Last weekend, the 2nd annual TriCampus Writers Retreat was held at John XXIII Retreat Center in Hartford City. The retreat includes creative writing students from Taylor, Indiana Wesleyan, and Anderson universities coming together in a community of art and faith.
After dinner and some opening remarks Friday evening, attendees were treated to a reading by Amy Peterson, a well-published essayist who is completing revisions on a memoir of her years spent teaching English overseas. Laugh-out-loud funny and theologically rich, the book examines the differences between youthful expectations and complex realities. Peterson’s graceful prose set the tone for a weekend steeped in language used well.
Saturday was packed with readings, craft lectures, professional insights for writers, and a whole lot of blocked out writing time. Dan Bowman and Aaron Housholder, both creative writing professors at Taylor, teamed up for a morning fiction reading. Bowman read the opening of his novel Beggars in Heaven, a Künstlerroman set on the campus of a Christian college, while Housholder read a haunting short story that blurs the line between reality and Gothic-tinged fever dream. The story, “Grass Grows Greener,” is forthcoming in Relief Journal.
The ten o’clock hour was set aside for writing. Students and faculty enjoyed the grounds of the Retreat Center, a hidden local gem comprising many quiet places to work, both in and out of doors. After lunch, Anderson professor Liz Boltz Ranfeld gave a talk on blogging and using social media as a writer. Her insider’s look included great tips for developing great content, building a readership, becoming a literary citizen online, and using a blogging platform to land publishing opportunities.
Another long writing block found retreatants hard at work on their poems, stories, and essays. The fall weather was beautiful. Many wrote out in the sunshine.
Saturday afternoon, Mary Brown of IWU gave a poetry reading. Mary’s work has appeared in journals and magazines around the country for years, including Alimentum: The Literature of Food, Christian Century, The Cresset, Mankato Poetry Review, Avocet: A Journal of Nature Poems, and many others.
She mentioned the recent Facebook trend of naming what you’re thankful for each day. She used her own list as a structure for the reading. When she mentioned how thankful she is for good and meaningful work as a writing and English professor, she read several poignant poems inspired by students.
She also has an abiding interest in the life and work of John Steinbeck. Brown currently serves as associate editor of Steinbeck Review. She read from her new poetry manuscript, which features poems related to Steinbeck and his novels. Brown’s fine verse inspired the group through another late afternoon writing block.
A recent issue of Steinbeck ReviewAfter dinner set up began for the Open Mic, the premiere Saturday night event which may just be the heart of the yearly retreat. Students read both completed pieces and works-in-progress. They never failed to hold the audience rapt with their passionate, mature, and often dazzling work. The wide variety of voices, genres, characters, images, and styles made the night truly memorable.
As the Open Mic finished, the inspiration in the room sustained conversations well past midnight.
Early Sunday morning, Paul Allison of IWU led the group in a devotional specifically for writers, closing out the retreat by examining thoughts by CS Lewis and Anne Lamott, and pondering the relationship between prayer and writing. These reflections, and the prayer that followed, served as the perfect benediction for the writers.
In his book On Becoming a Novelist, John Gardner alludes to the importance of community for the writer. He says that its first value is that “…it makes the young writer feel not only not abnormal but virtuous. In a writers’ community, nearly all the talk is about writing. Even if you don’t agree with much of what is said, you come to take for granted that no other talk is quite so important. Talking about writing…is exciting…It fills you with nervous energy, makes you want to leave the party and go home and write. And it’s the sheer act of writing, more than anything else, that makes a writer.”
As students and faculty left the Center to return home, they seemed to be filled with this very energy: the drive to write, to stay invested in the community of art and faith, and to continue to learn and grow. Taylor Senior Carli Stewart said it well as she summed up her experience: “It was quiet and reflective, allowing one to sit and stew and scribble, while simultaneously being a wonderful time of fellowship with like-minded, kind, fascinating, and incredibly talented people. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go, but I’m extremely glad I went.”
The 3rd annual TriCampus Writers Retreat is already being scheduled for September 2015. If you’re an English or creative writing major and you want to attend, let us know; we’ll reserve your spot!