request, they stopped at a Dunkin Donuts for coffee and returned later, to the TA bullpen with John Updike’s coffee cup, a modest paper cup which they promptly attached to the wall with a thumbtack.

I’m told it’s still there.

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