Meacham Writer’s Workshop: Building Community through Writing

Held during fall and spring semester, Meacham Writer’s Workshop is a three day conference which invites lovers of poetry and prose to listen and interact with its authors. Founded by the late Jean Meacham, a former UTC professor, it was Jean’s dream that the workshop be a free and public event where both professional and amateur writers could communicate and grow in their work. In previous years, Meacham has boasted readings by Pulitzer Prize winning poets such as Philip Levine and James Tate alongside some of our own published and highly awarded creative writing professors like Earl Braggs and Rebecca Cook. This year on Oct. 24th through the 26th  multiple Meacham’s readings were given throughout the day within seminar halls around campus and in local downtown venues. The final morning of the conference concluded with a workshop in which writers who had submitted their pieces were given the opportunity to hear constructive criticism from visiting writers.

Meacham Writer’s Workshop is a community where writing is shared, appreciated and nurtured. Cody Taylor, student coordinator of Meacham from Hendersonville TN., elaborated on this idea by stating, “[Meacham] is the cornerstone of the creative writing community. It’s an opportunity you don’t get at other colleges. It allows students and writers to interact as peers.”  The appeal of the conference is not solely for those trying to improve their writing skills, the conference is a free occasion to be entertained by some of the greatest writers in the business. From non-fiction writers to poets the genres are varied and vastly unique.  Halley Corapi, a junior at UTC from Knoxville TN. and a spectator at Friday night’s reading, had this to say about Meacham, “It’s always great even if I’ve heard the poem before. I feel like I’m getting something new from it each time.”  There is something time honored about Meacham in a time where writing programs are underfunded or nonexistent. As Carrie Meadows, assistant director of Meacham Writer’s Workshop, explained, “I think there is a consistency about Meacham, people get captivated by it. It’s an anchor for writer’s to know that it will always be there.”


 — Valerie Johnson



Caleb Ludwick: A Grassroots Writer

A few months ago I watched Caleb Ludwick read his story “Swim” at Chattanooga’s Hart Gallery on the Southside, for a local monthly reading series called Fusebox—just another thing solidifying Chatt’s burgeoning arts and lit scene. Another thing solidifying that scene: Ludwick’s self-published short story collection The First Time She Fell. Attuned with Chattanooga’s love of the Graphic Design culture, his book was designed, story-to-story, by ten of Ludwick’s buddies in the field. And these folks aren’t just coming from Chattanooga. Some are from Boston and New York, and that’s a testament to Chattanooga’s national notoriety as a “progressive” town—our arts culture isn’t quite as insular as you might think. Ten stories, ten designers. And not only is this unique from a publishing standpoint, it’s encouragement for us youngster writers who live with that deep fear of never being able to squeeze our work into the cutthroat, mainstream publishing industry. Chattanooga embraces grassroots entrepreneurship, locally sourced food, etcetera, and now: grassroots publishing is possible here, and with very positive results.

Ludwick had a chance to read at this semester’s Meacham Writers’ Conference, a conference that typically houses seasoned writers, accomplished in the publishing field—this year: Georgia Review’s chief editor Richard Corey, and author Rebecca Makkai, whose stories are frequently anthologized in Best American Short Stories; in past years: the late, acclaimed master of Southern letters William Gay, poet Philip Levine, and The Things They Carried author Tim O’Brien. So it’s an honorable gig, and I had a chance to talk with Caleb before his reading, and he’s as humble as you can be, just happy to be able to write, with a little recognition on the side.

Caleb says he was a late bloomer—and I like late bloomers, I’m one—though he’d always had that love of words, being an English major in college. He took a year off after college, and began reading constantly, being fueled more and more by each subsequent influence. “You come out strong with an influence with one writer, but then another,” he said. “I read all of Faulkner, then Hemingway as an antidote. Raymond Carver.” Caleb pursued an MA in Theology, and aspired to get his PhD in England, but he dropped it—what he ended up doing was going to France to study Southern Literature. During this time he and his wife had a baby, and after his studies he moved back to Chattanooga. But he quit writing for eight years. His new interest in Marketing and Copywriting took most of his personal time. His company 26 Tools—“like the 26 letters of the alphabet,” he says—deals with Creative Direction and Copywriting for companies like Rock Creek Outfitters, Easy Bistro, Chattanooga’s Create Here, as well as big national names like American Apparel and The Food Network. But this kept him ensconced in the field of creativity, and eventually Caleb began using some of his downtime crafting stories, which culminated in The First Time She Fell. Ludwick received a Make-Work Grant for his efforts, and then, he said, “the rest is just printing.”

He describes his collection as more of an art project than a typical short story collection. And if you leaf through The First Time She Fell, you’ll see why. Even the fonts, and their colors, are different for each story; the placement of words—some pages require you to turn the book horizontally to read it. Sometimes upside-down. So it sounds like Caleb just had a lot of fun putting this art project together, and that should be encouraging for young writers. The fun has paid off—it was cited as some of the best art in the Southeast by Print magazine.

Not to mention Meacham, which has thrilled and at the same time humbled Mr. Ludwick. “The outcome [of my work] is I’m here, teaching workshops with incredible people…being around people who love words has been encouraging.” Caleb and I talked about Chattanooga, how the arts and culture scene here is growing. “There’s a temptation to move away from Chatt,” he says. “People think to be an artist you have to move out to a big city. But there’s a lot to be done here in Chattanooga.” And I get the impression Caleb wants to be part of that growth, and really, he already is. I get the feeling he’s here to stay, which is good. Because how is the scene going to progress if every artist who finds achievement here then says “Well. Alright. Time to pack up and move to NYC, LA, Chicago, even Austin, Texas.” Caleb seems alright here, regardless of whether or not he gains notoriety. “My motivation was never to get published,” he said. “My motivation is to write…seeing things through others’ eyes, empathy, is why you write stories.” Caleb cares more about the craft of writing—“It’s all about the craft. No matter how good the story, the craft is what gets the point across”—than the idea of fame, the idea of getting out. He’s already found success. Writing and creativity has always been good to him.

So Caleb is here to stay, to lend his vision, his writing, and his flair for publishing innovation to a town that just keeps on glowing, brighter and brighter. And we’re damn glad to have him here.

The Exciting World of Literary Readings

It is one thing to read a poem or a short story, but it is quite another to hear it in the author’s voice, as it was meant to be read. The Meacham conference, held in Chattanooga each semester, is a perfect opportunity to take part in this type of experience. This conference brings together a variety of talented authors to share their work. One such reading this year consisted of authors Sharan Strange, Caleb Ludwick, and Stephen Corey. Each author illustrated a different side to the literary world, which was exciting to witness.

Strange, a poet, showed a reverence for the things she writes about. It was clear from the tone of her voice that she takes her subjects seriously and wants to share their importance with the world. Ludwick, a short story writer, had a different style to share with the audience. His story showed a realistic account of young boy’s life. This showed Ludwick’s tendency toward the realistic and how to make it pop for his audience. Corey was the most informal of the authors at this reading. He engaged the audience and made them feel involved in his pieces, which I appreciated.

This reading was an exciting experience for any fan of the literary world. It was rewarding to hear authors from such diverse literary positions come together and read their work. It gives the audience the sense of how the author hears the work in their head, and this opens up a whole new perspective on the piece. I would recommend everyone to come out and attend a reading in their community.

Meacham Highlight: Rebecca Makkai

by Lauren Staten—Every year, The Meacham Writers Workshop brings a weekend full of reading and critiquing to Chattanooga and some of its finest writers. Whether your work is in the midst of others, waiting for you to nervously clutch the paper and read it for the eager listeners, or whether you are in the body of those eager listeners, The Meacham Workshop is always rewarding. In the past, guests such as Ralph Burns, Ted Howard, and even Tim O’ Brien have been among those in the crowd as well as those who read their work. This year, Rebecca Makkai, the successful Chicago-based short story writer released her debut novel, and made a debut appearance at the Meacham Writer’s Workshop.

Makkai’s first book, The Borrower, was published in May, and those who attended the workshop in Chattanooga this weekend were granted the priveledge to hear her read several excerpts from this piece. Makkai also held conferences with students and guests, sharing advice and personal experience to writers of all levels. Many who met with her said Makkai gave extremely helpful information that was a fresh breath compared to what they knew and usually hear. Her approach is very different from most, which called for quite the publicity at the workshop this weekend. Her name has been repeated around campus and among those who prepared the events of the weekend, praising her work and anticipating reading more of her work.

Meacham Writers Workshop has met many great writers, published writers, as well as not-yet-published writers. It encourages practical steps and revision techniques for a writer to reach their potential, and allows the writers to get fresh and new opinions from other writers, including writers like Makkai. It is always gratifying to hear an author read his or her work aloud, as it captures the full affect of their work, and magnifies its’ beauty. For Makkai, awareness was raised on her debut novel, and for her as a writer. For Meacham-goers, Makkai breathed her wisdom and experience into their work, giving those of us whom are nervously clutching our paper in fear of reading it to the eager listeners, a final push to just go for it. After all, the worst circumstance would be that some great writer such as Ralph Burns, Ted Howard, Tim O’Brien, or Rebecca Makkai are lurking in the body of listeners. And really, how bad is that?

Meacham Writers’ Workshops

Meacham Writers’ Workshop is a series of readings and workshops which operate each semester, the most recent of which took place last Thursday, October 23 through Saturday, October 30.

Katie Christie, Meacham student coordinator and Memphis senior, said of the workshop that “It is the best opportunity that people in Chattanooga and in the surrounding area have to meet published authors and people who have already achieved something that they are working towards.”

Workshop director, Dr. Richard Jackson of the English department, spoke of Meacham’s impact as a whole. He said “What any literature does is change the normal way you think about things—it’s not necessarily the themes, but just the ways of thinking. This is the big humanizing thing about literature or any painting.”

Jackson uses examples of some of the visiting writers to explain. “A writer like Keith Flynn who is so music based with the way the reads as well as gospel song along with it—you see that this is a guy who thinks not so much in terms of big ideas but in terms of the music. And you look at someone like William Gay and you see a guy that is thinking about your average, everyday person, but pulling out of that something that is really interesting.”

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An Interview with Nathan Bell

Nathan BellIf you’ve been to Meacham before, chances are you’ve seen Nathan Bell around. This musician son-of-a-poet is a pretty big part of the scene there every semester, or at least when he can make the time between writing and recording songs. This semester, he taught a songwriting workshop.  Nashville Scene has portrayed Bell’s work as having “a crisp literary quality, a tough blue-collar sensibility and a terse, muscular musicality.” He has also been featured in the Rolling Stone and Option Magazine, and he’s about to be featured here. Sequoya Review Mandy Rogers sat down with Nathan Bell at Meacham this semester, and here is what he had to say:
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Interview with Red Heart the Ticker

MEACHAM, FALL 2009: There were many great writers here at UTC for the biannual Meacham Writers’ Workshop, but there was also something new this time: a songwriting workshop with Red Heart the Ticker, a band from Vermont composed of Tyler Gibbons and Robin MacArthur. We got a chance to interview Ty after the band’s set on Saturday.

SR: How do you write songs?
TY: I’ve always written songs–it’s how I express myself. I feel the most whole when I’m writing a song.
SR: What is touring like?
TY: It’s an amazing way to enter in to a place and have a reason to be there. It makes it easy to meet people–it’s a great excuse to travel. However, it’s very hard to make a living. It’s a privilege to get to see new cities, and if we break even doing it, that’s a start . . .
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Interview with Philip Graham

Philip Graham is the author of two story collections, The Art of the Knock and Interior Design; a novel, How to Read an Unwritten Language; and he is the co-author of two memoirs of Africa, Parallel Worlds (winner of the Victor Turner Prize), and the forthcoming Braided Worlds. His most recent book is The Moon, Come to Earth, an expanded version of his series of McSweeney’s dispatches from Lisbon. Graham’s fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, North American Review, Fiction, Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere, and his non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Poets & Writers Magazine, and the Washington Post. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, two Illinois Arts Council awards, and the William Peden Prize, Graham teaches at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and the Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a founding editor of the literary/arts journal Ninth Letter.
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Review of Crazy Love

Pamela Uschuk's Crazy LoveEven the language and the speaker falls victim to the flux in Pamela Uschuk’s new collection, Crazy Love, from Wings Press.”I will be the torture rack/that stretches out my own truth,” she writes. Her poetry is both wrought by war and tended for its beauty, both bitter with “regret’s venom” and exuberant with love. After all, “What is the tender palm without the tough skeleton/forming the back of the hand,” she asks in the poem, “Geometry Lesson.” The persistent voice of these poems speaks of the tension of the dance between violence and benevolence, man and woman, nature and humanity, as well as the hesitation after the music has stopped. Here, in Uschuk’s world of encounters, nothing is complete, and everything is moving, extending, reaching, growing. Even the buck, the chickadee, the tigrita lily sway in the gust of Uschuk’s rhythmical words, and the reader has no choice but to follow suit.

Reviewed by Emilia Phillips (2009)

For more information about Pam Uschuk, see her profile on the Meacham Writer’s Conference website.