Lambda Literary Emerging Writers Workshop, Day 1

san fernando valleyOkay, here I am. I can stand on the slant of the hill and gaze upon the San Fernando Valley, when the mist and/or the smog isn’t hiding it, that is. It’s pretty, and like a lot of the West Coast, covered in desert plants. None of the palm trees I see are native to Southern California, but I appreciate them anyway. Palm trees, for me, mean that I’m somewhere not considered home. They ring vacation to me, because you can never really lose the New Jersey, I guess.

I have sat in a room with Samuel Delany for hours now, have wandered across a campus with him, hoping our noses will lead us to the dining hall (for better or for worse), acting like such engagements with him are totally no big deal. This man taught Octavia Butler. Octavia Fucking Butler. AKA one of my favorite writers of all time. But hey, let’s chat about how much we hate stairs. (Answer: A lot) I don’t pretend that Mr. Delany will have any idea who I am by the middle of next week, but he’s personable and so brilliantly smart he may be solely responsible for the huge sun spot that flamed out last week. I have great admiration for Malinda Lo, who is teaching the YA/genre section, I have scads of respect for Sarah Schulman, who inspired my many years of involvement with the Lesbian Avengers (which she cofounded), and I always revere poets like David Groff because I’m completely inept at poetry.

But Chip Delany? Yes, I am star struck. In actual awe. And I’m doing my best not to act like a moron in his presence. Which those of you who know me well will admit is probably rather difficult for me.

famous amazing black authorsWe got to work last night reading three pieces from the twelve fiction writing fellows and as someone remarked through obvious sarcasm, they were all wildly different from each other. I loved that. I love that 48 LGBT writers can sit together in a room and look deeply at each other’s craft and among us we’re creating very different stories. It is the way literature should work, pushing us toward “original” thought and through that momentum, opening new spaces for the next batch of intrepid authors. Once we start noticing, those openings are all around us. We will never run out of stories.

I’ve been in workshops before in which not everyone pulled their weight. Some students hung back to give their critiques, clearly mimicking things that had already been said, never getting specific with any of their feedback. Nobody in our group pulled a trick like that — comments were specific, critical, helpful, and collectively we pushed the three projects forward in a way that the writers sincerely appreciated. It was also a relief not to have to hear the tired bull hockey from non-LGBT workshops, like “maybe if you just made her straight,” or “I’m not gay so I didn’t get that reference,” or the never-accountable, “I just didn’t relate to this.”

Each of us were allotted two minutes to offer our verbal comments, and then Samuel gave them his feedback. One author smiled, somewhat slack jawed when he was done. “That was worth the price of admission,” she said. She’s right. I found myself wanting to keep going, even though my chair was like a crab shell around me and my brain longed for a latte. Can we have more pieces to read and talk about? Why yes, yes we can. We go all the way until Saturday.

I can only imagine. By Saturday we will have talked so much about narrative and character and exposition and themes and tension, I may explode in happiness.

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