Tears pushed against the backs of my eyes, bumping into the laughter. It hit me that this was more than just another writers conference where you go and sit for a long time and listen to speakers and then go home and try to apply what you learned. I felt a sense of community here. I sat on the couch in Room 203, drank a glass of wine, held a napkin with a W on it for Wessman (NancyKay), and picked out the cashews from the jar of assorted nuts. I shared, and I listened to the stories of others, and I heard us all saying the same thing. We have a fire in our guts to write our stories and publish our books.
This core group gathered in #203 has come together more than once. We have lifted glasses of wine not only in Oxford, but at other similar creative nonfiction events in towns nearby.
The 2013 conference was the third one in Oxford headed up by Neil White, the Godfather of Creative Nonfiction in the South, I guess. In 2008 Neil brought some of the biggest names in the genre to lead workshops and panels in the quaint and charming Mississippi town of Oxford, and Susan Cushman of Memphis and I were both there. Susan and I had met five months earlier at a Saturday workshop Neil put together. He’d invited Lee Gutkind, the so-called Godfather behind the genre, to speak. Lee, a charismatic man with tousled white hair, white scruffy beard, and a tiny round turquoise earring in his left lobe, told us he wanted to bring creative nonfiction to the South because it was the most widely published genre in the world—everywhere, but in the South. Lee has been to all the conferences.
The second Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference was in 2010, and Susan and I went back as co-directors, assisting Neil. Susan then hosted a creative nonfiction workshop in Memphis, and last fall I led a workshop in Clarksdale at the Shack Up Inn.
A handful or two of writers have been to two or three or more of these events all connected to Neil White. We have come from coastal Alabama; Georgia; Mississippi—Meridian, Jackson, Madison; Tennessee—Memphis and Nashville. Deep South writers. We have shared stories, both written and personal, because our written stories are personal. And we will come back to the table for more sustenance and inspiration. We are the core of the community of Creative Nonfiction in the South. And we are community. And we are at the center of something big.
We’re calling ourselves a tribe.
Room 203, after the final party
Tribe: an aggregate of people united by community of customs and traditions and adherence to the same leaders.
Dan, Emily, me
And this year there were new friends and new faces from all over: California, Virginia, North and South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, Washington, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Kansas, Vermont, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Coast to coast, top to bottom, writers made their way to a little Mississippi town with a great big voice and a tribe. I talked to many writers, and they have that same earlier-mentioned passion for their work — deep, significant, intimate stories — true stories. The tent is now wider; the tribe is bigger!
Harrison Scott Key, winner of Creative Nonfiction’s Southern Sin contest says, “Neil White has put on maybe the Greatest Writing Conference in the History of Events Planning.”
We all left Oxford-town knowing it takes sacrifice and persistence to get where we want to go. We left saying stuff like “better than ever,” “does anyone want to be an accountability partner?”, “can’t we do it every year instead of every other year?”, and “sure I’ll give Clarksdale (CNF workshop) another go.”
Thanks, Neil White and Susan Cushman, and Carroll (wow!), Maggie, and Genie, and to everyone — attendees, speakers, workshop leaders, panelists, River Jordan for her fabulous historical rant — “go to sleep, baby, Nana’s got a deadline,” scorpions on the manuscript and pillow, and completing a book before a sure-death within six months after a mammogram (oh yes, it’s true, men, and I don’t open my results for three days after I get them in the mail and one time it was three months!) — photographers, shuttle drivers, Inn at Ole Miss staff, everybody, and the tribe. I love you all!
A gathering of the finest editors, agents, instructors,
and writers in the US!
May 2-5, 2013
On the Campus of the University of Mississippi
More Information! Register Now!
Call to reserve your room at The Inn at Ole Miss
1-888-4 UM ROOM
Co-directors: Susan Cushman, Neil White, Kathy Rhodes
Lee Gutkind * Dinty W. Moore * Neil White * Virginia Morell
Mike Rosenwald * Jessica Handler * Beth Ann Fennelly * Lee Martin
Leigh Feldman * Deborah Grosvenor * Bob Guccione, Jr. * Julia Reed
Stella Connell * Jamie Brickhouse * River Jordan * More!
Clarksdale, Mississippi. Last weekend. Creative Nonfiction at the Crossroads. Neil White led a Saturday morning workshop, Susan Cushman read an essay from a newly published anthology she’s in, and I read my essay in The Best Creative Nonfiction Vol. 3 and shared and led manuscript critiquing sessions during the 24 hours of the workshop weekend. About twenty people came together — beautiful, creative people, from Mississippi and not from Mississippi. We gelled quickly, we talked and read and listened and shared and were genuinely inspired by one another. We talked about getting together again. For a bigger conference.
Susan Cushman, Neil White, Kathy Rhodes
Oxford, Mississippi. Next year: May 2-5, 2013. The Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference. With Lee Gutkind and other top names in the genre. Neil White, Susan Cushman, and I are co-directors, and we’re excited about offering the opportunity for people from all over the country to come to Mississippi, to attend workshops and panels and to pitch to agents and to grow and build skills in the genre…and to enjoy the sweet Southern spirit of quaint Oxford.
Writers, come join us! It’s time NOW to make a reservation at the Inn at Ole Miss. The conference will be held on campus, and it’s important to secure a room there. Now.
Come, be a part of our Southern Creative Nonfiction Community. We’re building and bonding and supporting one another.
Clarksdale, I know. It’s sort of like home. I was born and raised about forty miles south, down the straight and narrow Highway 61. My spirit came out of that fertile soil, I was born of it, steeped in it. My spirit is still attached there. I feel it when I go home. On the day we sold my mama’s house in 2010, after she and Dad had owned it for 64 years, I dug some dirt out of her yard and put it in a crystal dish. I have it with me now, along with the house numbers 807 that hung next to her front door. A reminder of who I am and where I came from. The Delta. The Mississippi Delta. Formed by that mighty river…that is mine, too.
Oxford. An hour and a half from my girlhood home. I remember William Faulkner in the news. I remember things people said about him. I remember the day he died. Now, I know other authors from there. I’ve seen and felt the creative spirit that lingers there around the Square and over the town.
The Mississippi spirit. Come. Feel it. Join us in 2013.
Either way, you should write about it! I just got the word from Creative Nonfiction about an upcoming issue and a call for submissions. So here’s something for all you writers of true stories and true crime! (Copied from creativenonfiction.org)
CONTEST: TRUE CRIME
postmark deadline: September 30, 2011
For an upcoming issue, Creative Nonfiction is seeking new essays about true crimes—detailed reports of premeditation, follow-through and aftermath, whether gleaned from police blotters or the news, passed down as small-town legend or family lore, or committed in cold blood.
We want true stories of petty theft, identity theft, embezzlement or first-degree murder; of jaywalking, selling (or maybe buying) weed or assault; of crimes and punishments and unsolved mysteries. Think “The Devil in the White City” (Larson), “In Cold Blood” (Capote) and “Iphigenia in Forest Hills” (Malcolm); or “Half a Life” (Strauss), “Lucky” (Sebold) and “The Night of the Gun” (Carr). If it’s against the law and someone—maybe even you!—did it anyway, we want to know all about it.
We’re looking for well-written prose, rich with detail and a distinctive voice. Essays can be serious, humorous or somewhere in between. Creative Nonfiction editors will award $1000 for Best Essay.
Guidelines: Essays must be unpublished, 4,000 words maximum, postmarked by September 30, 2011, and clearly marked “True Crime” on both the essay and the outside of the envelope. There is a $20 reading fee (or send a reading fee of $25 to include a 4-issue CNF subscription–U.S. submitters only); multiple entries are welcome ($20/essay) as are entries from outside the U.S. (though due to shipping costs, the subscription deal is not valid). Please send manuscript, accompanied by a cover letter with complete contact information including the title of the essay, word count, SASE and payment to:
Attn: True Crime
5501 Walnut Street, Suite 202
Pittsburgh, PA 15232
CALL FOR SUBMISSIONS to Creative Nonfiction Writers!
Timothy Papciak, Assistant Editor of Creative Nonfiction, emailed me a few days ago and asked me to help spread the word about their current Call: Pushing the Boundaries, with a deadline of June 13.
So here’s the word!
Creative Nonfiction [the journal of the genre] is seeking experimental nonfiction for its “Pushing the Boundaries” section. CNF wants writing that blows their minds with its ingenuity, essays that not only push the boundaries of the genre, but tear down the borders. They want work like they’ve never seen before!
But remember…the stories must be true. Because TRUE STORIES WELL TOLD is what creative nonfiction is all about.
If Nashville area writers want to learn more about creative nonfiction, I teach 4 classes each month at the Franklin Rec Center. The next session begins Wednesday, June 8, at 10:00 AM. Also, I will be leading a 2-session workshop July 14 and 21 at The Good Cup in Franklin. Please let me know if you are interested!
Meanwhile, the deadline for your ambitious stories for CNF is June 13. To submit, send your stories to: Creative Nonfiction, Attn: Pushing the Boundaries, 5501 Walnut Street Suite 202, Pittsburgh, PA 15232. Include a word count on the first page of the essay, as well as your contact information and an SASE or email address for response.
Create, push the boundaries, tear down the walls, polish, and send!
Sometimes a picture can capture the spirit of a place or event, and here are a few that give it that old college try (Ole Miss, that is), showing who was there and what they did — some memories of the 2010 Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference in Oxford, Mississippi.
See you all in 2012!
The campus of the University of Mississippi was on fire with fall, and more than 100 writers there for the 2010 Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference were on fire with a passion to write and publish their stories. We all took stories to Oxford with us.
Walking from the Inn at Ole Miss to Overby Center to the student union over a quilt of leaves, I couldn’t help but feel a pull. Leaves red and orange above me, yellow and brown blowing around my feet, like times were changing, cooling, settling down to winter, yet I felt that struggle, like a birth or rebirth, like things are ratcheting up, as if it were spring with new life. Others felt it, too.
By the end of the weekend, we were all ready to go home and write.
The Oxford Creative Nonfiction Conference was an outstanding success from my perspective as a participant, as well as co-director of the event. I left the quaint Mississippi hill-town with a clear picture of where I need to go with my memoir. I heard so many others say the same thing.
We all left Oxford inspired to focus on the writing. It is all about the writing, we heard over and over. The writing must be good. Books get published because they are well written. As I drove home up the Natchez Trace from Tupelo to Nashville, I kept pressing the accelerator harder as I reviewed the weekend, trying to figure out just what made this conference so super-above-all-the-others-I’ve-attended.
First of all, everywhere I looked while on campus I saw smiling, happy faces. What a bunch of positive, upbeat people, all determined to take their projects to success.
Secondly, this conference seemed to go straight to the irreducible minimum of writing, being creative. Be patient, write, get it right before you do anything with it.
I heard Lee speak about his writing schedule. I’ve heard him tell this before, but this time, he seemed to punch the point home. Lee Gutkind, the “godfather” behind the genre of creative nonfiction, gets up at 4:30 AM and writes until he has to be somewhere. It’s a ritual for him; he works every single day, even Sundays and Christmas — you have to write to be productive, he says. It’s like practicing the piano. You can’t expect to be an accomplished pianist unless you stay at it, spend consistent time with it. Many of our presenters were university professors, and they are all dedicated to rigid writing schedules built around their daily classes. I devote my early mornings — from 5 till 7 — to writing, as well, and am wondering if I should feel guilty about not writing on Thanksgiving or Christmas, and as I’m feeling this twinge of guilt, I’m thinking that maybe I have written on those special holiday mornings.
Many of the presenters mentioned that in the evening before they go to bed, they prepare for the writing they will do when they wake up the next morning. I’ve done this, too, and my days are so organized and productive.
I am inspired by the quality of writers and writing represented in Oxford. The people who attended have a passion for their work, a passion for storytelling, and they are committed to seeing the writing process through to being published. All of them, every single one. They were all anxious, but eager to pitch their projects to the eleven agents and editors/publishers at the Pitch Fest.
I am uplifted by the positivism shown by the presenters in light of a publishing industry in turmoil. Things are rapidly changing on all fronts in the book world. Davis Kidd in Nashville is closing. Barnes and Noble is up for sale. Independents are evaporating at the rate of 20% a year. Three days ago, the New York Times announced that there is now a best-seller list for e-books. David Magee says that hardcover books are the most romantic things in the world, and I agree, but we’re moving to electronic readers — the Kindle, the Nook, the IPad. We must embrace that; these are opportunities, not evils. The death of a book does not mean the death of literature.
I am assured that in one venue or another in this changing industry, all the concepts and stories that went to Ole Miss for a four-day conference and floated on air waves above leaves crunching on campus sidewalks and sidewalks on the Square downtown, in Off-Square Books above a sleeping Mamacita — all will find a home.