Happy Spring Labbers and Friends of The Lab, and Greetings from The Lake View neighborhood of Chicago, where I’m visiting Labber John Trout in his post-San-Francisco digs. It’s been a while since I’ve written a newsletter, so I thought I’d share some alumni news, recap of The Lab’s first cycle since the shift in The White House, tell you the dates for the upcoming Fall 2017 Cycle (starts 9/12/17), and ask you if you’d like to read this Spring.
Call for Spring Readers: The Lab usually has a reading at the end of each cycle. This time we didn’t, but we’re planning on an All-Lab-Alumni reading at a beautiful location where you could invite your friends. Are you Lab Alumni and would you be willing to read? If so, please let me know.
Recap: The Winter 2017 Cycle of The Lab provided some much-needed relief from the grief and anxiety of the election and its result. As I curated the experiments, I kept in mind this Tony Kushner quote: “As far as I'm concerned it's an ethical obligation to look for hope. It's an ethical obligation not to despair if you can possibly not despair. If you look, there's always a possibility to find a place where action can change the course of things.” The act of passing through The Swedenborgian’s garden each Tuesday night on the way to our writing rooms, with all their wood and floor-to-ceiling glass, kept me from despair. The writers’ responses to the generative prompts illuminated the type of expansiveness and generosity that was sorely missing on the news in the weeks preceding our first meeting. Their willingness to experiment inspired me and I continue to think about their characters and projects.
Week 1 Labbers wrote out their characters' beliefs and prayers, from their hopes and despair after examining Tony Kushner’s World AIDS Day Prayer. Week 2 had us listening to Anna Devere Smith and Sarah Lewis, and thinking of beauty as an “aesthetic force,” which may be a vehicle for societal change and social justice in addition to enabling writers to render concrete, inhabitable scenes that “push past the…doors of reason and logic” so readers feel. Week 3 Labbers experimented with Metaphorical Atmospheres by weaving Memory and Imagination with present-day scenes, taking inspiration from Julian Schnabel’s highly stylized cinematic depiction of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s life after an accident left Bauby so paralyzed he could only communicate with blinks of his eyes. Week 4, Valentine’s Day, we examined the concept of Betrayal. Janine di Giovanni said, “The worst betrayal is the one that you commit against yourself.” By studying scenes from Toni Morrison’s Sula, Labbers purposely used their characters to conflate the betrayal of “the self” and “the other,” leaving the reader wondering who jilted who. Week 5 had us reflecting on Joy because we needed it. Zadie Smith wrote of experiencing joy on her way to visit a concentration camp. Her work illuminated the concept of joy as something much deeper than a response to positive circumstances. And what else to do in Week 6 than to examine the concept of catastrophe? By reading about and watching interview footage of medical ethicist Margaret Pabst Battin, we noticed how an unexpected experience changed the shape her character-defining beliefs, and it allowed us to rethink and experiment with catastrophe as it relates to plot: a series of reversals and unexpected turns in a character's life and view of herself.
St. Martin’s Press just published Labber Ethel Rohan’s novel The Weight of Him, which is getting rave reviews. Labber and Midnight Breakfast Editor Rebecca Rubenstein was accepted to Bennington’s MFA program, where she’ll have the chance to work with Lab-favorite Bret Anthony Johnston (among other incredible writers). UC Davis offered Labber Ryan Alan Row (whose latest fiction appears in Flash Fiction Online) a fully-funded spot in their MA fiction program, where Lab-Loves Yiyun Li and Pam Houston both teach. Nomadic Press just published Seahorse, Labber Natasha Dennerstein’s newest collection of vivid poems exploring identity. Speaking of poets, Nicole Brodsky took The Lab and now she’s publishing fiction. Check out her story at Your Impossible Voice. And, finally, as I type, John Trout, my Chicago host, is right now editing the manuscript with which he'll turn in with his application in hopes of attending his third Summer Session of Yale's Writers' Conference.
Happy Spring, everyone, and feel free to secure your spot now for The Fall 2017 Cycle when we’ll have 6 brand-new experiments to deepen your stories and your understanding of craft.