Reflections on the Lambda Literary Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices
Author: Edit Team
October 14, 2015
One of the most important initiatives the Lambda Literary undertakes is to support our up-and-coming writers. In the long run, it’s maybe our most important job. We do so through the Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices – this past year in Los Angeles, June 22-June 29. After 9 years of existence, our retreat has earned a sterling reputation, and for good reason. Emerging lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender writers need professional instruction and mentoring.
This past year’s gathering offered a full week of intensive workshops and panel discussions, ranging from poetry to nonfiction. If you are interesting in participating yourself, this upcoming year’s applications will open on Wednesday, October 14th. Click here to apply.
We checked in with the some of this past year’s participants and asked them to provide their own personal take on their time at the 2015 Emerging LGBT Voices Retreat:
This was my first time in all-LGBT workshop and the truth is, being an older participant, I wasn’t sure I “needed” it. I had done fine as an out lesbian in mixed environments (I told myself) throughout my social, professional, and emerging literary life. Especially in the current era of stunningly rapid advances in the fight for equality, hadn’t we gotten beyond the need for such distinctions anyhow? Wasn’t a separate retreat like this perpetuating the very divisions the gay rights movement had worked to overcome? Well. From the moment I sat down for the first meeting with my nonfiction cohort, I realized how limited my perspective was, and how extraordinary and necessary this kind of space and time is for any LGBT writer. How it eased burdens I’d forgotten I carried, like constantly gauging degrees of disclosure about my identity and my relationships, an awareness that during most of my five decades of life, those relationships were demeaned and diminished by legal erasure and religious condescension, and that my capacity for self-expression likewise became constricted, less than it might have been. At the Lambda Literary Emerging Writers Retreat, I was seen and heard and valued in the wholeness of who I am and whom I love changed how I see myself, and how I am able to see and hear and value others in their wholeness. Yes, we were all LGBT, that was our common ground. But our differences were spectacularly rich and revealed not all at once, but page by page, conversation by conversation, as each nonfiction writer read their work out loud and we experienced it communally, then responded individually, day after passionate day. Were I to count up the minutes we spent together that week, I am certain we did more talking than writing. (And this was by design, the workshop structure a gift from our wise and generous faculty, Linda Villarosa.) Through these mornings around the workshop table, and evenings around the fire in the courtyard at Cardinal Gardens, we affirmed and elevated and loved each other with a quality of attention and respect and honesty that I have rarely experienced, and we formed bonds without even trying. Perhaps because the bond of empathy was already in place and could only deepen and expand. As it did. And as it continues to.
Dr. Heru Khuti
The retreat, for me, was a collection of returns. I returned to USC, a place of struggle, strife, activism and trauma for me as a student twenty years ago. I returned to the art of playwriting after being away from it for over a decade. I could not have asked for a better context to face those returns. The playwriting workshop was such a nurturing space. With Cherrie and the other playwriting fellows, we were able to co-create a generative space of spirit, creativity, critical thought, intentional community and productivity. It was a very healing and transformative experience for me artistically and personally. As a faculty member at Goddard College, I engage in progressive and transformative education with my students routinely. The retreat helped me to reconnect with what it feels like to be a learner in that kind of environment. I will be forever grateful for the experience.
For a 62-year-old emerging voice (a mind fuck of a concept in and of itself) the Lambda retreat delivered a high impact, transformative experience. Our non-fiction group, led by the very genius and very generous Linda Villarosa, as diverse as it was talented, ranged in age from 23-62. Muslim, Jew, Black, White, Mexican, Vietnamese, middle class, working class, upper class. Cis, trans, gender queer, bi, lesbian and gay, our stories couldn’t have been more different. The pain and the courage underlying them couldn’t have been more similar. The thing about non-fiction is you can’t make this shit up. #nofilter. Every day boiled over with poignant tales, skillfully and artfully penned, bravely shared and nourished with thoughtful, intelligent feedback. I had expected that maybe I’d end the week a better writer. What I hadn’t expected was that in our cocoon of queerness, I’d discover my own truth, essential to framing the narrative of my work. I came to the retreat longing for a sense of community. I walked away with that and so much more. I walked away with real, authentic connections.
I loved my nonfiction workshop. Not only did Linda Villarosa make it a safe space from the get-go (how she did this, I’m still not quite sure, but I think all of us cried at some point and were all able to speak honestly from our experiences.), but she also led our workshop in a way that was wholly unique to me. She coached us like a sports team, both gently guiding and pushing us to succeed. We cheered for each other’s successes and held each other through difficult passages. It was about how much joy and catharsis we find through writing, but also about getting down to work and finding ways to make a living as working writers. Linda handpicked a group of people who I would probably never have interacted with otherwise, but I wound up loving and relying on each of them in turn – for their insightful feedback, sharp eyes, and tender hearts. I could not have asked for a better group of humans with whom to spend the incredible week of Lambda. This was a life changing experience. I’m deeply proud to be a part of the Lambda family and I have made connections that I will have for the rest of my life.
We took turns speaking and listening without hurry. We held space for one another. We unmasked normal. I cannot unfeel the peace and riot the seventy of us had co-created together; I cannot untake refuge. This feeling of being warmed when I didn’t know I was cold—is that enlightenment?