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08-07-09: Squaw Valley Community of Writers Conference Panel : Narrative Voice
Dorothy Allison, Alan Cheuse, Rhoda Huffy, Jane Vandenburgh, Gerald Haslam
[Al Young arrived after the photo was taken.]

I was waiting for someone to utter, but never heard, my first thought upon seeing this as a subject for a panel. Fortunately, I've already done this bit of research, and that makes it easy for me to look up. I only have to look in my own archives.

Talk about nebulous but essential — when it comes to writing anything, the narrative voice is your first and last stop, yet everything in-between is impossible to pin down. Is it word choice? Is it grammar, point-of-view, flow, or perhaps, style? But we're already defining the nebulous with the unclear, and as far as getting closer to what "narrative voice" is, well, we're playing the Strunk & White edition of Whack-A-Mole. And here's where the above mentioned research pays off, because I already know it was Associate Justice Potter Stewart of the great Earl Warren Supreme Court, who penned the following: "I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it..."

We all know narrative voice when we see it, or rather shortly after we "see" it and actually read it. It's an essential part of writing that we enjoy reading. It's when you get the feel that someone is talking to you, not writing at you. There's an intimacy, to my mind, created by narrative voice between the writer and the reader. It's when the relationship becomes personal.

It's also got to be a part of any writing workshop, and generally, it's not going to be an easy session. Because writers who have narrative voice, often seem to have it for the same reason they have brown eyes or blonde hair. It's genetically programmed. Or can it be taught? It's not like they have classes, even in beauty school, about "Being Blonde." So a panel discussion of Narrative Voice might seem to be like a movie about an invisible protagonist — doomed to failure. But as Harvey (and The Invisible Man) teach us, this is not the case. Alan Cheuse moderated a panel with Dorothy Allison, Gerald Haslam, Rhoda Huffey, Jane Vandenburgh, and Al Young about Narrative Voice and did a nice job putting a pin in an invisible butterfly. Here's a link to the MP3 audio file.

Lisa Alvarez
08-06-09: A 2009 Interview With Lisa Alvarez

"I began to see art as a kind of activism"
        — Lisa Alvarez

In order to get a better idea of how the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Conference was organized — and why — I spoke with Lisa Alvarez, who, along with Louis B. Jones, directs the Fiction Workshops.

There's a reason they call it the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. Lisa Alvarez told me that she had spent the 1980's as a Community Organizer, and that she was certain that the skills that she had developed in that role were integral in her roles as a Director of Fiction (what a great title!) for the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. Not surprisingly, she's highly articulate and what she has to say applies beyond the workshop itself. We talked about writing, fiction and the feedback loops that form in a workshop environment such as this. You can hear her thoughts by following this link to an MP3 audio file.

The Community of Writers at Squaw Valley Celebrates 40 Years
"Of the making of books there is no end." — Ecclesiastes 12:12

Dorothy Allison reading Toi Dericotte’s “In Knowledge of Young Boys”
Max Byrd reading from J.S. Holliday’s The World Rushed In
Michael Carlisle reading from Mary Lee Settle
Gene Corr reading Robert Hass’ “Meditation at Lagunitas”
Leslie Daniels reading from Alice Sebold’s Lucky
Gill Dennis reading from Richard Ford’s My Mother, in Memory
Janet Fitch reading from Li-Young Lee’s The Winged Seed
Lynn Freed reading from Max Steele’s “The Hat of My Mother” and Cyra McFadden
Diana Fuller reading from Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter
Molly Giles reading from Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes
Sands Hall reading Sharon Olds’ “Topography”
Rhoda Huffey reading from Carolyn Doty’s Whisper
Michael Jaime-Becerra reading Philip Levine’s “Fear and Fame”
Joy Johannessen reading from Rhoda Huffey’s The Hallelujah Side
Michael Pietsch reading from Robert Stone’s The Dog Soldiers
Judith Rascoe reading from Elizabeth Tallent’s “No One’s a Mystery”
Tom Rickman reading from Oakley Hall’s Warlock
Lisa Rosenberg reading Galway Kinnell’s “Blackberry Eating”
Jay Schaefer reading from Alice Adams
Jack Shoemaker reading from Ted Solotaroff’s “Writing in the Cold”
Gary Short reading Donald Justice’s “Bus Stop”
Greg Spatz reading from Leonard Michaels’ “Cryptology”
Michael Urban reading from Colin Higgins’ Harold and Maude
Rick Wartzman reading from Gerald Haslam
Jane Vandenburgh reading from Gina Berriault’s The Tea Ceremony
Al Young reading Yusef Komunyakaa’s "Tu Do Street"

A Writers' Tribute to James D. Houston
"All music is what awakes from you When you are reminded by the instruments." — Walt Whitman, "A Song for Occupations"

Continental Drift — Alan Cheuse & Camille Thomasson
Farewell to Manzanar — Andrew Tonkovich
Californians — Lisa Alvarez
“Watching Baghdad Burn” — Al Young
Snow Mountain Passage — Joy Johannessen
Bird of Another Heaven — Mark Childress
Tides of Fire — Carol Edgarian
Where Light Takes its Color from the Sea — Joanne Meschery
Three Songs for My Father — Gerald Haslam

 James D. Houston
08-05-09: Squaw Valley Community of Writer's Conference : A Tribute to James D. Houston, 1933-2009

The culmination of the first evening of the 40th Anniversary of the Squaw Valley Writer's Conference was a unique reading experience. We were here to celebrate the life of James D. Houston, a good friend to us all. Listeners to this podcast know how generous he was with his time for The Agony Column. The folks at the Squaw Valley Writer's Conference came up with a wonderful way to honor his voice.

The idea was very simple. What happens when you have a writer with a powerful voice, a writing style that strikes through the page? That voice is heard, no matter who is reading the words. Every individual reader who picked up Houston's work read it in the most interior sense, in the utter aloneness of reading. But all his readers heard the same voice. To celebrate his life, the Squaw Valley Writer's Conference brought up a succession of readers, men, women, friends, writers, to read his work aloud. There were many voices this evening, but in a very real sense, only one voice, that of the late James D. Houston. Podcast Link.

 Lisa Alvarez
08-04-09: Squaw Valley Community of Writer's Conference 40th Anniversary Celebration

"One small step for a man ..."

Legend has it that Oakley Hall was up at Squaw Valley forty years ago, looking at the moon while men walked upon it and imagining what it would be like to see them. Then he went and fired up the first Squaw Valley Community of Writer's Conference. If we'd put as much dedication into our ventures in space as Hall did into his conference, we'd be in a seriously different world.

Louis Jones
But then, because of the conference, we are in a seriously different world. Over the past four decades, so many important books and writers have come out of this conference that it's impossible to imagine the world without them. Onthe evening of the first day of this 40th Anniversary of the conference, Lisa Alvarez, Brett Hall Jones, Louis Jones put on a show worth of this legacy. I'll be getting the exact list of who read what and when a bit later in the day, so we may amend the post. But in the interim, I think it's a fine idea to simply immerse yourself in these voices and reading, to hear the cwords, know the change that followed in their wake.

 Douglas Carlton Abrams
08-03-09: A 2009 Interview With Douglas Carlton Abrams : Look Deep into the 'Eye of the Whale'

I'm not sure you could call it work. I mean, I've never interviewed a writer who seemed to have set himself for so much fun researching a novel as did Doug Abrams when he decided to write 'Eye of the Whale.'

As much as I enjoyed reading 'Eye of the Whale,' I also was looking forward to talking with Doug Abrams about his research for the novel which was extensive and mostly because it just sounded like so much fun. There are so many interesting places and people in the novel, and I was curious just how much of it sprang forth from the forehead of Zeus, so to speak, and how much of it actually existed. Turns out that Abrams practices what he preaches when he talks about fact-based fiction. And his adventures creating the novel run pretty close to those within, as you can hear when you follow the link to the action-packed MP3 audio file for a few suggestions on adventure vacationing.

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