Welcome to all new and returning Rainier Writers Workshop Participants, Faculty, and extended RWW Alumni community!
With this second of our new Web-based issues of Soundings, I’d like to introduce myself as your new Soundings Editor, as well as recognize our Outgoing Editor, Emily Murphy, for all of her hard work and dedication to Soundings over the last year. Kudos and thanks to Emily for helming Soundings through a major format transition, while turning out issues filled with insightful pieces on the concerns we all face as writers.
As the flurry of emails and creative decision-making begin for August, I think back to my first Residency, which also happened to be my first experience of the Pacific Northwest region. My local RWW compadres were a bit puzzled when I kept talking about how the trees in Tacoma seemed to be smiling, because of the huge boughs that turned up at the ends—like the upturned corners of towering dark green mouths. I’m from Central Texas where trees are scrub-sized and snag at you with thorns or bend low to shelter root systems from infernal and perpetual drought. The firs and spruce of Tacoma were, of course, just being firs and spruce, but my exhilaration upon embarking upon a three-year literary adventure with a community of writers was what really told the tale. I was the one who was smiling. Talk about the pathetic fallacy!
Not surprisingly, my workshop choices that summer and subsequent readings and critical responses hovered obsessively around the subject of setting. Being a stranger in a strange land makes one appreciate one’s home territory, which art critic (and another native Texan) David Hickey once observed, “is less where your heart is, than where you understand the sons-of-bitches.” I think part of what Hickey meant was that our observational senses are stimulated by disparity in landscape. Fresh perceptions and uncommon connections lead to more original work, whether you’re a visual artist or a writer. Perhaps that’s what is most valuable about an “outside experience.” And this is what I hope to bring to the table as your outsider Soundings editor in the coming year.
Thus, when the subject of “place writing” popped up and remained on the RWW listserv for several days, the idea developed for an ongoing series of Soundings essays on writing about place—in fiction, creative non-fiction, or poetry. With great pleasure, we inaugurate this series with an essay by Mary Clearman Blew, a master of writing about western life and landscapes. She is a Montana native, Idaho resident, memoirist and autobiographical fiction writer, Professor of English at the University of Idaho—Moscow, and also one of our RWW faculty members.
Blew’s considerations of landscape from the uncommon perspective led me to our cover girl. Farm Security Administration photographer, Russell Lee, captured this transported moment of a young farm girl’s exhilaration at moving to California (even as her desperate parents prepare to uproot the family during hard times of the 1930s).
I hope some of what you find in this and subsequent issues of Soundings will be an enticement to the rich offerings on “place” that appear on our upcoming Residency schedule!
Write on, people!