Lambda’s Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices: The Fellows Reflect
Author: Edit Team
August 18, 2011
Part of Lambda Literary’s mission is to create and support a strong community of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender writers. One key program that helps us achieve this mission is our annual Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices. The seven day program provides a rare opportunity for emerging writers to hone their craft, learn some vital insights about the intricacies of the publishing industry, and socialize with other LGBT writers.
From August 6th-13th, 42 talented emerging writers, representing every region of the United States and traveling from as far away as Canada and Japan, came to the University of California, Los Angeles, to attend the rigorous week long program.
“Our Emerging Writers Retreat may be Lambda Literary’s most important program,” says LLF Executive Director, Tony Valenzuela. “With over 130 Lambda Literary Fellows now graduated since the program began in 2007, we are building a stellar community of queer writers who not only represent the future of LGBT literature, but who are writing and publishing today, actively involved in their queer literary communities all over the world.”
This year’s gathering offered a full week of intensive workshops and panel discussions, ranging from poetry to nonfiction. The teaching faculty included Carla Trujillo (fiction), Katherine Forrest (genre fiction), Ellery Washington (nonfiction), and Elosie Klein Healy (poetry). Guest faculty included Julie Drake, Austen Rachlis, Dan Smetanka, and Susan Stryker. The retreat was made possible in part with a generous contribution from Amazon.com. Public readings at the retreat were supported by Poets & Writers, Inc. through a grant it received from The James Irvine Foundation.
We checked in with the some of this year’s participants and asked them to provide their own personal take on their time at the 2011 Voices Retreat:
The LLF Retreat was writing boot camp. You are placed in a group of highly talented individuals in virtually un-representable genres (I mean, how can you possibly define Poetry, much less Queer Poetry?), given one week, and held to incredible expectations that seem impossibly daunting. By the end of the week, you not only learn about your responsibilities to the queer literary community, you also learn about yourself as a writer: the obstacles you can overcome, the dedication and passion that is, in fact, limitless, and the inarguable fact that 42 queer writers who have just spent an exhausting and amazing week together at such a retreat will always be the tightest of friends and family. The LLF Emerging Writers Retreat has been, to date, one of the most incredible and beautiful things I have done in my life.
Juliet P. Howard:
My experience as a 2011 Emerging LGBT Voices Fellow was amazing! I traveled from New York to Southern California and was greeted by some of the most talented, hard-working, fun-loving and supportive writers I have ever had the opportunity to meet. The daily intensive three-hour writing workshop with poet/professor/instructor extraordinaire, Eloise Klein Healy, challenged me to produce new and provocative work. My co-fellows and poetry workshop participants provided constructive criticism, while producing amazing new pieces themselves. My birthday was on August 8th – barely my third day at the retreat; I was ridiculously surprised when LLF and the fellows threw me a surprise birthday celebration with cake and all! Special thanks to Charan P. Morris, an amazing, talented poet and best roommate ever, who I learned was the impetus behind the impromptu cake and birthday celebration! It was topped off by an evening of celebration with writers of all genres sharing their interpretation of erotica. What more could an LGBT writer ask for on her birthday?! It was truly my ideal birthday celebration; an evening surrounded by creative, supportive LGBT folks from every part of the country. During the two Fellows Readings evenings, I was moved to tears, laughter and often provoked, yet never bored! I left the retreat filled with a new sense of literary purpose and am amazed and grateful for the new friendships I have forged with writers of all ages (some 20 years younger and others 20 years older!), of all ethnicities and of multi-genres, who I now have the pleasure to call close friends as well as creative literary partners!
As queer writers, we shared a common language and a love of language. In workshop, Carla guided us into the study of craft together, where we learned to love our stories and others’ enough to be make them the best they could be, to be both fearless revisers and the brave keepers of our own vision. The talent and heart of the fellows showed me that queer literature is not only a classification, but a conversation and a community. It’s not only a landscape we look to, but a living thing, and we are its blood and its breath. This past week showed me that life, and now it’s up to us to carry it with us wherever we go, and, always, to open our hands and share its heartbeat. To the faculty, the fellows, and to Tony and Jenn, I hope to show my gratitude as I bring what I’ve learned with me, to be a reader and writer whose life says the thank you I can’t yet find the words for.
My expectations were high for the retreat, which is to say they were met, exceeded, and then some. The nonfiction workshop and the overall tone of the retreat, was affirming and encouraging. One had the feel throughout, of being a part of something special and magnificent. The workshop leaders, Lambda Literary Foundation staff, and workshop participants were all so committed to the experience that inspiration was contagious. We were all in it together; there was unity without homogeneity. The diversity of voices, styles, and perspectives nurtured a powerful sense of community. Nowhere was this more evident than during the Wednesday and Thursday night readings. Poets clapped thunderously for nonfiction-ers. Fiction writers applauded genre fiction writers as generously as their own. We all wanted to know each other, and know each other’s work, and support each other’s work, in a way that is perhaps foreign to other writing workshop environments. Workshop leaders praised fellows in other areas. Though we all wrote in different forms, we all were connected by the power of queer writing.
I can’t really put into words the effect the workshop had on me, so I’ll borrow from this year’s poetry class and poe-try:
Late nights jams of poetry.
Early morning lectures on the A to Z of writing.
Critiquing each other’s work.
Are my pages ready to read aloud?
Walks to eat.
Shared meals and meeting everyone.
Are my pages ready to be read aloud?
Spontaneous conversations with my roommate Andy.
Walks to workout.
Trying to edit, to read a faculty book.
Are my pages ready to read aloud?
Catch a conversation on the fly,
Digest intense debates in class.
Are my pages ready to be read aloud?
Two awe-inspiring nights of fellow readings.
Hmm… what can I write that’s good enough to get me back in?
Caitlin Frances Thornbrugh:
On my first trip to California, and my first experience at a writer’s retreat, I was nervous about being too young, too unpublished, too Kansas, too eager. By the end of the week, I realized all of those apprehensions were forgotten. As all of the knowledge and new friendships from this week are still settling in, the days for me are a series of electric moments, which have renewed my desire to write, create, and inspire change. A hug from a stranger (now a LLF friend) at the airport; hearing Eloise Klein Healey physically ignite the room with her poetry; being, as another 2011 fellow phrased it, held up with love during the readings; learning about writing, and about joy, from Ellery Washington; and really believing the truth behind Tony’s words, that this week, and our writing had brought us a little closer to LGBT justice! This retreat was writing boot camp meets queer community, and I am so lucky to have been a small part of it.
Although I’m still processing everything that I learned at the retreat, I’m certain of one thing: I had an extraordinary experience. The sense of community I gained and the connections I made with fellow LGBT writers are going to last well beyond the short week we spent together. We were a diverse but unified group, every voice treated with respect and warmth. As the Genre Workshop instructor, Katherine Forrest was concrete in her lectures, straight-shooting in her comments, and, above all, exceedingly generous – truly a remarkable teacher and person. I know that I sound effusive, but I really do feel that this experience has made me a more confident, more skilled gay writer.
As a queer writer, who loves our literature and our community, my expectations for the retreat were huge. The weeklong program surpassed even that. There was such amazing encouragement and support from the instructors and the fellows. I met many folks riding the same boat as me across murky waters – searching for a readership and looking to find colleagues who believe in what I’m doing. The retreat was our safe harbor. Many of us have already made plans to stay in touch so we can help each other toward success.
How many queer writers does it take to change the world?
The answer: 42.
As much as that may sound like a reference to Douglas Adams’ interpretation of the meaning of life, the answer is much more practical and infinitely more meaningful. That’s because that’s how many of us, the Class of 2011 Lambda Literary Fellows, there are, currently in the midst of the Lambda Literary Foundation Writers’ Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices at the UCLA Campus.
Our days go something like this: get up, eat, workshop, eat, write, eat, lecture, socialize, repeat. Mealtimes are powerful here, when Chance throws together a random agglomeration of writers at a single table to take our thrice daily sustenance and we somehow become a big queer creative family sharing the vibe. Egos? Drama? Not at all. The opposite is true, in fact. Everybody I’ve met has been incredibly outwardly focused, interested in what other people have to say, who other people are, and how other people identify themselves and live their lives as LGBT writers. As one astute Fellow (Hi Dawn!) remarked to me, we now have allies in every conceivable aspect of the North American queer universe, transcending any imaginable boundary created by identity, gender, age, ethnicity, geography, or orientation.
The 42 of us are sorted by genre: fiction, poetry, non-fiction, and genre fiction. We meet every morning in our subgroups to talk about craft and workshop our writing. At workshop time, people have been incredibly generous and insightful with their commentary. In one half-hour session when we discussed my novel-in-progress, I got so many ideas and suggestions, and everybody asked such to-the-heart-of-the-matter questions that I was able to resolve some issues about narrative voice and structure, and I moved forward with my project (thanks, genre fiction!). The faculty members are brilliant. Since this is LA, I’ll say they’re the “superstars” of the LGBT writing world, and yet here they are guiding us and working with us and sharing with us.
How many queer writers does it take to change the world? The real answer is “just one, of course!” And I know that any of my 2011 Lambda Literary colleagues can be the one to do it.
We will be posting information in January regarding next year’s retreat. In addition, look for video footage from this year’s retreat on the site in the upcoming weeks.Photos:
Top: Mario Macías workshops with other poetry fellows and faculty Eloise Klein Healy
Middle: [From left to right] Sara Kate Ellis, David Ciminello, Dawn Robinson, Ifalade Ta’Shia Asanti, Chuck Forester