Thursday, March 31, 2011

SPECIAL OFFER: $25 Orchestra Tickets to Fragments at the Kennedy Center

Our friends at the Kennedy Center have extended this special offer to the TWC community:

C.I.C.T./Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, Paris



By Samuel Beckett

Directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne

April 14–17, 2011

Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater

The Kennedy Center extends a special offer of $25 tickets.

Legendary theater director Peter Brook stages a quintet of works by preeminent Irish playwright, dramatist, and poet Samuel Beckett in the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater from April 14 to 17. Fragments presents five short sketches/texts by the illustrious Irish writer, including Rough for Theater I, Rockaby, Act Without Words II, Neither, and Come and Go. The production combines "cruelty, laughter, and unexpected tenderness" (The Daily Telegraph).

Peter Brook is a pioneer of the world of theater, and witness to some of the most important artistic developments in the last century. He has directed and performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company, including Titus Andronicus, King Lear, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Antony and Cleopatra. In 1974, he founded the Bouffes du Nord Theatre in Paris where he continued his journey of artistic innovation and became dedicated to engaging a broader audience in the appreciation and discovery of theater. Amongst his landmark works are the nine-hour stage adaptation of the epic Indian poem Mahabharata, “the story of mankind;” the film version of Lord of the Flies; and the stage version of Athol Fugard’s Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, an apartheid-era classic.

The Kennedy Center would like to extend a special offer for $25 orchestra tickets (regularly priced $60–$70). To take advantage of this offer online, click on the following link: PURCHASE YOUR SPECIALLY PRICED TICKETS ONLINE

If purchasing by phone or in person at the Kennedy Center Box Office, mention code “59254” to receive your discount.

To learn more please visit, a special Kennedy Center website devoted to Fragments.

“In this production, he (Brook) has mined the seams of Beckett and found pure gold tinged with true comedy.”

(The Irish Independent)

“This is Beckett as it should be done, even if it’s not always Beckett as Beckett said it should be done.”

(The Sunday Times)

Box Office: (202) 467-4600 / Toll-free (800) 444-1324 / TTY (202) 416-8524 / Groups (202) 416-8400


Offer valid in orchestra section only. Offer is subject to availability. Not valid in combination with any other offer or on previously purchased tickets. Offer may be withdrawn at any time without notice. Service fees may apply.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Quotidian Theatre Presents “Master Harold” . . .and the boys

We’re always glad to have the Quotidian Theatre Company perform at The Writer’s Center, and we'd like to draw attention to their current production of Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold” . . .and the boys. Their production recently received very good reviews from Tim Treanor in DC Theatre Scene, Barbara Mackay in The Washington Examiner, and Brett Abelman in DCist.

General admission tickets are $25, but only $10 for Writer’s Center members. Performances run through April 17, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., with an additional 2:00 p.m. matinee on Saturday, April 16. The play is directed by Bob Bartlett and features actors Ben Davis, Jason B. MacIntosh, and Theodore M. Snead.

Fugard, born in 1932 grew up in South Africa, and was a vocal critic of apartheid. In 1958 he formed an inter-racial theatre in which he wrote, directed and acted. His work the subsequent years often examined race relations and the effects of apartheid. “Master Harold" . . . and the boys, though a work of fiction, is cited as a particularly autobiographical play. It explores the friendship between a boy and a Black man employed by his mother. Recalling his childhood friendship with Sam Semela a Black South African, Fugard notes: “But there was ambivalence in my relationship with him: a love hate thing. I couldn’t come to terms with his difference. And as a little white boy, ten or eleven years old, I had authority over this powerful mature man of about twenty-eight.”

Program notes for the production include biographic information drawn from Truths the Hand Cannot Touch: The Theatre of Athol Fugard by Russell Vandenbrouke.

“A little white boy dealing with his indoctrination in South Africa,
turning me into a little racist – because that is what that society
tried to do to me. Thank God I had a mother who fought against
it – and also Sam and Willie who were teaching me lessons that
finally liberated me.”
Athol Fugard - November 2002

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

An Interview with Playwright & Screenwriter Lisa Nanni-Messegee

by Teresa Burns Murphy

Lisa Nanni-Messegee has been working in the performing arts field for over twenty years. She has extensive experience with directing, playwrighting, acting, voice-over, television production, and theatre education and has garnered honors from The Kennedy Center for her direction of the Vietnam era play, TRACERS. She is the Resident Director and Playwright for AFYP Stages, a professional theatre company based in Fairfax, Virginia. Nanni-Messegee's most recently staged plays include RADIO VEGA, STREET SMART: THE ADVENTURES OF POLLY PEDESTRIAN, SALLY SURFER AND THE WILD WILD WEB, DOISTER 2000, CAROL VS. CHRISTMAS, THE ADVENTURES OF PETER PAN, and 25 ARK LANE. Nanni-Messegee is currently rehearsing a brand new tour show titled THE FISHERMAN AND HIS WIFE, an original adaptation of the Grimm fairy tale, for AFYP Stages. She will direct the show, which is slated for a spring premiere with a tour to follow in the fall. Nanni-Messegee also teaches theatre classes at George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College. Prior to moving to Northern Virginia, Nanni-Messegee lived in Los Angeles where she worked in the television and film industries. While living in Los Angeles, she won an LA Weekly Award for her directing work on the Los Angeles premiere of TAINTED BLOOD at the Road Theatre Company in North Hollywood. Nanni-Messegee has continued her work in television and film by writing screenplays. She and her husband, Todd Messegee, are co-writers for Larry Levinson Productions, LLC, based in Los Angeles. Their clients include The Hallmark Channel and TBN (Trinity Broadcast Network).

I spoke with Lisa Nanni-Messegee this spring on the campus of George Mason University about her work as a playwright and screenwriter.

TBM: When I saw your play, RADIO VEGA, I got a real sense of the spirit and grace of the small Midwestern town in which the play is set. Can you talk about your inspiration for that play?

LNM: Thank you for seeing my play. It was a nostalgic play about my youth. And any time you say the word nostalgia, you know that things are going to be a little bit murky in places – a little more romantic.

I grew up in Geneseo, Illinois. It's a relatively small town with a population just over 6,000. There was - and continues to be – a deeply rooted tradition in the town. It’s the annual Geneseo Queen contest. The contestants are high school senior girls. I remember watching these contests as a kid, thinking that one day I’d be up on that stage. There is a little pressure put on you to be part of this contest – I mean, you’ve been watching it your whole life. The contest included modeling a sports outfit and your prom dress. There’s also an interview portion. As a side note, I wound up being second runner up! Another big part of my high school life was my job. I worked at a local small market radio station, WGEN AM / FM. It was my first “real” job and I started when I was fifteen. So, these two experiences became the inspiration for RADIO VEGA. In a way, the characters of Louise and Charlene are two versions of me.

The other characters in the play aren't really based on real people. I just wanted to get the spirit of a small town and then add an element of comedy.

TBM: Your plays STREET SMART: THE ADVENTURES OF POLLY PEDESTRIAN and SALLY SURFER AND THE WILD WILD WEB are currently touring in Virginia and Washington, D.C. Who is your target audience for those plays, and what was your impetus for writing them?

LNM: SALLY SURFER is a play about internet safety for middle grade students, fourth through sixth grade. POLLY PEDESTRIAN is a play about traffic safety. The target audience is kindergarten through fifth grade. The younger kids are really drawn to Ricardo Raccoon, the puppet who teaches a lot of lessons. The older kids can relate to Polly because she's thirteen and a half and has purple hair and wants to be a rock star. Writing POLLY PEDESTRIAN was an interesting journey. In 2006, the Department of Transportation wanted to do a traffic safety program for kids. Clayton Austin was the Chair of the Theatre Department at George Mason at the time, and he asked me if I'd be interested in developing something for them. Three months later I had a play. Unfortunately, there had been a change of management at the Department of Transportation and the opportunity didn’t pan out. I liked the play and the message, so I decided to produce it. I told Mary Lechter (Artistic and Executive Director of A Class Act – Acting for Young People, Inc.) and Mary wanted to produce the project through AFYP. It was unlike anything AFYP had ever done before and we quickly realized that touring a play with adult, professional actors would require a different business model. So we created a sister company of AFYP called AFYP Stages. AFYP Stages produces original work that is geared towards family audiences, includes a repertory of touring shows for schools and provides opportunities for young actors to perform in a professional setting.

I am currently in rehearsals for a new touring show, THE FISHERMAN AND HIS WIFE, based on the Grimm Fairy tale. I wrote it for kindergarten through third grade students. POLLY and SALLY are a part of our “Safety Series.” FISHERMAN focuses on character education.

TBM: Shakespeare's influence is evident in DOISTER 2000, CAROL VS. CHRISTMAS is a modern take on Dickens's A CHRISTMAS CAROL, THE ADVENTURES OF PETER PAN is based on J.M. Barrie's classic tale, and THE FISHERMAN AND HIS WIFE is an adaptation of a Grimm fairy tale. What other writers have influenced your work?

LNM: I am influenced most by writers whose plays I have adapted. Interestingly, Nicholas Udall was a bigger inspiration for DOISTER 2000. Nicholas Udall was an English playwright in the 1500's and wrote a relatively obscure play called RALPH ROISTER DOISTER. My play is very liberally drawn from that original, but the main difference is my script is a play within a play. Students go back in time and get stuck in the play RALPH ROISTER DOISTER, and they have to play out the drama in order to get back home. Shakespeare was a big influence too – but in a different way. I did a lot of research to see if I could put together pieces of history and fictionalize it in a way that made you feel it could have actually have happened. I love playing around with plausibility in this regard. As a result, I was able to bring real people from history into the play including William Shakespeare, Thomas Sackville and Queen Elizabeth I.

THE FISHERMAN AND HIS WIFE is not the first Grimm tale I've adapted. I've also adapted JORINDA AND JORINDEL; THE TWELVE DANCING PRINCESSES; THE BIRD,THE MOUSE AND THE SAUSAGE; and a new one I’m currently writing, THE GOOSE GIRL. For me, adapting fairy tales is a great writing exercise.

With all the plays that are based on some kind of adaptation, I get as much information as I can before I write. I try stay true to the story in the chronology that everybody remembers but beyond that I pull from my own creativity. There is also a logistical side for me. I do things a lot of playwrights don't do for my job as Resident Playwright for AFYP Stages. I have very specific boundaries: for our bigger plays (like DOISTER 2000). My cast size needs to accommodate a cast of thirty-six, and every role needs to have some kind of challenge added to it. It should have nutritional value, so the young actor has something good to work with during the process. I also know I only have a week to direct this play – so I try to make sure I write what I can handle. I also like a challenge and want to raise the bar each year as far as what can be accomplished. For example, in PETER PAN we had a massive battle on stage with over twenty young actors fighting – some with swords and others doing hand-to-hand combat. That was a lot of fun for both the actors and the audience.

TBM: 25 ARK LANE is about a group of teenagers who find themselves locked in an underground shelter. Can you talk more about that play and where the idea to write it came from?

LNM: Last year I saw a headline on-line about a very large asteroid heading toward earth – this particular asteroid caused some concern with some scientists. Meteors and asteroids hit us all the time – but I thought, What if there was a massive, planet-altering asteroid heading toward earth? What would we all do? I liked the idea of a drama involving kids under the age of 18 being in a shelter to avoid the destruction from the asteroid. It’s reasonable that young people would be selected to start civilization over again. It was a compelling and scary thought and I wrote the play in four days. I pondered the idea of alliances being formed among the young people in the shelter like you have in LORD OF THE FLIES. 25 ARK LANE premiered in December of last year. When I directed the play, I didn't give the kids the last page of the script until dress rehearsal. They felt very conflicted, wanting to know what was going to happen, but they also liked the mystery. I think that keeping that information from them allowed the actors to become more emotionally invested in the play. It was so powerful when they finally did learn the truth in dress rehearsal and that response was sustained throughout the performance weekend. Spoiler alert: the kids were chosen by a lottery. Anyone who didn't survive the asteroid blast was included in the LOL (Loss of Life) room, which is a huge room filled with files – basically a paper graveyard. I wanted to challenge the students with this play and I think I succeeded. I heard that it produced a lot of thoughtful conversations among the audience members and the actors themselves.

TBM: You have written several plays for young people. Is there a paucity of plays written for this age group? What are the challenges and rewards of working with young actors?

LNM: There are some great plays for kids out there – but in my case, it's a question of fitting in with what I need. One thing that's disheartening to me is that a lot of plays involving teenaged characters are inappropriate for kids that age to perform. At AFYP Stages, we want to provide a safe environment for our actors and that includes content that is conservative and age appropriate. I think it’s easy for many playwrights to just include sexual situations and mature language in a plays about teenagers because they just assume that is how all teenagers behave. I believe that the vast majority of teenagers are better than they're often portrayed. They have a lot more integrity, and I think they can be portrayed as thoughtful and intelligent and not so depraved. I strive to find other ways to bring conflict into a script without having to fall back on mature language and subject matter.

As far as challenges and rewards - I love working with this age group (ages thirteen – seventeen). As far as the challenges of working with young actors, there are two things I can point out. The biggest challenge is that a lot of kids are overscheduled. In a lot of these cases, they are spread so thin that they can’t fully commit to the project. Missing rehearsals impacts other people and damages the collaborative process. The other challenge is developmental. There are limitations for young actors as to what they're able to understand. I teach difficult concepts that they sometimes don't fully understand. Somewhere down the road, though, it kicks in. I believe as a teacher you shouldn't wait to tell students about these big concepts. Having an introduction to theatre training early in their acting career helps them with their future stage performances and gives them a leg up if they decide to major in theatre in college or go into the profession.

TBM: Before moving to Northern Virginia, you worked for several years in Los Angeles. What were your experiences in the television and film industries like, and how have those experiences shaped your work as a playwright and screenwriter?

LNM: I sort of fell into TV producing and was lucky to be able to incorporate my writing and directing skills in that field. I didn't go to LA with the intent of working in television. I considered my time in LA as being a way to enhance my experience as an artist. I also always knew I wanted to teach and thought it would be a great way to bring even more knowledge into the classroom. My first producing job was for GREAT DAY AMERICA on PAX TV. I originally was interviewing for the job of personal assistant to a man named Michael Young (people my age may remember him as the host of a 1980's show called KIDS ARE PEOPLE TOO.) While he was looking at my resume, he noticed I had done theatre. We began talking about theatre when the phone rang. It was the sister company based in Florida, asking if Michael had found a producer for some client- based segments. He turned to me and said in the speaker phone, “Larry, I want you to meet Lisa. She’ll handle that.” Working as a Segment and Field Producer was a trial by fire. I had no idea what I was doing. The only thing I could rely on was my writing and directing skills. Typically my job involved coming up with a segment idea, researching it, pitching it to my boss. If it was green lit, I would then organize how the segment would be structured, interview the talent and write the script. On show day, I would direct the talent and direct my camera crew in terms of how and what to shoot. Then I’d go back to the office and start over again. I was not a screenwriter when I lived in LA. My husband, Todd, was the one in the family writing screenplays and was fortunate enough to have one of his films made. Todd has been my biggest influence as far as screenwriting. He’s an amazing writer and teacher. A couple years ago an opportunity came up, and Todd and I started working for Larry Levinson Productions, based in LA. I still find it ironic that I had to leave LA in order to start writing movies! As co-writers, we found that our strengths complement each other – and it makes for a very exciting writing process. I would say my strengths are dialogue and character. For Todd, it’s definitely story structure.

To learn more about Lisa Nanni-Messegee's plays or to book a tour of an AFYP Stages show, contact Nanni-Messegee's next touring show will be a play about financial literacy, slated to premiere in the spring of 2011. AFYP Stages currently tours in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

Teresa Burns Murphy's fiction has been published or is forthcoming in Gargoyle Magazine, Pulse Literary Journal, Southern Women’s Review, THEMA, and Westview. She won the 1996 WORDS (Arkansas Literary Society) Award for Fiction and was a semi-finalist for the 2005 Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel. Her short story, “Halloween Gifts,” was a finalist for the 2006 Kate Braverman Short Story Prize, and her poem, “Geometry Lesson,” was a finalist in the 2009 Janice Farrell Poetry Prize. To learn more about her writing, visit

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Taker Book Trailer

Happy Monday Morning! I know you're all excited to be back at work after the weekend. Here's something I hope will brighten your day--or at least give you something to take your mind away from all the things you've got to do today.

Simon & Schuster has put together a pretty cool trailer for member Alma Katsu's The Taker, her debut novel that publishes later this year. Check it out below. Alma, you may recall, wrote a terrific overview of social media for writers a short while ago on First Person Plural.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The McLaughlin-Esstman-Stearns First Novel Prize: Call for Submissions

Thanks to the generosity of board member Neal P. Gillen, The Writer’s Center is pleased to announce that it will award $500 annually to the author of the best first novel published during a given calendar year. Conceived and funded by Gillen, the McLaughlin-Esstman-Stearns Prize honors three dedicated writers and members of The Writer’s Center faculty—Ann McLaughlin, Barbara Esstman, and Lynn Stearns—each of whom unselfishly nourish and inspire students and fellow writers.

Eligibility and Requirements:
•All first novels published in 2010 are eligible, including those published by major, independent, and self-publishing presses. Only American authors publishing in English are eligible.
•All entries must be postmarked by July 15, 2011. Entries not postmarked prior to or on this date will be ineligible, and they will not be returned unless accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope.
•Authors must submit three copies of their published novel along with a contact cover sheet indicating name, address, phone number, and e-mail address (no cover letter required). No galley proofs will be accepted.
•Following the judging process, books will not be returned unless accompanied by a self-addressed, stamped envelope with sufficient postage. The Writer’s Center is not responsible for lost or damaged books.
•Writer’s Center staff, board, and workshop leaders may not enter.
•Send submissions via regular mail only (postmarked no later than July 15) to Zachary Fernebok, Administrative Coordinator, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20814.

The Writer’s Center will solicit a group of no more than 15 volunteer judges to serve as first-round judges. These volunteers will evaluate books to determine if they meet eligibility requirements, and they will read and evaluate the submissions. Submissions advancing to the second round of judging will be evaluated by a team of three final judges. Final judges will be selected from our membership and workshop leader pool. These judges will determine at their sole discretion the Award recipient.

The Winner:
The Winner will be announced in October. He or she will receive a feature in the Winter/Spring edition of The Workshop & Event Guide, at, and our blog, First Person Plural. In addition, if feasible, he or she will be invited to read at The Writer’s Center during a reception to honor his or her work.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Undiscovered Voices Scholarship: Call for Applications

The Writer's Center is pleased to open its Call For Applications for the 2012 Undiscovered Voices Scholarship.

The Writer’s Center seeks promising writers earning less than $25,000 annually to apply. This scholarship program will provide complimentary writing workshops to the selected applicant for a period of one year, but not to exceed 8 workshops in that year (and not to include independent studies). We expect the recipient will use the year to make progress toward a completed manuscript of publishable work. Previous winners include Susan Bucci Mockler (2010), and Lee Kaplan (2011).

The Writer’s Center believes writers of all backgrounds and experiences should have an opportunity to devote time and energy toward the perfection of their craft.

The recipient will be able to attend writing workshops offered by The Writer’s Center free of charge. In addition, he or she will give a reading from his or her work at the close of the scholarship period (June 2012) and will be invited to speak with local high school students on the craft of writing.

To apply, candidates should submit

a) a cover letter signed by the candidate that contains the statement: “I understand and confirm I meet all eligibility requirements of the Undiscovered Voices Scholarship.” The cover letter should include information on the impact this scholarship would have on the candidate.

b) contact information for two references who can speak to the candidate’s creative work and promise

c) a work sample in a single genre:

* 8 pages of poetry, no more than one poem per page
* 10 pages of fiction, double-spaced, no more than 1 work or excerpt
* 10 pages of nonfiction (essay, memoir, etc), double-spaced, no more than 1 work or excerpt


* 15 pages of a script or screenplay

These items should be sent in hard copy to The Writer’s Center, Attn: Undiscovered Voices Scholarship, 4508 Walsh St, Bethesda MD 20815. The deadline is July 1, 2011.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Why I Write. And Then Revise: Chloe Yelena Miller

Following Sharon Rainey's post on this topic last week, here's local writer and blogger Chloe Yelena Miller. She blogs here (and you can also find the link on our blog roll below).

A therapist once said I “catastrophize.” As in, I see the world in
terms of catastrophes and behave accordingly. Without this search for
safety, would I be able to write? It motivates me and allows me to
organize chaos before crafting something new.

I write first to remember and stave off future memory losses. In
seventh grade when my best friend died, I started to write regularly.
I filled up dozens of journals about her, things we did together, and
worked to understand death.

Writing is a form of understanding, no matter how slow. By straining
your words, ideas clarify. Editing and revising these early,
instinctual pieces allow a more public art to develop.

Yes, I’m still fairly certain that bad things will happen. If I don’t
check that loose plug, then I might cause a fire. If I don’t check the
oil in my car, I might get in an accident. If I don’t write, I will
misunderstand something and, even worse, forget it.

When I write, a certain peace comes over me. I can mold a world with
clarity, instruction and safety. I can remember without fearing
forgetting something. Someone. I unravel human truths – the ones
others might be able to connect to – and fictionalize details to
eventually present a crafted version of that truth.

Years ago, perhaps while catastrophizing, I decided that I did not
want to die without having at least tried to be a poet. Yes, I was
that dramatic. I applied to graduate programs, a second time after
being rejected the first. My fears were my motivation and they helped
to make me move forward.

As poet Thom Lux used to say in a graduate writing workshop at Sarah
Lawrence College, we are the “little gods” of our writing. We create
worlds. I appreciate the order, linear or non-linear, of each piece I
slowly develop, edit, revise and submit.

There is a difference between my private writing, those early drafts
that are quite personal, and the later, revised pieces that I craft
for a larger audience. After all, if I didn’t revise, I’d
catastrophize about … well, the list is long.

Back to writing and revising.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Newbie’s Guide to the Virginia Festival of the Book

By guest blogger Alma Katsu

This past Saturday, March 19, was my first time attending the Virginia Festival of the Book, the week-long love letter to writing in all its forms, held primarily in Charlottesville. Doubtless many members of The Writer’s Center are regular attendees of the Virginia festival, so my post is not directed at them but instead at the tiny percentage who haven’t yet attended. Make your resolution now to attend next year. It will be so worth it; not only will there be tons of TWC members, you’ll be able to take in historic sites and – if you’re like me – sample a lot of gelato. The organizers pull together big panels with lots of authors, none of these skimpy offerings you get at some festivals, so you’re exposed to new writers whose works you might enjoy and have the opportunity to network.

I went to see two friends (and TWC members) present. Alan Orloff, mystery novelist, appeared on a panel Saturday morning, “Death: Another Time, Another Place.” Alan’s panel was part of the “Crime Wave” series of presentations by mystery and thriller writers, a recurring (and popular) feature of the festival.

(l-r) moderator Clifford Garstang, Alan Orloff, Deanna Raybourn, Paul Robertson and John Connolly.

In addition to Alan, I’d gone to see Valerie Patterson, YA novelist and one of the organizers of TWC’s Leesburg chapter. Val spoke on a panel addressing the appeal of YA books to adult readers, a timely topic. The panel spoke to a room filled with attendees, including many young readers.

Valerie Patterson

In addition to the packed sessions, wide range of topics (from every type of literature to an agents’ discussion and more) and book fair, another draw is the setting itself. While anchored at the Omni hotel, events are spread all over the historic downtown, giving attendees the opportunity to visit the pedestrian mall with its numerous restaurants, coffee shops, stores and sidewalk vendors. Smack in the middle of it all is New Dominion Bookshop, a must-see, something of a cathedral of books. The city is also home to numerous purveyors of used and rare books, so between all the stores and the book fair, there is not a chance you’ll get out of town without a few new tomes tucked in your suitcase.

For aspiring presenters, Festival Program Director Nancy Damon told me they take applications from May to October, and forms are available on their Web site.

Member Alma Katsu is the author of The Taker, due to be released in the UK in April 2011 and in the U.S. in July 2011. Learn more about her at her Web site.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Happy World Poetry Day

Happy World Poetry Day! If you're viewing this post on Facebook, please feel free to post the name of your favorite poem/poet.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Elizabeth Bishop & The New Yorker Sunday at The Writer's Center

The weather report looks GREAT for this weekend. Yay for that. A short post today to let you know about our weekend events AND about episode #3 of our podcast. This episode features Kelli Stanley, author of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist City of Dragons, discussing her new novel, The Curse-maker, and the craft of writing with author, book reviewer, and professor of English Art Taylor.

Sunday, March 20, 2:00 P.M. at The Writer's Center
Join editor Joelle Biele in a reading from the recently published Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker: The Complete Correspondence. Readers will include Dana Gioia, Sandra Beasley, David Gewanter, and Rose Solari. This is a FREE event.

Sunday, March 27, 2:00 P.M. at The Writer's Center
Terese Svoboda reads from her latest novel, Pirate Talk or Mermalade. She is joined by Jane Satterfield, whose most recent book is a memoir, Daughter of Empire. This is a FREE event.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

How do You View

Today I'm doing a little experiment. We'd like to know which browsers you use to view our Web site, We'd like to ensure optimal viewing. If you would be so kind, could you please post your answers on TWC's Facebook page. Please note that we've rotated new flash shots into, so Zahara Heckscher's face (in image one) is no longer on our site. That's okay. On the site currently are three workshop leaders. In this order: Nevin Martell, Melanie Figg, and Charles Jensen.

How You Should See the Site

Firefox 3.6, Firefox 4, or Internet Explorer 8 on a PC

Netscape 8 and Safari 4 on a PC

Internet Explorer 6 on a PC

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Taker: Book Giveaway

Member and author Alma Katsu (who wrote this stellar piece on social media for writers) is giving away a free copy of the UK edition of her new novel, The Taker, slated to publish April 14 in the UK. Alma explains how you enter the contest:

Add your name to the mailing list for a chance to win. The drawing will be held on 14 April, UK. Pub day! Please share with your book loving friends -- if we get more than 100 new addresses, we'll also give away 5 sets of The Taker temporary tattoos (original artwork).

And for those of you interested in translations (and translators), here's an interesting apology by blogger and author Nina Sankovitch at Read All Day. The bottom line: Don't forget the translators!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Member Sharon Rainey on Why Writing Matters

Today's post comes from member Sharon Rainey, founder of My Neighbors Network.

“I understand you like to write. It’s a nice hobby. But what I don’t get is why you have to publish what you write . . .”

His words stung.

No, he didn’t understand at all.

“Oh, I think it might be nice to write an essay today. Let’s see, what shall I write about? Oh, the snow looks pretty today as it falls. Maybe I’ll write about the snow.”

It doesn’t come like that.

He didn’t understand writing is breathing to me. I write to stay alive. I breathe in the experiences of my life like breathing in the oxygen. But then I must exhale to keep my body alive. Writing is my exhaling.

I hear something or see something and it starts an unstoppable chain of events. It may be as simple as a mother asking her temperamental child, “How do you want to say goodbye today?” Or it may be as annoying as being unable to get the sand out of my left sock.

The thoughts start at a low rumble; slowly stirring about in my head, at an almost unconscious level. I feel subliminal movement in my head, still clouded, unsure what it’s about . . . it just churns. The thoughts simmer, slowly taking form. They start to swirl. Sometimes, they organize within, but sometimes, short staccato bursts fire off. Then, my head feels as though it will explode with thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

I have to write. I have to pour the thoughts and feelings outside of my body before they devour me. I publish so I can I give the words to someone else; so I can connect with someone who might have an inkling of what I am thinking, feeling, experiencing.

I publish what I write because I need a voice. I speak for the others who are not yet strong enough. I uncover the secrets that almost consumed me and lay out the truth so that I hold onto my power. My writing ends the isolation for myself and for others so we can come together as a unified force.

Even if that force says only, “Yes, I have felt that too.”

Sharon Rainey recently published her first book, Making a Pearl From the Grit of Life, available on Amazon and at She is currently working on her second book, With a Twist of Lyme, detailing her journey through diagnosis and treatment for Lyme disease, due out in September 2011. Her physician is co-authoring the project with her. You may read her blog at Sharon lives in Great Falls, VA with her husband and teenage son.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Call for Posts @ First Person Plural

First, thanks to everyone who came out for yesterday's Open Door Reading featuring Jeanne Beaumont & Michele Wolf. I wasn't there, but Sunil assures me there was quite a nice turnout.

So much going on at The Writer's Center and at home. I don't talk too much about home here at FPP, but I will say that in December my wife and I had our first child, a boy. His name is Esben, and he's pretty awesome (I say modestly). But he keeps us busy. Add to that a bunch of translation projects, review projects, and my own writing and, well, it gets crowded quickly. Sometimes it seems that coming to work is the easy part. I guess because it is. But that doesn't mean there's not a lot to do--there most certainly is. From budgets to press releases, events to task forces, never a dull moment. That's why I'm writing this request today.

I would very much like First Person Plural to keep the momentum, to sail along with daily posts. I'm not sure how much I can do in the next month or so, so...Anyone out there interested in writing for FPP? Here's what I'm looking for (in 500 words or less--with some exceptions, of course). Each one of these items is linked to an example post on FPP:

> stories about why you got into writing
> stories about how you wrote (or didn't write) your first book
> stories about the publishing industry (perfect if you have special insights)
> stories about upcoming events in non-TWC venues
> book reviews
> book REdiscoveries
> interviews with authors

I'm also open to suggestions! If you'd like to share your voice with First Person Plural readers, please e-mail me at


Friday, March 11, 2011

Open Door Reading: Jean Beaumont & Michele Wolf, Sunday, 2:00 P.M.

This Sunday's Open Door Reading, Sunday, 2:00 P.M. FREE, as always.

Poetry publication reading with visiting author Jeanne Marie Beaumont, who reads from Burning of the Three Fires, and Michele Wolf, reading from her poetry collection Immersion. You can read Michele's recent First Person Plural post here. And you can find out more about each poet here.

Then next week's Open Door Reading features quite a lineup. Join editor Joelle Biele in a reading from the recently published Elizabeth Bishop and The New Yorker: The Complete Correspondence. Readers will include Dana Gioia, Sandra Beasley, David Gewanter, and Rose Solari. 2:00 P.M. FREE. Register here.

Dana Gioia is also leading a one-day workshop on March 19 called The Poetic Line. Some slots are still available as of this writing. Learn more about Gioia, who is now an honorary board member of The Writer's Center, by visiting his Web site: Dana Gioia.

For those of you interested in e-books, Nathan Bransford has a very interesting post (and I encourage you to read the follow-up posts as well).

Have a great weekend!


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Nevin Martell: The Adventures of the Sidewinder, the Man on the Moon, and the Boy with the Yellow Cassette

Today's post is by workshop leader Nevin Martell. He's leading the incredible new Rock Journalism 101 workshop at The Writer's Center. It begins on March 29. This is the story of how he got into writing rock journalism.

Even with its melancholic accordion and ominous strings, there is still defiance laced through “Drive,” the restrained opening track to R.E.M.’s 1992 masterful album, Automatic for the People. This quiet rebellion comes courtesy of lead singer Michael Stipe, who half-intones and half-sings, “Hey kids, rock and roll/Nobody tells you where to go, baby.” For an 18-year-old high school senior who was trying to figure out his next step, it was an anthem.

I wouldn’t let my mother play anything but Automatic for the People on the three and a half hour drive to Poughkeepsie, New York where I was going for a prospective tour of Vassar College. One side would finish, I’d flip the see-thru yellow cassette tape over and repeat. Again and again and again. By the time we reached the beautiful tree-studded campus, I was completely and utterly in love with the record’s twelve songs.

When I sat down for my interview with the admissions counselor, getting into college was the last thing on my mind. All I could think about was those dozen tunes. So, when the interviewer asked about my trip down from upstate, I couldn’t help but mention that I had listened to R.E.M.’s new album eight and a half times. To my surprise, this thirtysomething stranger was a huge fan of the band. She had every R.E.M. record, including the latest. This made her and, by association, Vassar, the coolest thing ever.

For the next hour, we were a miniature R.E.M. admiration society. We dissected lyrics (Interviewer: “Did you know that they called it ‘Star Me Kitten,’ because they couldn’t write ‘Fuck Me Kitten’ on the packaging?” Me: “I didn’t even know you could say that in a college interview!”), tried to determine our favorite songs (she was leaning towards “The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight” or “Man on the Moon” and I was all about “Drive”) and talked about seeing the band in concert (she had seen them several times, while I was still uninitiated).

Near the end of our conversation, I realized that we hadn’t talked about Vassar at all. To interject my higher learning aspirations into the proceedings, I brought up that I wanted to pursue an English degree, which was inspired by my AP classes on the subject and a stint writing record reviews for my high school paper. “You’ll love the Misc – that’s our student-run newspaper,” the admissions counselor told me. “Make sure you check it out.” I managed to finish our interaction on a professional note – a handshake and a thank you – while internally wondering whether I had blown the whole thing by spending more time talking about alt-rock than academia.

Based on that conversation, I ended up applying only to Vassar; I didn’t want to go anywhere else. A few months later, I was accepted by early decision (take that, all you suckers who wrote 10-15 different admissions essays) and I arrived back in the Hudson Valley in the fall of 1993. As my interviewer recommended, I checked out the Misc (better known as the Miscellany News) and I started writing for them my freshman year. I held the arts and entertainment editorial position for three years, which honed my music journalism chops. Ultimately, that experience helped me land freelance music writing gigs and a book deal about the Dave Matthews Band when I graduated. It’s funny how things turn out, but I owe my entire career to the man on the moon, a sidewinder and a yellow cassette.

Nevin Martell is a Contributing Editor at Filter magazine and has written music criticism for MTV, Paste, Giant, High Times, Washington City Paper, and His books include Dave Matthews Band: Music for the People, Beck: The Art of Mutation, Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and His Revolutionary Comic Strip, and Standing Small: A Celebration of 30 Years of the LEGO Minifigure. You can find him online at and on Twitter @looking4calvin.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Judith Tabler: March (A)musings

Today's post is by workshop leader Judith Tabler. She's leading "Writing for the Middle Grade Reader" beginning on March 24. Learn more about this workshop.

I am not a winter person. As the days shorten in December, my head fills with images of steaming cups of coffee or, even better, hot chocolate next to the computer key board as splendid prose flows across my computer screen. The reality is somewhat different. My winter words often seem forced and brittle. My characters become flat and predictable. Shakespeare knew what he was doing when he used weather and seasons to mirror moods.

Now that we are entering spring, I pull up my discarded manuscript and begin the processes of reimagining and revising. One way for me to reenter a story with a blast of spring air is through humor. I start thinking about places where I might insert some amusing action or word play. I am not thinking of a “slip on the banana peel” moment, but something intrinsic to the plot or to the development of character. Humor can be used to round out a character in even the most serious story. Ellen Herbert, a fellow Writer’s Center workshop leader, introduced me to a quote by E. B. White: “Humor plays close to the big hot fire, which is truth, and the reader feels the heat.”

Let your readers “feel the heat” and meet your characters through humor. Many writers create a chart or list of what their characters like (foods, colors, clothing), what expressions they use, what they carry around in their pockets. During my revision process, I try to figure out an additional trait: what would make each of my characters laugh. The character’s sense of humor can reveal much about him or her.

Does my character respond to meiosis (understatement) or to hyperbole? What about the reversal of expectation, plot twist, irony, satire, or sarcasm? I am currently working on a story set in Tudor England and one of my minor characters is learning how to read. I use his interest in wordplay so I can show (not tell) my reader how his reading skills are progressing by his growing delight in moving a few letters to create puns and silly words.

Writing humor is not easy, and I need daily practice. Each spring morning, I sit down and read comics and jokes online or go through a box I have filled with past favorites. Doing this opens my mind to funny phrases and drawings. Right now I am working on some word play for my young Tudor character, who has a dog. Any suggestions for something funny with “Ruff, Ruff,” rough, and the ruff worn around the neck?

Judith Tabler writes both fiction and nonfiction for young people and adults. She leads workshops for adults writing for the middle grade reader and, starting this summer, a new workshop on writing about pets. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and teaches writing and literature at a local university.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

StoryStereo: Video

Thanks to everyone who came out for last Friday's StoryStereo event. It was, as always, a blast. Here are some video highlights:

Matthew Pitt (Attention Please Now):

James Hannaham (God Says No):

The Caribbean:

Next month's StoryStereo promises to be another great affair. First, due to a scheduling conflict The Cornel West Theory will now perform at the May show. But today we're happy to say that we're officially naming the new April performer. It's Amy Domingues. And wow, it's going to be quite a new thing for StoryStereo. But all the more exciting for that.

Also, here's some good news about one of our Emerging Writer Fellows who'll appear next month, Andrew Altschul. His book, Deus Ex Machina, was recently featured on this NPR broadcast.

Monday, March 7, 2011

BookTalk: Video

After a delay of a couple weeks, I finally found the time to upload video from BookTalk featuring Alice McDermott, author of the National Book Award winning Charming Billy, & Blake Robison, Artistic Director of Round House Theatre, who staged the play version of the novel. This was our inaugural BookTalk event, and it received funding this year from the National Endowment for the Arts. Look for more BookTalks in the future. And don't forget, if you'd like to hear more of Alice McDermott, she was also featured on The Writer's Center's podcast. In an interview with Shannon O'Neill.

Friday, March 4, 2011

StoryStereo Tonight! 8p.m./Open Door Reading Sunday

The first show of Story/Stereo's 2011 season is tonight. It features this terrific band, The Caribbean, along with Emerging Writer Fellows James Hannaham (God Says No) and Matthew Pitt (Attention Please Now). For more information on this free event, visit Those of you who wish to tweet or follow the tweets live, the hashtag is #storystereo.

On Sunday, March 6, TWC hosts another Open Door reading, at 2p.m. Also free. This one features Kim Kupperman reads from her recent collection of essays, I Just Lately Started Buying Wings. She is joined by poet J.H. Beall, who reads from Republic. Click here to find more information.

In other news of note, The Writer's Center's second podcast is now up. In this episode, the "voice of books" on National Public Radio, Alan Cheuse, discusses his new novel, Song of Slaves in the Desert, with interviewer Tracey Donnelly. You can listen to it at podbean right here.

Last but not least, there's yet another cool social media site, this one especially geared toward writers. A few years ago, the Brooklyn Review accepted one of my translations of Danish author Simon Fruelund. That editor, Scott Lindenbaum, has gone on, together with another editor for that journal, Andy Hunter, to found both Electric Literature and this incredible new site: Broadcastr. Where you can record and share your stories right at your desk. Check it out.

And have a great weekend!


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Myra Sklarew and the Firmament Between Worlds

Those of you who've been around The Writer's Center for a while know that Myra Sklarew has been a longtime presence around here. Here's poet (and another longtime presence at TWC) Barbara Goldberg paying tribute.

Anyone who knows Myra Sklarew knows how modest she is, how uncomfortable she is in the spotlight. She often begins her poetry readings by reciting poems by others. In fact, when I told her I was going to write this piece for First Person Plural she said, “Oh no. You needn’t do that.”

In art, as in life, she steps aside for those who are, in her view, more deserving. In “Keeping Silent: for Stanley Kunitz” she says, “Like the others, I lay claim to you.” But despite his fingerprint on her work, despite his being a family relative, she closes this way: “perhaps those who knew you best, loved you more,/ must write their verses for you. I move out of their light.”

If not the spotlight, there is a territory where Myra is more at home: the interstices, the space between this and that – she is, after all, the middle of three sisters! More to the point, what is the space between memory and forgetfulness, dream and reality, the right arm and the left.

In “Crossing Over” she describes the area between heaven and earth as “the firmament between worlds.” Here is where “the breached parts come together/ again in wholeness” (“Tell it Not in Gath”).

That firmament is illuminated by imagination, which bridges the “space between wisdom and madness.” (“Harmless”).

“…In this poem, I ask that the transport
of frozen children
be transformed, that
in the morning when they come to unlock
the ice-covered door, from each golden
a living child will emerge.”

The poem goes on to show the role of the artist:

“…the artist, between dreaming
and reality, opens our eye and places
before us
twenty girls, intact.”
It is art that transforms us, allows us to “open our eyes” and give life to the dead.

There is an incident etched in her memory. It is June 24, 1941. The family has gathered in her grandmother’s house. Myra’s father is pacing up and down the room, a letter in his hand. It is from relatives in Lithuania pleading for help. Of course the letter was heavily censored. “You live in the Garden of Eden,” it said, “and we in the valley of Gehenna [hell]. We would like to meet with you ” Unfortunately, the letter arrived too late.

The holocaust is at the epicenter of Myra’s material. It comes from hell. In biblical times, this valley southwest of Jerusalem, was the site of a cult where children were burned as offerings.

But there is also the Garden of Eden. And from its earth comes Myra’s exquisite attentiveness to the living world.

“I had a third grade teacher who used to cry a lot,” she says. “I found I could make her laugh if I told stories about the ants living under a mushroom.” Even then she trained her eye on the teeming life underneath. She says, with complete sincerity, her close observation of living things – insects, cicadas, even bacteria – is her redemption, her true religion. “Just think,” she says. “There are 10 times 10 trillion bacteria in our gut. Without them, we couldn’t live.”

There’s a wonderful poem entitled “Misreading” that begins with an epigraph by Adam Czerniaawski: I’m packing my bags, flames burn us. “I’m packing my bugs” she writes. “The enemy is at the door.” Myra can look for hours at a cicada under a magnifying glass, marveling at its colors, designs and its structure. “My bugs and I, we have no opinion today/ on the jurisdiction// of righteousness, on who/ owns the air…

So why does Myra, who grew up in Long Island and Baltimore, have a special affinity for Lithuania, the land of her mother’s people, “no matter the massacre places, the brutal untimely deaths.” (“So Far”). She continues, “I lay claim/ to their lives.” They are hers. Through her poetry, she breathes life into them.

I like to think of Myra as Malakh, the angel in the Old Testament whose name means messenger: "In all their affliction [Malakh] was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bore them, and carried them all the days of old" (Isaiah 63:9).

It is a privilege to be the receiver of memory’s texts and the restorer of wholeness.
It is life affirming: “an old man unburdening/ himself, lifting the dead// from the massacre/ pits that they may breathe again/ in the air between us.” (“By Telephone”).

“Lithuania is a land of so much suffering,” Myra says. “I want to tell the stories of those who had never given voice to them before.” Myra actively seeks out the townspeople, visiting with them and taking down their memories. Many of the older ones alive during World War II have a kind of amnesia about events that transpired. They remember that they befriended the Jews. They don’t remember taking part in the killings. Or stealing their possessions. Myra’s mission, it appears, is to go beyond these one dimensional memories and flesh them out in all their contradictions and complexity.

Hers is not easy poetry. It can be smothering, as hiding under floorboards or in a suitcase under a bed in a forced labor camp Or being buried alive in the forest. How can one go on living? How can one ever laugh again? As Myra sees it, only someone like her cousin Leiser, who has “risen from the cellar/ of the murdered, this blind man/ who has outwitted death can laugh.” (Leiser Is Singing)

Myra herself dredges up the mass graves, because not to is a sacrilege, a betrayal of all those who suffered. Memory must stand guard.

Myra’s close study of memory after trauma dates back many years. Consider her early study of biology and bacterial genetics, or later at Yale University School of Medicine her work on frontal lobe function and delayed response memory in Rhesus monkeys. Her absorption with neuroscience and memory continues till this day. For years she has attended lectures at NIH and elsewhere and written numerous scientific articles.

Despite being self-effacing, Myra is a powerful presence. And exerts a powerful moral influence on all who come in contact with her. Perhaps it’s her incorruptibility, her belief in the almost holy work of the artist.

And this she has transmitted to everyone who gravitates towards her – as a professor at American University and as President of the artist colony Yaddo. “It has been a real gift,” she says, “to be entrusted with the heart work of others.” Similarly, it is a real gift to delve into the heart of Myra’s poetry.


Myra Sklarew writes fiction, poetry, and nonfiction essays on science and medicine. Book publications in 2010 include Harmless and The Journey of Child Development: Selected Papers of Joseph Noshpitz, co-edited with Bruce Sklarew. Recent and forthcoming prose, poetry, and reviews include: "Crossing Boundaries: Trauma and Memory," and works in Amistad Journal, Fearless Poetry Series, Prism, The Fortnightly Review, and The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization.

Barbara Goldberg’s most recent book is The Royal Baker’s Daughter, winner of the Felix Pollack Prize in Poetry. She with the Israeli poet Moshe Dor edited and translated two anthologies of contemporary Israeli poetry, including After the First Rain: Israeli Poems on War and Peace. Her work appears in the Paris Review, Poetry, and The Gettysburg Review,

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Poetry Readings: The Art of Creating a Poet-Audience Bond

by Michele Wolf

Standing at the podium, I was only midway through my third poem when the shift showed up—a sunbath when the clouds slide out of the way. I was connecting with my audience. I was sending and they were receiving, and they were sending back. It is one of the most rewarding feelings you can experience as an author.

This particular reading was at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, part of the Community Reading Series affiliated with the Hood College Young Writers’ Conference, where I was the featured poet. Much of the audience was the high school students I had spent time with earlier that day, so we had already begun to form a bond. But it can happen at any reading, and when it does, the sharing of the work moves from beyond the page to a more intimate encounter in which audience members absorb a living gift and often provide immediate thanks.

I have given easily a hundred and some readings over the years. But this one was especially meaningful because I had been on an almost complete hiatus from presenting—and attending—readings for six years. That’s because my husband and I became parents to an 11-month-old, and one year later I left my flextime writing and editing self-employment to take a full-time editing job at a magazine. I was able to keep on writing, sporadically, but something had to give. And that something was the readings, the being out there—which also meant I gave up most of the in-person socializing and sense of community that come with that. I never realized to what degree I missed this until I resurfaced. I had been a little starved.

Of course, the trade I made was a pretty amazing deal. My daughter, Caroline, who is seven and a half now, is the center of my world and the source of almost a quarter of the poems in my new book, Immersion. At times she is also my poetry teacher. The other day she showed me a homework assignment in which she described a hand as “a peninsula of the body” (I think I might steal that one).

Sometimes I bring her to my readings, and she already understands the poet-audience exchange—how stimulating the process can be, and what gets amplified because of the communal nature of the event. The sequence of the poems is important: Although most listeners are game for discovery, they want to end up having enjoyed the ride. The narrative arc—yes, even with pure lyric poems—matters, as do variety, pacing, and tone. And delivery trumps them all. When I give a reading, I try my best to inhabit each poem, to be fully present—immersed, if you will, in the implications, sounds, and rhythms of every word.

“A good poem restores our sight and our hearing,” former U.S. poet laureate Charles Simic, one of my early teachers, said recently in an interview. The experience is compounded when you receive that poem in the writer’s voice. My friend Jud Ashman, who heads the Gaithersburg Book Festival, put it well when he described what it’s like to be mesmerized by a top-of-the-line reader: “My soul goes on a vacation,” he says.

As a poet, it is my job to provide the powdery sand and the palm trees, a piña colada and ever-lapping waves.

Join Michele Wolf to celebrate the launch of her new poetry book, Immersion—selected by Denise Duhamel for the Hilary Tham Capital Collection—as she reads with Jeanne Marie Beaumont at The Writer’s Center on Sunday, March 13, at 2 p.m., as part of the Open Door Reading Series. Michele’s previous books are Conversations During Sleep (Anhinga Prize for Poetry) and The Keeper of Light (Painted Bride Quarterly Poetry Chapbook Series award). Her poems have appeared in Poetry, The Hudson Review, Boulevard, North American Review, and many other literary journals and anthologies. A contributing editor for Poet Lore, she has been a Writer’s Center workshop leader since 2002. Check out to read Michele’s poems and learn more about her books, workshops, and events.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Writing Staycation at The Writer's Center with Zahara Heckscher

This article originally appeared in the Winter/Spring 2011 Workshop & Event Guide. To watch a video of Zahara discussing the Staycation or to register, visit

Join Our Writing Retreat:
The Writing Staycation at The Writer’s Center
October 17-21

Zahara Heckscher

The poet E. Ethelbert Miller once told me, “Pay yourself first.”
He wasn’t talking about money, but time, and the obligation of a writer to herself—to first, before anything else, make time to write.
Time to write, time to write, time to write…

Most writers I know crave time to write like a chocaholic craves a chocolate lava truffle.

But nearly all writing retreats are expensive, two-week residential programs that require travel and have no accommodations for families. Such a budget and schedule are out of reach for most of us.

So with the support of The Writer’s Center, I created the Writing Staycation, a retreat for all of you who crave more time to write, want the structure of a retreat, but just can’t get out of town.

The first Staycation, in May of 2010, was a tremendous success. We had ten participants, including a lawyer-poet, a mom working on her memoirs, and a short story writer. One participant finished a draft of her novel, another wrote 18,000 words on his science fiction project, and a third worked on polishing her manuscript to prepare it for publication.

We’ve decided to do it again. The Writing Staycation will take place at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Each day will be organized around writing time, with optional activities including evening events, a daily neighborhood walk, and lunch speakers—an agent, a novelist, a short story writer, a poet, and a nonfiction author. All activities are elective. If you just want to write, write, write, you may do so. It’s your retreat.

I’ll be at your disposal all week as well. Whether you want help getting started with a new writing project, feedback on a draft manuscript, or strategies for getting published, I will be there. I’ll also pamper you with free coffee, specialty teas, and healthy snacks.

It’s your time to write. Pay yourself first. Join us for the Staycation.

Zahara Heckscher, M.A., is the co-author of the book How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas. She has also written numerous articles that have appeared in books and the online travel magazine, where she serves as contributing editor. Heckscher teaches professional writing at University of Maryland at College Park. She is a breast cancer survivor who prefers to be known as a “cancer thriver.” She blogs at

Praise for the Staycation:

"The Staycation fills a need for a reasonably priced retreat option, especially for those of us who cannot leave town."
—Staycation Participant

"The Writer’s Center Staycation allowed me the time and space to focus on my writing without the expense or time away from my family that most writers’ retreats would demand. Zahara brought in an impressive array of lunchtime speakers and The Writer’s Center staff was very supportive in providing undisturbed space. I came away feeling refreshed and re-committed to my own process, and surprised at how much could be accomplished in one week. Thank you Staycation! I’ll be back!"

—Johnna Schmidt
Director Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House

"It helped me finish the first draft of my novel. Thank you. I found the time and space to just focus on my writing. Very liberating."
—Staycation Participant