Crafting the Personal Essay: QWF Writers’ Workshop (Montreal)

Number 8. by antonw

Eight Thursdays, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. (October 4 to November 22, 2012)
1200 Atwater Ave., Suite 3, Westmount
Workshop leader: Julija Šukys
Workshop fee: $155 for QWF members; $175 for non-members
For more information, or to register: 514-933-0878 or julia@qwf.org

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“Every man has within himself the entire human condition.” – Montaigne
(And every woman too.)

A wandering, open form, the personal essay is most successful when it takes its reader on a journey of discovery. Personal essays explore everyday life, revealing larger truths in the process. As such, the best essays appear to be about one thing but are really about something entirely different. They put the writer’s “I” at centre stage, are conversational, candid, and revelatory. In a tone that ranges from comic to self-deprecating to melancholic, the personal essayist asks: What is it that I don’t know and why? What have I learned and how?

Personal essays are a strong stand-alone form, but they are also a great way to work through big questions at the heart of a memoir, autobiography or work of creative nonfiction. If you’re finding yourself stuck inside (or frozen before the blank first page of) an unruly book manuscript, and you can’t see a way through, consider joining us. A well-thought-out essay may provide you with a road map, and we may be may be able to help you come up with one.

This workshop will primarily focus on participants’ writing. We will work through your texts, and figure out how to make them better together. This workshop is an opportunity to move early drafts forward and to work through ideas. You need not have a finished text to join the workshop (a good idea will suffice), but you should be prepared to work toward producing something to share with your peers. Participants will take turns submitting a personal-essay-in-progress (or a piece of a larger work that you’d like to transform into a stand-alone personal essay) to the workshop for discussion. That text should be no shorter than 1 000 words; no longer than 5 000.

Good writers read, so in addition to workshopping, we will examine a series of exemplary personal essays by writers like Virginia Woolf, Natalia Ginzburg, and Carlos Fuentes, and identify together the techniques and devices that make them work.

Finally, we will talk about finding homes for essays. Where can we read them? Where can we publish them?

Suggested Text: The Art of the Personal Essay. Ed. Phillip Lopate.
(**This is an encyclopaedic volume of essays that will keep you coming back for years. Our readings will come from this volume, so I strongly suggest that participants purchase it in advance.)

Julija Šukys is the author of two books of literary nonfiction, Epistolophilia: Writing the Life of Ona Šimaitė (2012) and Silence is Death: The Life and Work of Tahar Djoaut. Her personal essays have appeared in The Globe and Mail, Feminist Formations, Lituanus, and elsewhere.

[Photo: antonw]

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And the Whirlwind Begins to Slow…

It’s been an amazing few weeks: there have been fantastic reviews of my book Epistolophilia appearing from coast to coast. I’ve been out to British Columbia, where I gave my first real public reading at the beautiful Vancouver Public Library, and we launched the book with a splash on June 7, 2012 in Montreal. It was wonderful to see so many familiar and unfamiliar faces. Thanks to all for coming.

As the weather heats up, the literary scene begins to slow. This summer I’ll be doing more intimate events, and plan to use the break to integrate virtual book club visits (via skype) into my author program. Check back for a reading guide and book club instructions soon.

But today, Sebastian and I are headed outside to tend our neglected garden. Supporting a new book takes a lot of time and effort, and the poor plants have suffered. With a bit of sweat and toil, though, we should be able to get it back in shape.

Next week, my big boy starts day camp, and I’ll return to my desk in earnest.

[Photo: Sebastian Gurd]

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Montreal Book Launch: June 7, 2012 (5:00-7:00 pm)

Book Launch for Epistolophilia: Writing the Life of Ona Šimaitė by Julija Šukys

Librairie Paragraphe Bookstore

June 7, 2012. 5:00-7:00 pm

2220 McGill College Avenue,
 Montreal, QC H3A3P9

Come one, come all! There will be jazz, nibbles and wine!

Please join Montreal writer Julija Šukys for the launch of her new book Epistolophilia: Writing the Life of Ona Šimaitė. Šimaitė (1894-1970) carefully collected, preserved, and archived the written record of her life, including thousands of letters and scores of diaries. Epistolophilia beckons back to life this quiet and worldly heroine, a giant of Holocaust history (one of Yad Vashem’s honoured Righteous Among the Nations) and yet so little known.

Praise for Epistolophilia:

“Sukys draws liberally from thousands of pages of correspondence and numerous diaries to create a portrait of a deeply thoughtful woman trying to make sense of history and her own life by putting it all to paper. Also of Lithuanian descent, Sukys’s own meditations on the power of letters and writing make this a powerful testament to the confluence of history and individual lives and passions.”—Publishers Weekly

Epistolophilia is not a typical biography, and Šimaitė was not a typical World War II hero. For readers looking for an unconventional account of the World War II and post-war eras, as well as those interested in women’s life writing,Epistolophilia is a nuanced and compelling work.”—ForeWord Reviews

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Author Reading: Vancouver, May 29th

Julija Sukys: Writing the Life of Ona Simaite, Vilna Ghetto Rescuer

Vancouver Public Library
Free Event

Tuesday, May 29, 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Peter Kaye Room, Lower Level
Central Library, 350 W. Georgia St.

Please join Montreal writer Julija Šukys for a reading and discussion of her new book Epistolophilia: Writing the Life of Ona Šimaitė. Šimaitė (1894-1970) carefully collected, preserved, and archived the written record of her life, including thousands of letters and scores of diaries. Epistolophilia beckons back to life this quiet and worldly heroine, a giant of Holocaust history (one of Yad Vashem’s honoured Righteous Among the Nations) and yet so little known.

For more information on Library events, visit http://www.vpl.ca

[Photo: Geneviève Goyette]

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Creative Nonfiction Collective Conference, May 23-24

BW Tiger by Danny Nicholson

Vancouver, at Carey Centre, UBC, May 23-24, 2012

Are you a creative nonfiction writer interested in developing your craft, expanding your understanding of the genre, and hanging out with your fellow CNF writers? Then come to the Creative Nonfiction Collective’s annual conference for 2012, which will be held at the Carey Centre, University of British Columbia, from May 23 to May 24 inclusive.

The Creative Nonfiction Collective exists to promote the genre of creative nonfiction in Canada, and to assist writers of creative nonfiction with both practical and technical information that will help them in furthering their writing careers.

Each year, the CNFC polls its members for a list of workshop and panel topics to be explored at its annual conference, and this year our members selected the topics you’ll see scheduled for Thursday’s events (below). But before the workshops, we’ll start the conference with an important business meeting, followed by our famous (notorious?) Cabaret Readings and our ever-popular Readers’ Choice Award selection.

– Andreas Schroeder, 2012 Conference Chair

2012 CONFERENCE PROGRAM >

HOW TO REGISTER >

Yours truly will be giving a workshop on May 24th called “Writing from the Archives.”

The keynote speaker will be John Vaillant, author of The Tiger and The Golden Spruce.

[Photo: Danny Nicholson]

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Workshop: How to Be Your Own Publicist (Canada)

RETRO POSTER - What's in Your Future? by Enokson

The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) is offering the Professional Development Workshop HOW TO BE YOUR OWN PUBLICIST in Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary,Vancouver, and Victoria, in February and March of 2012. The workshops take place from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. For those who can’t attend in one of the participating cities, a 3-hour webinar will be offered, distilling the highlights of the workshop.

Authors Elizabeth Ruth and Ann Douglas will present on traditional but innovative book marketing strategies as well as new media opportunities for writers.  Kelly Duffin, Executive Director of The Writers’ Union of Canada, will update participants on the latest evolutions in the publishing landscape.

Whether you are an aspiring writer wanting to develop your audience before publication; an emerging writer who needs to stay visible; or long-published and looking for new tips and techniques, this full-day workshop is for you.

Participants will leave the workshop having gained the know-how and confidence to creatively promote their own future works, and an expanded, inspired sense of what it means to be a writer in the current publishing context.

The price of this symposium is $89.00 and covers costs, including lunch, $75 for members of The Writers’ Union of Canada. For registration information please go to www.writersunion.ca/registration.pdf.

[Photo: Enokson]

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Countdown to Publication: The Work of Promoting a Book

My new book, Epistolophilia: Writing the Life of Ona Šimaitė (cover seen above) will appear in four months.

A few nights ago, I had a great conversation with my press’s publicist. Cara told me how she sat down on the couch to leaf through my book and was so drawn in that she ended up reading the whole thing in a matter of days.

Now, if you’re a writer, you’ll know how great it is to hear anyone say this. To hear it from the person who is tasked with promoting your work — in my case, a book that took me about a decade to complete — is like salve to the soul.

The publicist and I agreed to take a collaborative approach to promoting Epistolophilia. She and one other person are responsible for the University of Nebraska’s entire list, so the publicity department is stretched thin. Cara will therefore take care of getting the book to reviewers, talking it up, and submitting it for prizes; I will research and set up readings and lectures. Once I’ve got gigs lined up, she’ll step in to support me with books for sale and signing, posters, leaflets and the like.

Knocking cold on people’s doors and asking them to give you and your book a chance can be humiliating. I’m learning this, but trying not to let the process get me down. Having studied how writer-friends of mine have gotten their books noticed, I’m now doing my best to emulate their processes in a way that makes sense for Epistolophilia.

More than anything, I’m trying to be brave.

Lucky for me, I’ve made friends over the years of researching and writing this book, and have great supporters at libraries and cultural institutions that serve my readership. These are the doors I knocked on first, and I haven’t been disappointed.

Slowly, but surely this do-it-myself book tour is starting to take shape. It will start with a spring launch at Paragraphe Bookstore in Montreal, and then carry on through the fall with appearances at the Library of Congress, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (Washington DC), and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City.

I’ll keep you posted as to appearances and interviews as things progress.

Update: There’s now a tentative Toronto date as well. Details to follow, closer to the event.

If you’d like me to come to your town, library, university, bookstore or other venue to read or talk about the life and writing of the Holocaust rescuer, Ona Šimaitė, write me a note via the Contact page!

Click here for a description of the book.

Wish me luck!

As always: happy writing; happy reading.

This post is part of a weekly series called “Countdown to Publication” on SheWrites.com, the premier social network for women writers.

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Translating Vilnius: Event in Chicago, May 25, 2010

If you’re in Chicago on the evening of May 25, 2010, head on down to the 57th Street Books to hear my friends Laimonas Briedis and Elizabeth Novickas speak about their work. They’re both brilliant and charismatic.

Translating Vilnius – Elizabeth Novickas & Laimonas Briedis
Tue, 05/25/2010 – 6:00pm
57th Street Books
1301 E. 57th Street
Chicago, Illinois 60637

The city of Vilnius — Chicago’s sister-city — embraces history with many voices: known in Yiddish as Vilne, in Polish as Wilno, in Russian as Vilna, and in German as Wilna, the capital of Lithuania possesses a polyphony of national identities and cultural resonances. No single history or language can embrace this multitude of identities, for each name resonates with different experiences, memories, and expectations of Europe. As such, the city both unites and divides the continent, making it a point of many departures and arrivals. Writing Vilnius, then, is always about narrative crossings, real or imagined trespasses into foreign territories and unknown worlds. As a result, Vilnius’s literature is first and foremost an act of translation, an exploration of the place from a novel point of view.

Laimonas Briedis, author of Vilnius: City of Strangers, and Elizabeth Novickas, translator of Ričardas Gavelis’ Vilnius Poker, discuss the challenges, pleasures, and discoveries of translating the story of Vilnius.

Written as a traveler’s tale of encounter, Vilnius: City of Strangers, is the first biography of the city, exploring the history of the place, from its legendary beginnings in the fourteenth century to the twentieth century dramas of wars, revolutions and massacres, through the insightful impressions of foreign travelers.

Napoleon, Dostoyevsky, Stendhal, Döblin, Tolstoy, Bakhtin and Brodsky: these voices – among others equally compelling though lesser known – reveal the essence of Europe in their narrative encounter with this threshold city, situated at the geographical centre of Europe. Briedis has woven their letters, diaries, utterances and reflections of Vilnius into a compelling and intimate story, and shares with the reader a deep understanding of the Lithuanian, Polish, Russian and German identities of the place, as well as its centrality in the life of Jewish diaspora.

Ričardas Gavelis’ Vilnius Poker, included in the long list for Best Translated Book Award of 2010, presents Lithuanian Vilnius as it existed under Soviet rule. In its pages the city of Vilnius emerges as a mysterious, shifting, sentient presence, inhabited by gray beings whose brains have been destroyed: a city of underground labyrinths, morgues, and lurking dragons. The story weaves together a multiplicity of the voices of Vilnius, a place of floating, unstable identities and histories, and paradoxically fixing a portrait of the city as it was – or never was – in “a forceful statement that is on its way towards becoming a touchstone of 20th century literature.” (Andrew Wessels, Bookslut.com)

Laimonas Briedis, a native of Vilnius, Lithuania, received his doctorate from the University of British Columbia and is currently a Visiting Research Fellow at the Lithuanian Literature Institute.

Elizabeth Novickas has a M.A. in Lithuanian Language and Literature from UIC. She has worked previously as a bookbinder, newspaper designer, cartographer, and system administrator for the Chicago Sun-Times.

[Photo: elgirdaz]

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