Memory To Memoir Workshop

I finished the last century by attending the 1999 Iowa Summer Writing Festival or at least spent a week there to, well … write. More importantly, I went seeking readers and reaction to my scribbling. And came home wanting to do the same thing locally. But first, a story:

Four years before, I had taken my daughter on a college visit to New York University. While escorting Erika around the campus, mainly located overlooking Washington Square Park – where Robert Redford danced and jumped drunkenly in the movie “Barefoot in the Park” – I found myself going into flashback mode.

There had been no dancing drunk and barefooted in the park like Redford – my Fonda was down south in Virginia and didn’t even know I had left town – but I was there, alone, and roaming those cold, dingy New York City streets.

The Trailways deposited me in the cavernous Port Authority Terminal in New York City. Two friendly police officers had warned me to keep my camera out of sight, when stuffing a few belongings and half of my cash in a bus station locker for safe keeping. Little did they suspect my age (17). Blond hair fell over my collar and ears; a leather jacket, my gray hoodie and jeans kept me warm; Chukka boots made the long walk on that clear, crisp and cold March 1970 evening to Greenwich Village much easier.

Checking into The Valencia Hotel: Lodging for Travelers and Transvestites, I didn’t even know what the word transvestites meant when climbing up the stairs to the lobby of this dive lit only by a bare, flickering light bulb.

I had skipped school because of pathetic grades and the draft approaching in August (I was rabidly against America’s participation in the Vietnam War). And, my girlfriend was playing immature teenage games. Enough was enough!

Walking along in 1994 with my 17-year-old daughter by my side, I couldn’t stop the flood of memories. On our return flight, I began jotting down notes on a legal pad.

I came home with Erika and began drafting memories, which led to a writing program at Antioch University in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and a manuscript. By the time I arrived in Iowa City for a week of workshops, I had a mishmash of assorted stories about my early years.

My degree chair, a professor from Southwest Missouri State University, (working independently with my Antioch degree program) eventually described my New York City escape as, “disturbing,” in his final review.

My trip to the Iowa Summer Writing Festival came out of a desire to find out how other would-be writers like me might react to my words and to hear what other people were writing. How exciting those workshop sessions had been with: a mother/daughter team putting together family stories about growing up on a farm; a fellow child of the 60s, like me, writing about living on an upstate New York commune around 1970; a man who, when he was a boy, had survived the bombing of Dresden during World War II only to return to the destroyed city and find his father dead.

I developed my Memory to Memoir Workshop because everybody has stories to tell. They need not be set in exotic or supposedly cool places. Those set around the house, growing up in one place, need to be told, too. Last summer’s participants wrote about growing up in Miami County.

People lead busy lives. When to write? How to get started? Where to start the memory? I was teaching full-time at Paola High School and two classes per semester at night for Fort Scott Community College. Six years later, I had a manuscript; 13 years later a deal with a small New York City press.

A Studebaker going into the first of three rolls with me riding shotgun, age 15, seemed like a good starting point, followed by memories of turning 20 while hitchhiking south of Morro Bay, Calif., on my way to Big Sur in 1972. Losing my way (no I didn’t get lost) in a woods near my house, age 4, had to be told. Eventually, those random writings turned into chapters.

I learned back I when teaching my English Composition 101 and 102 classes how so many students, especially the adults, appreciated the chance to write about family memories they could pass on in scrapbooks and photo albums.

This is your chance to put something on paper with guidance and a few like-minded individuals. We start this June 7 at the Fort Scott Community College campus in Paola at 6:30 p.m. Call or stop by the campus for more information at 294-4178.


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Posted by admin on May 18 2011. Filed under Kevin Gray. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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