Category Archives: Writers’ Workshop Series

Writers’ Workshop: Laura Tillman

Laura Tillman
Laura Tillman

Laura Tillman joins us on Oct. 10 in the Dodge Room of Reed Campus Center. Tillman is an award-winning journalist and author whose work has appeared in The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalThe Nation, and Pacific Standard, among other publications. Originally from Maplewood, N.J., she began her career at The Brownsville Herald in South Texas.

The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts, an investigation into the murders of three children by their parents in Brownsville—and a meditation on the human forces that drove them—is her first book.

Tillman holds an MFA in creative nonfiction from Goucher College and a BA in international studies from Vassar College.

Creativity Abounds at Keri Smith’s Writers’ Workshop Visit

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Keri Smith speaking about creativity’s role in her evolution as an artist, writer, inventor

By Matt Liebowitz

Keri Smith has made a career out of her untamed imagination. Her bestselling books—Wreck this Journal, Everything Is Connected, and The Guerilla Art Kit—inspire readers to draw, to write, to share, to explore, to explode, to tear down and shake up and start over and, in the end, ultimately, to explore and create.

But as she told the Williston Writer’s Workshop on Monday, October 3, Smith’s life, and her life’s mission, got off to a rocky start.

As a student growing up near Toronto, Smith said the system “failed her.” She missed school—72 absences one year, she said. When she wasn’t dreaming up creative ways to stay home, she went to class and recognized was that school wasn’t for her. It tamped her down, made her feel small and insignificant.

“I had an unlimited potential for creation at home,” Smith said, but school, she said, was repetitive. “I did what teachers expected.”

Doing the same thing every day, Smith said, “my imagination was crushed.” As she moved into high school, Smith became removed from her peers, and eventually tried suicide.

“I believed my failure in high school was due to a deficiency of some kind,” Smith said. “It was devastating. There was no one there to listen.”

Those whose role it was to help her along failed her as well. Her high school guidance counselor, Smith said, told her “there’d be a lot of openings for dental hygienists.” The audience laughed. “Can you imagine me? A dental hygienist?”

Smith’s life, and her path towards inspiring others as not only an author but an illustrator, guerilla artist, lecturer, and self-proclaimed “inventor,” took a positive turn when she began devouring the books on a friend’s college course list.

“I was a quest to find meaning, [to find] and explanation of what it means to be human.” To that end, she “became insatiable,” and read Tolstoy, Vonnegut, Dostoyevsky, L’Engle, Salinger, the Brontes, and a host of others. “Nothing was out of my reach.”

Students transformed tissue paper into wearable objects in a final exercise related to creativity.
Students transformed tissue paper into wearable objects in a final exercise related to creativity.

Her own exploration was set in motion by reading. She moved to the U.S. She got married. She ended up in Troy, New York, where she began carrying a journal. Following the thought experiments posed by Albert Einstein and experimental modernist composer John Cage, Smith’s journal projects began to take evolve.

“I thought, ‘What if the journal itself became the experiment,’” she said. “What if we moved into a place of not knowing?”

“That,” Smith added, “is the goal.”

In her series of journals, which also include This is Not a Book, Finish this Book, Tear up this Book, and Pocket Scavenger, Smith provides place for what she called “happy accidents, mistakes, chance, surprise, or trying something you’ve never done before.”

The final slide in Smith’s wonderfully-illustrated presentation displayed her list of rules for a creative and inventive life. (The subtitle read: “AKA My Secret Powers.”)

The inspirational list read like an encapsulation of not just what Smith does, but who she is: Use your curiosity as a guide; Use the senses in every endeavor; Feature your weirdness; Question reality; Question everything; and the final one: Remember that you are at the helm of your own education. You can create it and tailor it to your needs.

As expected, Smith’s presentation ended with a simple, outrageous call to action. She instructed everyone in the audience to wear the stacks of tissue paper that had been hidden under their chairs. Some made tall, cylindrical chefs hats; others tied bandanas; other made capes. Smith, taking pictures of the crowd, looked delighted.

Keri Smith Kicks off Writers’ Workshop Series

The Writers’ Workshop Series begins on Oct. 3 with Keri Smith, a bestselling author, illustrator, and thinker.

Her books include Wreck This JournalThis is Not a BookHow to Be an Explorer of the WorldMessFinish This BookThe Pocket ScavengerWreck This Journal EverywhereEverything Is ConnectedThe Imaginary World of… as well as Wreck This App, This is Not an App, and the Pocket Scavenger app, which won Best Nonfiction Adult app at the 2014 Digital Book Awards.

She recently was featured in a TIME magazine article titled, “Meet the Woman Trying to Save Your Kids from Their Screens.”

Smith conducts workshops based on her books and recently taught a class in conceptual illustration at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, in Vancouver, Canada. According to her website, the main focus of her work/research is on creating what the writer Umberto Eco called “Open works,” pieces that are completed by the reader/user. In 2012 she created a public art installation for the exhibition Urban Play, in Copenhagen Denmark entitled The Society for Exploratory Research. In 2013 Keri was invited to be a “Resident Thinker” for the art piece “Nowhere Island” by artist Alex Hartley for the Cultural Olympiad, along with Yoko Ono and several other interesting thinkers.

English Teacher Lori Pelliccia coordinates the series and leads the Writers’ Workshop honors-level English class that examines the work of the visiting presenters.

“Last year, the students in Writers’ Workshop referred back to the advice they received from the visiting authors time and time again,” she said. “I know this year will be no different. Each speaker’s unique experiences and talents will surely inspire our student writers as they explore and develop their craft.” 

This is the 19th year Williston Northampton School has hosted the Writers’ Workshop Series—conceived by authors Madeleine Blais P’00, ’04 and Elinor Lipman P’00—in which writers and creative professionals give a talk during a public forum, then teach a master class to students who have prepared for the visit by studying the presenter’s work. The forum begins at 7 p.m. in Williston’s Whitaker-Bement Center Assembly Room. It is free and open to the public.

Eclectic Group Makes Up 2016 Writers’ Workshop Series

The four professionals that make up the 2016 Williston Writers’ Workshop Series arrive with divergent backgrounds but share two common threads: an intimate connection to the written word and a successful relationship with the creative process.

This is the 19th year Williston Northampton School has hosted the popular series—conceived by authors Madeleine Blais P ’00, ’04 and Elinor Lipman P ’00—in which writers and creative professionals give a talk during a public forum, then teach a master class to students who have prepared for the visit by studying the presenter’s work. The forums begin at 7 p.m. and are held at various locations on campus.

Photo of Keri Smith by Jefferson Pitcher
Photo of Keri Smith by Jefferson Pitcher

The series kicks off on Oct. 3 with Keri Smith, a bestselling author, illustrator, and thinker. Her books include Wreck This Journal, This is Not a Book, How to Be an Explorer of the World, Mess, Finish This Book, The Pocket Scavenger, Wreck This Journal Everywhere, Everything Is Connected, The Imaginary World of… as well as Wreck This App, This is Not an App, and the Pocket Scavenger app. She recently was featured in a TIME magazine article titled, “Meet the Woman Trying to Save Your Kids from Their Screens.” This forum will be held in the Whitaker-Bement Center Assembly Room.

Laura Tillman
Laura Tillman

Laura Tillman joins us on Oct. 10 in the Dodge Room of Reed Campus Center. Tillman is an award-winning journalist and author whose work has appeared in The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalThe Nation, and Pacific Standard, among other publications. Originally from Maplewood, N.J., she began her career at The Brownsville Herald in South Texas. The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts, an investigation into three horrendous murders in Brownsville—and a meditation on the human forces that drove them—is her first book.

Steve Bloom
Steve Bloom

On Nov. 7, Steve Bloom speaks at the Williston Theatre. A screenwriter for television and movies for more than 30 years, Bloom attended Brown University and the graduate film production program at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. Among his produced credits are the films The Sure Thing, Tall Tale, and James and the Giant Peach. The Stand-In, due in bookstores Oct. 1, is his first novel.

Andy Ward
Andy Ward

Closing out the series on Jan. 23 is Andy Ward, editor in chief at Random House, whose booklist includes Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham and the recent New York Times Bestseller, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. Before coming to the world of books in 2009, he spent almost 15 years as an editor in magazines, first at Esquire, then at GQ. Ward’s talk will be held in the Dodge Room of the Reed Campus Center.

English Teacher Lori Pelliccia coordinates the series and leads the Writers’ Workshop honors-level English class that examines the work of the visiting presenters.

“Last year, the students in Writers’ Workshop referred back to the advice they received from the visiting authors time and time again,” she said. “I know this year will be no different. Each speaker’s unique experiences and talents will surely inspire our student writers as they explore and develop their craft.” 

 

Writers’ Workshop Presents John Katzenbach

The master of psychological suspense will delve into dark issues
John Katzenbach. Photo by Nancy Doherty
John Katzenbach. Photo by Nancy Doherty

Justice. Obsession. Revenge.

Author John Katzenbach will delve into these and other deliciously dark themes when he returns to the Williston Northampton campus on November 9 for the final installment of the 2015 Writers’ Workshop Series.

During the free and public lecture, Mr. Katzenbach will speak about his forthcoming book, The Dead Student, which includes a character he describes as “one of the most interesting bad guys I’ve ever created.”

“He’s a killer with a plan, and a belief that everything he’s done is totally, utterly justified,” Mr. Katzenbach notes on his website. “And not a bad guy, except that he seems to kill people.”

Originally a criminal court reporter for the Miami Herald and Miami News, Mr. Katzenbach published his first novel, In The Heat of Summer, in 1982. Since then, he’s published 12 other novels, including The Traveler, Day of Reckoning, What Comes Next, and Red 1-2-3.

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