I had a phenomenal time at Vermont Studio Center. The stifling heat and humidity of the drive from Burlington airport to the VSC campus broke shortly after I settled in to my apartment, and for the rest of the week the weather was either romantically rainy or beautifully sunny.
On the night I arrived I gave a reading from Reunion. The next day I gave a craft talk and, as so often is the case, I picked up as many good tips from the other writers in the room as I’m hoping they picked up from me.
The best part about the Visiting Writer gig, though, is working one-on-one with the writing residents. This group included writers working on their first books to writers who had already published several books. It also included UW MFA alum, Hannah Oberman-Breindel, whose presence made a joyful week somehow even more joyful.
On my last day, I offered to meet with the residents as a group to discuss the unwieldy process of writing the novel and was pleased so many came–including poets and even my husband Don, a visual artist who makes sculptural art jewelry. Here’s a photo of Don at the discussion. He seems to be toasting us with his cider. I suspect he’s thinking, “Thank goodness my work only involves welding and torches and other forms of physical labor, rather than this awful novel-writing thing.”
All in all, the work this week was exhilarating, but needless to say, it also took a lot of time and energy. I was often so tired by the day’s end that I’d fall asleep soon after dinner. Or maybe I was just exhausted by the juxtaposition of the uplifting art and creative spirits with the soul-crushing series of news reports: the day before I left Madison, Alton Sterling was killed in Baton Rouge; on the day I flew to Vermont, Philando Castile was killed in St. Paul; on the day I arrived at VSC, five police officers in Dallas were killed during a peaceful Black Lives Matters protest; and the day I was to fly home marked the first anniversary of Sandra Bland’s death in a Texas jail cell, though she’d committed no crime.
In light of all this, I was glad that on my final night I fought off my sleepiness and attended Visiting Artist Alison Saar’s slide show. The work she showed us was touching and heartbreaking and upsetting and funny and intense. I didn’t get a chance to meet her–we were two ships passing in the night–but I was grateful for her presence.
Then a going-away party on the porch of Trustee House, where I was staying, and the next morning Don and I were off…
…or so I thought. When thunderstorms along the east coast essentially shut down Burlington airport on my scheduled day of departure, we were forced to spend an extra night in Burlington, which turned out to be a treat. We had an amazing dinner at Hen of the Wood, then strolled along Church Street Marketplace, where we watched a street magician make oranges and melons appear out of nowhere. A perfect end to a magical week.