Catching up


Tobias Wolff at San Quentin, June 15, 2016

Wouldn’t it be nice if I wrote about all the interesting things that happen on Wednesday nights in our classroom?

But we must face reality as it is. And the reality is that I do not update often.

Some highlights:

On June 15, 2016 we had another wonderful visit from Tobias Wolff. Our third? fourth? I can’t remember. It has been quite awhile since he came. Are there more gracious, attentive, and intelligent writers out there than Tobias Wolff?  He offers himself with genuine humility and generosity. Someone said after he left,”He just shakes your hand and looks you in the eye, treats you like a regular person.” He is clearly more curious about other people than he is interested in being the center of attention or some kind of expert. That said, he had many valuable things to share with the class, and led a provocative discussion of whether Jamaica Kincaid’s story “Girl” is a story. It got quite heated. He was obviously in his element, sitting comfortably in the circle, remembering people’s names and building on their reflections. I wish I could be in Tobias Wolff’s creative writing class.moody

Then on August 24, we had as our guest the writer Bill Moody. Bill is a mystery author as well as jazz drummer, and his stories set fictional detective Evan Horne in the world of jazz. His understanding of a story as having much in common with a piece of music resonated strongly with many of us in the class.

On September 17, W. Kamau Bellkamau-bell-and-rahsaan-thomas-photo-lance-knobel returned to San Quentin to host Prison Renaissance‘s first event, “Artistic Rebirth.” This was not specifically a “Brothers in Pen” event but many creative writing students were involved. Rahsaan Thomas and Emile DeWeaver are the heartbeat of the Prison Renaissance and now Kamau (or Kapow, as co-MC Rahsaan kept calling him) is part of it too.

In September we also had a return visit from our now-regular guest, comedy writer Mike Larsen. He’s come so often they’re going to let him start wearing blue, and several of the class members have been having fun working on creating a sitcom with him.

In October, poet Jennifer Richter and fiction writer Keith Scribner visited the class as they were in town for a readinjen-richter-and-keith-scribnerg. Jen’s recent book of poetry, “No Acute Distress,” came out recently, and she read several pieces to the rapt attention of the class. Keith, author of several novels, has visited before, and piqued interest in his  new unfinished novel with a character-rich excerpt. Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t turn over all our time to them as we were intently dress-rehearsing for our eleventh annual public literary reading–tomorrow! Several writers got to present their pieces and get both Jen and Keith’s incisive and generous comments on their work.

As far as alumni of the class, I can’t even keep up with all they’re up to. Watani Stiner is constantly speaking at universities and churches and all kinds of gatherings. It turns out Watani is quite a good public speaker, and especially loves talking to youth. He still isn’t QUITE done with his memoir, but is telling me he’s on the home stretch. It’s also hard to keep up with Troy Williams who has too many projects going to list, but he also seems to be in demand as a speaker and I’m sure the creative writing skills he honed in the class are serving him well. He’s doing a one-man show at the Marsh Theater this month. We recently “lost” Aly Tamboura to freedom and I will post an update when I get one–I hear through the grapevine he’s doing great. Jerry Elster is an activist working for peace–I see his name frequently in the news. Ernie Laszlo called me recently to let me know he had succeeded in winning a gold panning award… the exact name now escapes me… Next time I post I’ll try and get some news from other alums.

Our reading tomorrow will be recorded by veteran radio reporter and writer Nancy Mullane, and will be a featured episode on Life of the Law–I believe next week! I’ll post about that, and also all the new and beautiful portraits we’ll get from Peter Merts tomorrow.

I feel like I’m forgetting important things. Our scrappy little classroom is a cornucopia of happenings and inspiration. Not to mention the day-in, day-out good work of just working on stories, revising, revising, listening, revising some more. Let’s not make it seem that celebrity guests outshine that goodness. That’s what it’s all about–the stories.


About Brothers In Pen

Brothers in Pen is the collective name of the Wednesday Night Creative Writing Class at San Quentin State Prison facilitated by Zoe Mullery.
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