Monday, June 27, 2005

Mindbuzz: VONA Day One Reportback

Today was the first full day of my Voices of Our Nations (VONA) novel workshop experience, and two hours after I've left campus and my comrades-in-writing, my mind is still buzzing from all the great conversations, critique and cameraderie I experienced--just in one day.

I feel as if I've spent the morning in intense meditation: as I walked down the street to my house from the bus stop, the air seemed clearer and more crisp, I noticed the elderly Korean couple walking slowly arm in arm with their big black German shepherd, I heard the small and large sounds of everyday living around me that I normally take for granted. I felt as if my brain had been tuned to a new frequency, my awareness heightened after the morning workshop with Chitra Divakaruni and the other novelists in the room.

I have to admit, after the orientation yesterday for VONA I left feeling a bit apprehensive and fearful about what this experience would be like. The words 'life-changing', 'intense' and 'extroardinary' were bandied about by VONA faculty and alums alike, making me wonder whether I would have a nervous breakdown this week--not what I was planning.

But I'm getting it now: the passion and commitment of the other writers (all writers of color, for VONA is exclusively for us) is truly intense and beautiful, especially for me because it's been a rare experience for me to feel kinship with other writers in a supportive, non-competitive way. It's fuckin' great.

And it was pretty cool to get this feedback from folks about my sci-fi/fantasy novel-in-progress:

"This is really well written...Your language is beautiful" (from Chitra!)
"I found myself captivated and drawn in by the story"
"Wow! Very nice! Sci-fi! I was riveted"

We got into an interesting discussion about the sometimes-assumed 'responsibility' of writers of color to write about our culture, about race and politics, etc. One of Chitra's comments particularly struck me: "It's not so much about the milieu we write in [whether contemporary fiction or sci-fi or whatever] but about the concerns that we bring to our work." (I'm paraphrasing; hopefully you get the point)

The folks in my workshop are an eclectic and intriguing lot: a former journalist for the Chicago Tribune who lives in Guadalajara and rents rooms to writers and tourists; a globe-trotting Hemingway admirer who recently returned to the States from a writing/reading stint in Chile; a young Latina writer from Oakland who is working on a complex family drama novel told from the perspectives of two sisters and their daughters. And that's just a few of them. I feel privileged to be in their company and happy to be sharing with all of them the gift of our writing.

More to come,
In Peace,


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