Linda: Writers in the World

The faculty at this year’s Kachemak Bay Writers Conference wasted
no time in challenging participants with the big questions. At the opening
dinner keynote speaker Barry Lopez asked
us to consider the role of a writer in “an imperiled world,” as he characterized
the condition of our planet, given the current political, economic, and
environmental reality. He exhorted us to create something beautiful with our
writing, as that was the only way to defeat “the enemy” driving our society towards
destruction. The words of Keats, learned so long ago in high school,
immediately came to mind: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all/Ye know
on earth, and all ye need to know.”
The first panel session, Writers in the World, continued to
probe the concept of literary citizenship, discussing various ways in which
writers can fulfill this responsibility. Camille
T. Dungy
emphasized that we are writing for others: it’s not a monologue
but a dialogue. Our responsibility as writers is to engage readers in a
conversation or to keep them engaged and invigorated. Ann Pancake spoke of the potential
of literature to effect transformation and change in troubled times, reminding
us that writers have the power to envision future alternatives and imagine a
way forward that turns current paradigms on their head. Valerie Miner proposed various ways a
writer might fulfill the obligations of literary citizenship: reviewing a book
from the perspective of its contribution to the dialogue; editing an anthology
(what books don’t yet exist that you believe the world needs?); recommending
books to one another; attending literary events; and proposing conference
panels on relevant topics, to name a few. Enthusiasm becomes infectious, and so
whatever we do should be something that really matters to us.
I had been looking forward to exploring style elements of
memoir writing with Debra Gwartney,
finding out from Eva
what the heck the pantoum form of poetry was, and joining the
lively discussion of 43 ways to approach revision promised by Peggy Shumaker, and it was
discomfiting to be called to account in this way. By the end of the first day, questions
such as “Why do writers do what we do?” and “How does awareness of living with
other beings show in my writing?” were lodged in my mind.
Being a writer demands that we keep one eye fixed firmly on
the big picture while focusing the other on the details. In his extensive world
travels, Lopez has spent time amongst the northern peoples of Alaska and Canada.
Once, he asked an Inupiaq storyteller what caribou do, only to learn that in
their culture you cannot say what caribou do, only what an individual caribou
might do at a certain time under a particular circumstance. This story will
always remind me how easy it is to make sweeping generalizations about our
world, about the people and creatures that inhabit it. Like the caribou
everything is, in the end, unpredictable. 
It’s our responsibility to notice and describe the particular, to tell
the stories that need to be told, to create something beautiful that contributes
to the larger narrative.

1 thought on “Linda: Writers in the World”

  1. Lynn Lovegreen

    Nice post, Linda! I thought of the Keats quote too, isn't that interesting?!

    I am also fortunate to be at the conference. The workshops and conversation with other writers have been inspiring. And our own Don Rearden did a wonderful job at the reading tonight! 🙂

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top