Greetings to all returning faculty and participants who are looking forward to reuniting at this summer’s residency. To our treasured and talented alumni, we are happy to reach out to you again with a new issue of Soundings. And to all of the incoming participants in (Lucky) Cohort 13: Welcome! You are about to have an amazing experience.
In this issue, we have a craft essay from a beloved long-time faculty member who is returning to residency after a hiatus: Peggy Shumaker. In “What and So What: Loyalties,” Peggy writes about the alchemy of transforming the raw material of our experiences and our inner lives into art. “Know that we can’t exhaust any image,” she writes. “If we stick with it and go deeper into it, it will lead us places we never planned to go.”
We also celebrate recent successes of two of our alumni: Natalie Tilghman and Bill Sommer. In 2015, Natalie received the prestigious Rona Jaffe Award, which is given annually to six women writers who demonstrate excellence and promise in the early stages of their careers. And this year, the YA novel Natalie and Bill co-wrote, A 52-Hertz Whale, was shortlisted for the Green Earth Book Award. An interview with Natalie and Bill appears in this issue.
Finally, we offer a taste of the excitement of the 2016 AWP conference, with a photo essay by contributing writer Colleen Rain and a short essay by faculty member Rebecca McClanahan.
Many thanks to the indefatigable Chelsey Clammer for her two-year stint as the editor of Soundings. Chelsey will be moving on to continued success as a writer after her graduation. We also offer our deepest gratitude to outgoing managing editor Sidney Brammer for all her work over the past three years. Sidney will be enjoying the opportunity to spend more time on her own writing when she’s not teaching. We welcome back former editor Sydney Elliott as our new managing editor, and incoming participant Hannah Comerford will be coming on board as our new assistant editor beginning with the Fall 2016 issue.
Change and transformation come with the seasons, with the academic year, with making art out of life. In that spirit, may you find fuel for your own work of transformation in this new issue of Soundings.
—Lisa Morin Carcia (2018), Incoming Soundings Editor
When I arrived at residency last year, I was devastated to find that my office had been destroyed. Sometime during the previous twelve months, city officials took away the picnic table from the patch of dead grass on Garfield St S for reasons I have yet to understand. In case you are part of the incoming cohort, graduated before 2013, or live in a cave during residency and have no idea what I’m talking about, there used to be a picnic table near campus where, if I wasn’t in a class, lecture, or workshop, you could find me sitting, merrily writing away, for all ten days.
Being on the one-block route from campus to alcohol and coffee, by the end of residency I had at some point said hi to every RWWer—each of whom, at some point, had made a hilarious comment about the table being my “office.”
As Peggy Shumaker discusses in her craft essay for this issue, writing is an act of observation. From my “office,” I got to observe all the amazing people in this program as they walked by, and started up some geeky writing discussions that made me fall in love with them even more. What I witnessed each year was an act of transformation—how with each hello and conversation, everyone at residency shifted from being fellow writers to family members.
Editing for Soundings gave me the opportunity to meet even more wonderful writers—the alumni who are all kind, generous, encouraging, and always excited about writing. I’m thankful for all that Soundings has provided me with—which includes more than just editorial experience. The brilliant staff I’ve been blessed to work with these past three years are people who have also become a part of my writing tribe.
When I was a kid, my mom taught me that if I was ever lost and couldn’t find a single person to ask for directions, then just sit down and stay put, because someone would eventually walk by, find me, and help guide me home.
Thank you, RWW, for finding me.
—Chelsey Clammer (2016), Outgoing Soundings Editor
What Little I Know
There are few things I have been really sure about—the 1971 VW Bug the color of banana cream pie was one of them. I was an undergrad student when I first spotted the VW with the For Sale sign in the window. I didn’t have the money at the time, and living in downtown Portland, Oregon, I walked or took the bus. But I knew that car would be mine. I saw it every day and never worried that someone else might snag it; it would be mine, my first car. And it was.
Life, as we know, is full of unplanned events and uncertainty. When I’m sure of something (and yes, you can argue I create that reality with my intention), I relax and know it will be.
So when I graduated from RWW in the summer of 2015, I knew I wouldn’t be saying goodbye. I mean, we never really say farewell, as the RWW experience becomes part of who we are, and as my mentor and friend Sidney Brammer points out, we all belong to the legacy and the ever-growing RWW family tree. Every faculty member, staff member, and participant belongs to the lineage and collective spirit of this amazing program.
But when I was approached about filling Sidney’s big shoes, I was honored and grateful to have the opportunity to remain tangibly connected to RWW. The VW Bug has since been passed on to a local teenager who naps in the backseat (not sure how) and loves her first car, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of the Soundings team again. I look forward to meeting the incoming cohort and seeing all my RWW family at residency in August. Just as I knew I would be.
—Sydney Elliott (2015), Incoming Managing Editor
The Gift that Keeps on Giving
I was on the airport van when I first noticed the trees smiling. This Texas girl had never been to the Pacific Northwest; the drive from SeaTac to Tacoma gave me my first glimpse of towering trees whose boughs dipped and then lifted at the ends like big green smiles. In my first “Greetings” as student editor of Soundings 2011, I noted that I had a bad case of the pathetic fallacy. Embarking on a graduate writing program had dazed me with pure-D joy.
I smiled a lot those three years. So when Soundings founder Katrina Hays called me to ask if I’d take over her program assistant job after graduation, I burned an offering in gratitude! The thought of more Augusts in the Land of Smiling Trees (forgive the Cherokee in me) promised more joy! Though subsequent years brought flux and loss to report in Soundings, I was glad to be there to help its editors expand Soundings’ mission and worth, reporting a reassuring segue to a gracious new director, as well as the Return of Stan for an evening reading. I’ve watched two more cohorts graduate, I’ve stolen more ideas than I know what to do with from Scott’s fiction classes, re-explored the uncanny and reconsidered genre lit. Overseeing Katrina’s baby has been a continuing gift. Staying on made me reflect often on the liberating, affirming Inside Experience of RWW and those ongoing connections that sustain its writing community. And isn’t Soundings the ligament that connects us?
I can’t say in parting that I’ll miss Soundings or RWW, because I won’t have to—the issues will keep coming, the cohorts will keep graduating, the community will grow larger. So I’ll just end with the words of Tarn Wilson (2008) in her 2013 Brevity guest blog:
“This is a thank you note to my program and mentors. This is a love letter.”
—Sidney Brammer (2013), Soundings Managing Editor 2014-2016