Mossy trees sprouting cherry blossoms at the University of Washington
This spring, I’m teaching a six-week class on contemporary fairy tales at Hugo House. We’ll read Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood and Sarah Shun-lien Bynum and Alissa Nutting, among other fantastic writers. We’ll talk about some of my favorite techniques, like everyday magic and intuitive magic. And we’ll try our hands at writing our own fairy tales. Class meets Wednesday nights 7-9 pm from May 25-June 29. Registration is currently open for Hugo House members; general registration opens March 22. Scholarships are available and applications are due on March 25.
Cloud cover & blossoms
I’m also teaching a 75-minute webinar on Saturday, April 16 called Powerful Objects via Inked Voices. We’ll talk about one of my favorite topics: how objects create a special kind of magic in fiction and how useful they are in developing character, plot, and emotional resonance. It’s a lecture-based class that will include writing prompts and a Q&A. The class will meet at 12 pm EST / 9 am PST and is just $25. We’ll talk about Cynthia Ozick’s story “The Shawl,” so please read that in advance. You can register here.
Speaking of fairy tales, right now at the Henry Art Gallery, you can see Paul McCarthy’s White Snow, a wildly whimsical and subversive take on Snow White. A few years ago, I saw his gonzo installation WS at the Park Avenue Armory in New York, a similarly subversive spin on Snow White but somehow less rich than the wood sculptures on view at the Henry. White Snow seems more artful, crafted, and thoughtful, whereas WS was a big raunchy frat party. The Henry is now free on Sundays (huzzah!), so go check it out. Perhaps it will inspire you!
Where is Arcimboldo when you need him?
My essay “Bedtime Stories for Ghosts: Reading Aristotle to Coco Chanel and Other Encounters in a Massive Art Installation” is up on Electric Literature today! This piece has been in the works since the beginning of the common S E N S E, Ann Hamilton‘s show at the Henry Art Gallery in October 2014, evolving as the show evolved and growing stranger with each of my visits. It draws on Aristotle and J.A. Baker and Mercè Rodoreda and Rikki Ducornet and humming birds and egret capelets and more. (Not incidentally, the Coco Chanel egret capelet makes an appearance in my story “Cauliflower Tells You,” over on Monkeybicycle.) I’m excited to have my work in Electric Literature and am thankful to Kelly Luce for taking it on.
Hugo House’s fall course catalog is now available. I’m teaching three classes, listed below. Scholarships are available and applications are due August 24. Hope to see you around Hugo House soon!
- All Talk: Dialogue Intensive, a one-day class, meeting September 26, 1-5 pm.
- Second Helping: How Food Improves Your Fiction, a one-day class, meeting October 24, 1-5 pm.
- Visual Inspiration, a six-week class at the Henry Art Gallery, meeting Thursdays, 6-8 pm, September 17-October 29 (no class October 22–that’s Lit Crawl!)
I’m also happy to offer writing coaching. If you’re interested, email me at anca (dot) l (dot) szilagyi (at) gmail (dot) com, and tell me what you’re working on and what kind of coaching you are looking for, and we’ll go from there.
Over on the Hugo House blog, I’ve got a mini-lesson previewing my upcoming one-day class at the Henry Art Gallery. The excerpt of class reading I chose comes from the opening of Mercè Rodoreda’s novel Death in Spring, which is the new book integrated into Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E. (The first book was J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine.)
Death in Spring is a stunning novel, for its poetic language, lush imagery, and its tackling cruelty among humans as well as violence in nature. Rodoreda was a Catalan writer living during Franco’s dictatorship, and the novel can be read as a metaphor for that regime or for any oppressed society.The violence is also of mythological proportions, and the beauty of the language helps make reading it bearable. This technique was something that was made explicit for me by Rikki Ducornet speaking at an AWP panel on “Magic and Intellect”: “For a difficult book to be readable, find a language that levitates somehow, that is scintillating.”
The class will go beyond this topic, delving into the many layers of Ann Hamilton’s monumental show, on our relationship to animals, the sense of touch, and being touched–emotionally and intellectually–through the private act of reading. Death in Spring will definitely bring home this last idea of being touched–being moved in profound ways by another’s experience and creation.
A partial reading list for Novel #3.
In 2014, I focused my blogging attentions to 16 posts on writing prompts for Ploughshares. Now that the series is done (though stay tuned–I have plans for them), here’s a little update on what I’ve got on deck for 2015.
What are your plans for 2015?
On March 21, I’m teaching a special one-day Hugo House class at the Henry Art Gallery. As I mentioned in a recent Ploughshares blog post, I’ve been helping out with the literary component of Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E, the exhibit that has taken over all of the Henry from October to April. The show explores the sense of touch and our relationship to nature as well as being touched–emotionally, intellectually–through the private act of reading.
The exhibit has filled the galleries with scanned images of taxidermy animals from the Burke Museum of Natural History, with children’s ABC primers and bestiaries from the University of Washington’s Libraries Special Collections, and with clothing made from animal products both from the Burke and from the Henry’s collections. Throughout the galleries, at different times, chorale singers sing to the objects. And, reader/scribes read aloud to objects of their choice, like a bedtime story, from a common text that will change over the course of the show–the first is J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine, a beautiful book. These reader/scribes, when particularly moved by a passage in the text, record that passage into a log book. These log books will accumulate over time, becoming a record of a collective reading experience.
There are a number of ways to participate in this rich exhibit:
- Submit a fragment from your own reading that deals with the sense of touch (literally or intellectually) to this tumblr site; your submissions may be included in the exhibit!
- Volunteer to be a reader/scribe. I’ve done it four times so far; it’s a powerful experience, and I’m writing about it now and hope to share it with you soon. Perks: free admission, a free pass to return to the exhibit, and an invitation to participate in a discussion of the experience with other reader/scribes and facilitated by a member of the literary community (including me!).
- Take my Hugo House class Senses at the Henry on Saturday, March 21, 12-3 pm. We’ll do the reader/scribe activity, contributing to the exhibit itself (exciting!), discuss the experience, and then dive into creative writing in response to the show. Member registration begins on December 9 and general registration opens on December 16.
Hope to see you around the Henry in the coming months!
My latest blog post for Ploughshares explores the sense of touch in writing, with wisdom from Aristotle, Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E at the Henry Art Gallery, Natalie Goldberg, Diane Ackerman, and John Edgar Wideman, and with a bit of inspiration from Hieronymus Bosch. Here’s how the post begins:
Touch is the sense common to all species. So wrote Aristotle in Historia Animalum and De Anima. And so is the premise for the art show Ann Hamilton: the common S E N S E, which I’ve been helping out with here in Seattle, and which explores the sense of touch and our relationship to nature, as well as our ability to be touched, emotionally and intellectually, through the private act of reading.
This got me thinking about the importance of touch in writing. Like the sense of smell, touch is a tad neglected when compared to the senses we gravitate toward first: the visual and the auditory. But think about how connected you’ve felt to a text when the author captures a particular tactile sensation or visceral reaction? How do those moments create emotional and intellectual resonance?
My student Jenelle Birnbaum’s lovely story “The Bodhisattva of the Sea,” inspired by Katinka Bock’s abstract sculptures, is up on the Henry Art Gallery’s blog. The exhibit runs until May 4, and I think I need to squeeze in another visit before then, as there was a “Profane Fireplace” that surely had a fairy tale in it.
My fourth set of writing prompts for the Ploughshares blog takes inspiration from objects, with wisdom from Italo Calvino, Elizabeth Kostova, Cynthia Ozick, Charles Baxter, Kate Bernheimer, RT Smith, and more.
In other news, an excerpt from my student Amber Murray’s intriguing essay “Thoughts on Abstract Thought and the Practice of Moving Things Around Until They Sit Just Right,” from this winter’s Visual Inspiration class, is up on the Henry Art Gallery’s blog! Exciting!
I did a little interview on the Hugo House blog about my upcoming class co-presented with the Henry Art Gallery and about what I’ve been reading and writing lately. You can register for the class here and see previous students’ work from the class here and here. Join me Thursday nights 6-8 pm starting January 30. Happy new year!