Corinne Manning

Undoing the MFA

It’s time to undo the MFA , or at least the spell I put on myself there, a spell, that has mercifully been broken by reading David Leeming’s biography of James Baldwin. I’ve admired Baldwin’s work since understanding that I wanted to write but have just recently read his first novel, Go Tell it On the Mountain. I’m spending much time in the biography reading about his struggle with this novel, which I’ve been finding comforting because, though I am no Baldwin, it’s helpful to see evidence that writing a first novel could be a challenge even for a writer of such mastery.

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Leeming explains that after years of struggling with what would become Go Tell it On the Mountain he was stuck:

"He had a better idea of what it meant to be an American, even a black American, but he had still not come to grips with James Baldwin the individual, the man so desperate for the kind of personal acceptance and commitment he had sought in so many beds."

When I started my novel I was aware that I wanted to capture an issue that inspired me from my family (immediate and extended) growing up—of a life spiraling out of control, and also the fear of it, and the all or nothing prevention of it. I didn’t understand how to explore the source of that spiral, the depths, beyond plot points and into the soul and its reaction to society. I thought I could write something that felt like the way it feels when life spirals out of control, and that it was just a matter of a formula for making things happen. This is sentimentality.

 

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 #writing   #craft   #failure   #epiphanies   #first novels   #Baldwin 

Literary Conversations

I had a really magical reading experience yesterday with these two books:

When I hit the chapter in David Leeming of Beauford Delaney and James Baldwin’s first meeting, I stopped reading, went to my shelf, and picked up Rachel Cohen’s book. I couldn’t remember whether their first meeting was in there, but sure enough, it was. I read Cohen’s version and then I read Leeming’s version and though I know literature can’t fully touch the experience of those two men at that moment, I felt like I could feel 1/16th of the magnitude of that meeting because of the conversation between these two writers.

I love when books speak with and to eachother in this way, which was perhaps what partially spurred Cohen to write it in the first place—exploring the intertwined lives of writers and artists, yes, but finding this way in which forms are in conversation with eachother just as these great artists once were.

Her new book,Bernard Berenson: A Life in the Picture Trade is coming out soon. She’s also keeping some really wonderful journals about art on her website, most recently the Max Ernst plates, where in she realizes all of the subjects are wearing medals, but like the great conversationalist she is, she explores why. 

A Kind of Craft essay: Maya and the Bee

Last night my sister told me that my six-year-old niece, Maya, kicked a boy in the crotch because he was trying to kill a bee and he wouldn’t listen when she told him to stop.

Because she’s so young, I can’t help but think of how this will play in the narrative of her life. If I were writing a story it would be the inciting incident.

As a spiritual person (and fairly woo), I have to admit I feel proud of her—defending nature so ferociously. Yet the conflict is that we live in a society where this isn’t an appropriate response to someone killing a bee. It is expected that she will write a card apologizing to the boy. But is the boy expected to send her a card apologizing for not respecting her desire for him not to kill something? A creature, we all know, we so desperately need to protect?

In moral terms, that aren’t so easy to apply, she’s a warrior, isn’t she? She acted in order to enforce what was right. But when you apply this to actual life and consequences this action confronts conflict, or rather, this action is in conflict. Part of this conflict is that six year olds aren’t seen as warriors, and are rarely considered prophetic.

Once when I was very sick, when it seemed that my body was unable to digest food and no doctor could figure out what was going on, I went to see a healer. At the end of our session she said that bees kept coming up, and she asked me about my relationship with them. I told her I was afraid of them, and then shared a recurring dream where there were three holes in my stomach, in the shape of a triangle, and bees were trying to get in.

The healer smiled and said something like, “In esoteric terms, bees represent power. Why are you afraid of your own power?”

Because I think in stories my mind goes to Maya’s bee-narrative’s climax and denouement, which has yet to happen. When one day, this same child or another child will try to kill a bee or will kill a bee in front of our main character and her impulse, her natural impulse will be to stop him using any means necessary, but she won’t. Imagine the narrative impact as a reader of watching our hero not act—and so we see the bee getting smeared on the ground, maybe a wing gets stuck in the tip of the boy’s shoe.

A character with a ferocious tendency towards action instead experiences the sorrow, grief and suffering of life; of all the things that can’t be controlled, of all the bees she can’t save. The story is about power, and the loss of it. But I’m a writer who believes in redemption and I trust in my character’s ferocious heart. 

 

 #craft   #fiction   #bees   #bad ass six year olds 

Upcoming Classes

I’m teaching a few upcoming workshops, two out of my house and one at Richard Hugo House. If you’re interested or have any questions email me at corinne(dot)manning(at)gmail(dot)com

The Living Room Workshops (my house)

Nonfiction Workshop
January 7th, 2013- February 11


Monday, 7-9pm
6 weeks

In this workshop we will explore the essay and its various forms. Students will workshop two different essays, one at the beginning and one at the end, and in between we will explore different forms of the essay: the personal essay, the braided essay, and the lyric essay. In spirit with the French root of the form—essayer—we will view our work as attempts and work together to discover all of the opportunities present to more fully reveal our work. 

Cost: $215 for the six weeks


Writing Trauma: Narratives of Healing
January 23- February 20

Wednesdays, 7-9 pm

5 weeks 

Cost $180 

Maybe you went on a road trip and figured it all out, or had a psychic tell you to take care of your feet, or survived, or learned to use your loss in a new way. In this safe space we will use methods that explore the outlying regions of our memories. Through numerous exercises we will learn to stay present with a significantly difficult memory and allow it to transform from experience to narrative. We will also look at selections fromnarratives of healing: “Waking” by Matthew Sanford, “Heaven’s Coast” by Mark Doty and “What the Living Do” by Marie Howe. Through this process we can begin to gain power over the event and shape it into a structure that heals readers just as purely as it healed the writer.


Richard Hugo House

One Day Class

Look Good: Design Principles for Chapbooks and Books

February 16, 1-4 pm

In this one-day workshop these seemingly invisible details of design will come to life. We will discuss font choices, header, folio, and chapter openings. This class is especially useful for chapbook-makers and small press start-ups wanting to understand formal approaches to design and layout. 

This blog is a blog again! Or at least, it’s alive and not a strange empty thing (abandoned blogs often make me feel very sad and concerned). After vagabonding for what feels like months (but was only a few weeks) I’m settled in Seattle in a tiny, carpeted apartment on Capitol Hill. I’m working some here and interning like a joyous madwoman here. The above photo is from the Hurricane Ridge trail on the Olympic Peninsula. It’s creepy and magical here. 

This blog is a blog again! Or at least, it’s alive and not a strange empty thing (abandoned blogs often make me feel very sad and concerned). After vagabonding for what feels like months (but was only a few weeks) I’m settled in Seattle in a tiny, carpeted apartment on Capitol Hill. I’m working some here and interning like a joyous madwoman here. The above photo is from the Hurricane Ridge trail on the Olympic Peninsula. It’s creepy and magical here. 

I spotted a Transformer in the middle of Nashville. I’m fairly certain this guy turns into a beetle. 

I spotted a Transformer in the middle of Nashville. I’m fairly certain this guy turns into a beetle. 

Las Abejas.

The highlight of my time in Boone has been the opportunity to spend my Mondays with Maverick Farms. This past Monday was my last one there and we finished the mural they’ve been working on with different groups of youth for the past two weeks. I’ve learned so much about the earth, and plants, and what it really means to feed people. I can’t wait to see them again next summer. 

Las Abejas.

The highlight of my time in Boone has been the opportunity to spend my Mondays with Maverick Farms. This past Monday was my last one there and we finished the mural they’ve been working on with different groups of youth for the past two weeks. I’ve learned so much about the earth, and plants, and what it really means to feed people. I can’t wait to see them again next summer. 


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