Back to Work: Returning from the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop

Middle Path at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio
Middle Path at Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio

These are my first words on the screen since I returned from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio on Saturday.  The Kenyon Review is one of the oldest literary magazine in the United States and every June, they host a workshop for writers.  2014 was my fifth season — meaning that, yes, my week at Kenyon can feel like months where characters disguised as attendees, learn, grow and, more interestingly, change.

Don’t let the sleepy trees, dancing fireflies, old buildings fool you.  Glance at, but don’t rest on the literary history because there simply isn’t enough time during that week — there’s too much homework.  The bucolic setting that soothes the eyes is a necessary contrast to the frenetic pace of writing something fresh and new every day then sharing these fledglings with the sensibilities of writers who read — not to make you feel good or bad about your work — they read for the craft of writing, they advocate for what the piece seems to want to be.  It’s not personal, it’s far more important than that.

But it’s not just drudgery.  Over the last five seasons, I’ve begun friendships and this was the year they really started to bloom.  This one week brings a handful of us scattered across the country back together.  And, finally, this year, I know that when Time finally takes us and separates us, it will hurt.  In a world that scrolls and rarely pauses, that’s always looking for the next thing, that’s disposable, recyclable — writing is especially lonely, but these friendships remind me I’m not alone.

This week, I felt my own resistance in so many ways — change isn’t free.  Ugh, that prompt, I’ve written about that tons of times, I don’t want to write about that again – I’m so bored of that.  And, he didn’t get what I was saying.  (Turns out, he understood way more than I did.)  And, my only response to that prompt leads me straight down cliche laneI am so tiredI am on fumes.  No, no, no.  Shut up, open your notebook, pick up your pencil.  Write, listen, write more, write through.


  1. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Thanks for being such a bright light in Gambier last week. I can’t imagine Kenyon without you. Hope to see you at summer camp next year.

    1. Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing, Lucian. How wonderful to see you at Kenyon – loved your reading! Loved spending the week with you at summer camp! 😀

  2. I went several years ago and studied with Ron Carlson. LOVED it! Tons of homework which I also loved. Never felt so productive. You’ve made me yearn for that space again. And I can totally relate to being tired of certain prompts. Sometimes a bunch of tired cliches spill onto the page but other times I am surprised by the new take that emerges.

    1. Hi, Kim! Thanks for commenting! I took Ron Carlson’s workshop a couple of years ago as well. YES, he gives lots of assignments…that was a rough week. I had never taken a fiction class anywhere ever – so why not start with Ron? 😉 But that’s part of Kenyon, the freedom to risk and try new things. We had pretty open prompts and I could have gone to a lot places but for a particular one, my mind went to such the cliche place since I was so tired. And you’re right, even then, there are magical surprises. Set a reminder in your calendar to apply on January 1st for next year. 🙂

    1. It DOES! The real work begins in the context of life. My experience at Kenyon reminds me that it’s possible to create something that has heft in a short period of time, so I just have to “suck it up, buttercup” and choose to make it happen.

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