Each year in February, when the days are getting longer but the snow has no thought of melting, the Fairbanks Association for the Arts holds a writers’ workshop, Writing in the Dark. This year it was February 19, and the facilitator was Peggy Shumaker, the Alaska Writer Laureate.

Peggy is the passion behind the Creative Writing program at the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival (SAF), which I’ve been attending for years. Last summer I invited students to post their work as comments on this blog, and I am doing the same thing for Writing in the Dark. Attendees, just put in whatever you want to share as comments, and I’ll approve them as soon as I get the notification.

Lunch. That's Peggy Shumaker in the center. Any other identification are welcome.

We started the way we always start the first day at SAF: spend 5 minutes talking to the person next to you and then introduce him or her to the group. We had the usual mix of writing instructors, people who struggle to find an hour or two to write (not excluding the writing instructors) people who weren’t at all sure they could write, people who wrote regularly, and even some published authors.

Then Peggy handed out two 1-page essays: “What I Could Eat” by Brenda Miller, and “The Boy Who Couldn’t Conform” by Jim Heynen. Our initial assignment was to come up with writing prompts from reading these two essays. I have problems reading my own notes (and the acoustics of the room did not help) but some of the ideas from the first essay were:

Write a scene within a scene
Describe a day with intense emotion below the surface
Use food to talk about an emotion without saying what that emotion is
Write something with movement
Thoughts may not follow what you see (and describe)
Write about a time when you understood what motivated another person, but a person with you did not (Corollary—suppose you were quite wrong?)
Visiting a place that evokes deep emotions
Use sensory images

Most of the atendees, after lunch. I'm third from the left, and Peggy's in the center. Help in identification is welcome!

We didn’t discuss the prompts each of us got from the second essay, but the one I used (I will put my piece in as a comment) was that a person’s outer behavior may appear quite different from what that person is experiencing inwardly.

Peggy also handed out a book, A Measure’s Hush, by Alaskan poet Anne Coray, and asked us to find a line from one of the poems and use it as a prompt.

The rest of the day we wrote, shared our writings and commented on each others’ work. Toward the end we discussed editing and publishing problems.

I’ll put what I managed to write in the comments. I hope mine aren’t the only pieces there!

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