Sunday, August 14, 2011
Questions keep coming to me about writing classes at John C. Campbell Folk School that I cannot answer. I‘m sorry. I no longer know what is happening at JCCFS. I resigned from my Resident Writer job there in December. I resigned because I was in a pickle with too little time. I had to take responsibility for my own writing which included the demands of trying to sell Echoes Across the Blue Ridge, a book I edited for NC Writers Network West, and also my own poetry collection Living Above the Frost Line from Carolina Wren Press that was published at the same time.
I am happy I had the opportunity to serve and teach for fifteen years at John C. Campbell Folk School. I am happy I was able to advance the writing program and help hundreds of writers. That is what I love to do most, and I recall many happy times. My goal while at the school was to keep a balance between writing classes for the literary writers and to also offer classes for the many writers with no interest in publishing who only want to write memoir essays or plan to write their own story for their children.
Keeping that balance, I offered a wide range of classes from writing one’s life story to providing specific techniques that focus on character and plot for short and long fiction. I offered free verse poetry writing classes, even mystery writing, writing for children, and historical fiction in the past when we could get an instructor. My goal was to return to offering 24 writing classes a year so that writers across America could have at least two a month to choose from. Twenty-four classes a year remained my goal, even when cuts kept coming.
Your questions about what is happening to the writing classes now keep coming to me, and I do not have answers. When I saw the current school catalog, I was as surprised as you to see no poetry writing classes. When I resigned, I talked with Program Director Karen Beaty. I suggested poet Rosemary Royston as my replacement because Rosemary Royston also has an MFA in writing, and she has a clear understanding of literature and what is being written today. She has her finger on the writing pulse of our own writing community, and she has contact with hundreds of writers from across America who teach writing. When I talked with Karen Beaty she said she was not going to name a resident writer now but that she was going to schedule the classes herself. Her concern was the photography studio where the writing classes meet, and she said she planned later to hire a photo journalist to be the new resident writer.
When I read the current catalog I saw there are 25 photography classes but only 17 writing classes. If the space were shared equally, there would be 25 writing classes and 25 photography classes for the fifty weeks in a folk school year.
Seven of the writing classes in the current catalog are classes I scheduled before I left JCCFS. Seven others are classes I scheduled in the past that are repeated because of their success such as “What is Memoir Anyway?” taught by award winning essayist Dana Wildsmith, “Your Life -Your Stories” with Glenda Beall, and “Building a Character” taught by award winning fiction writer Darnel Arnoult . Other successful, repeat classes are “Creative Non Fiction” with Carol Crawford, “The Habitual Writer” taught by Susan Woodring, “Write Like a Genius” taught by Maureen Ryan Griffin, “Tools of the Trade for Professional Writers” with Wendy Webb and “Harnessing the Power of Words” taught by Jayne Jaudon Ferrer. Five of these instructors are also published poets with poetry books in print (none self published): Darnel Arnoult, Glenda Beall, Jayne Jaudon Ferrer, Maureen Ryan Griffin, and Dana Wildsmith. Any one of those five writing instructors could teach an excellent poetry writing class.
In reading the catalog, I understand what you are asking. I agree. Poets paint with words, as they say. We have been carefully taught that if we have to illustrate our poems with sketches, paintings or photography, then we have indeed failed in our responsibility to deliver the images to the reader. Seldom or never will you see a book of poetry with illustrations or any image other than the cover art, which we know, can be a companion piece, but it can never simply “illustrate.”
Here at the end, I cannot answer your questions. My best advice is, if you are a regular student at the school and if you are truly concerned, contact the Program Director Karen Beaty and talk with her. Let her know what kind of writing classes you want to see offered in the future.
Also, to the number of you who have asked me about teaching writing at the school, I suggest you apply to teach if you want to. Apply with a class title and a class description. I do not know what JCCFS wants now, but there used to be three main credentials: 1)You are a published author, probably have a book published (not self published) 2) that you have teaching experience, 3) and that you truly fit in well at the folk school’s no-lecture, relaxed environment. Before applying, remember that a week at the folk school is super intensive, if not totally exhausting, and being a non-profit, the pay is not up to scale. But if you love learning and if you want to pass on what you know as an instructor, you should apply.
If it is creative energy for your writing that you seek, the folk school has an abundance of that energy flying through the air, hitting almost everyone up side the head who happen to be walking across campus, beginning about the middle of each week. I can guarantee that. That is all I know at this point about what is going on at the folk school.