"This workshop turned my writing world upside down. When Sarah Luck Pearson opened her toolbox of writing and teaching skills, she answered questions I had not even known how to ask. Almost miraculously I discovered that I could say what I really wanted to say in a dynamic, readable fashion. In a few weeks I learned more than I had in a lifetime of trying." --Reverend Freda Smith
"Sarah... you got the big pliers and pulled all those words and ideas our of our heads. Thank you for your guidance, help and confidence builders. The reading was a fitting ending for a great class. Thank you." -Betsy Miller, Retired Elementary Teacher, 2009
"Just wanted to let you know that I thought that the reading last night [of student work] was lovely and went very well. My husband and the couple I invited were very moved by the readings. One friend thought he could feel your stamp on all the readings. "How so," I asked him. He said, "Oh, the richness of the works."
I also wanted to thank you for such a wonderful class. As the instructor, you set the tone, and you did with such a balance of encouraging us and prodding us to make our pieces better. I have found myself reflecting on how much a person can really improve when they are given the right kind of encouragement, and you certainly did just that. Again, thank you so very much, Sarah." --Kitty Haspel, psychologist, 2010.
"Thank you so much for taking the time to send me a written comment on my piece. I am excited about learning from you, as it's obvious that you have great experience in the craft of writing, and I like the fact that you appreciate the telling of real life tales, encouraging us to express it in a fearless way which will hopefully result in learning how to "let down my guard" and take some risks. I have already learned valuable things from you, and look forward to whatever I can absorb in the coming weeks." -Roberta Hughes, workshop participant, 2009
"I was scared to write. I was terribly critical. Now, I am not afraid to write and I am a good critical. I see when it works and when to rework it. You make that clear. And you make me brave." -Gina Latrobe, private student, 2009
"Your course was wonderful and much more than I had expected. I look back on my early attempts and am amazed at the improvement; you have truly enabled me to add a new element to my life. A spin-off was that I met some wonderful people, listened to their stories, and have come away a better person." Bill Colliflower, O.B.G.Y.N, workshop participant 2009.
ABOUT THE STUDENT READING:
Gold Rush Writers 2009: Mining Your Story Gold
"The reading last night was wonderful. Each story was beautiful in it's own way. You certainly have a gift in helping writers express their feelings concerning an experience in their life. A few of them brought tears to my eyes as I related to their experience in some way. The St. George Hotel was a great place to hold the reading... perfect, in fact. Thank you for giving the writers the courage to read their works. I look forward to listening again!" -Peggy White, CalFire Academy.
"I think that your student reading went very well last night. Accolades, accolades, some kind of superwoman." -Norm Lefevbre, audience member.
Introduction to Student Anthology:
Gold Rush Writers 2009: Mining Your World For Story Gold
The Palm and The Pine
an Introduction by Sarah Luck Pearson
“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” --Seneca
The folks that you are going to read have done a big dare. They participated in a workshop that is essentially: Show you mine if you’ll show me yours. And there are naked dares abounding. You’ll hear from eleven writers from two Creative Nonfiction Workshops held in Jackson, California, in the fall of 2009 that each ran for twelve weeks at Hein & Co Bookstore, a classroom so generously given to us by our sponsors Linda and Wolf Hein. It was a magical space where fourteen writers gathered weekly on either Wednesday or Thursday night around an old oak table with antiques and rare books shelved high around us. Sometimes a customer would wander in, looking for a novel’s early edition; sometimes our laughter would raise an eyebrow from a quiet reader; sometimes snowflakes would float down on Main Street, or the room would swell with the zealous new heat of spring around us. But always we had tea and coffee and stories to be shared. And always we went over our allotted hour and a half because there was never enough time to hone this craft and get a story right.
In the end, they braved reading their works publicly also, in daring new voices, at the first Amador County Literary Society Reading at the historic St. George Hotel in Volcano, thanks to the sponsorship of Jaimie and Gary Little, also generous sponsors. In the parlor with fifty audience members including members of two county presses, they read to a crowd lounging on 1862 Victorian sofas and chairs, with candles and flowers and food, their first public nascent words. As reporter Scott Anderson wrote in his review of it in The Sierra Lode Star, “…from the perspective of someone sitting in the audience, the extremely personal stories about love, friendship, aging, and death that were read proved powerful in scope and polished in quality.” In an email after the reading, he wrote, “I was very impressed by what I heard from all of the students in your workshop; and I have a decent frame of reference, as I went to MANY public readings not so long ago when I was an English Major at U.C. Davis. I noticed a number of people in the audience were tearing up—including Ledger Dispatch contributor Gwen Johnson (who was sitting next to me). I almost teared up myself, until I remember I’m a hardened crime reporter who has an image to maintain.”
From many in the audience, I heard that a fresh wind had blown down the Sierras that night. It was the bold new voices of the first Amador County Literary Society….
They were mostly new writers—except for our resident reporter, Bethany Monk from the Ledger-Dispatch, who wrote such supportive articles about this workshop and me. But the rest have written mostly privately, not formally studying the craft. They may have written quite a bit at home or on the job whether putting pen to paper for incident reports, medical evaluations, sermons, software consultations, student evaluations, diaries, or more often than not, crafting life stories in their heads. The class was, for many, a chance to extract lingering narratives that were so persistent that they sought the structure and inherent mid-wifing that comes from seeking the company of like-minded writers also wanting to get the fleeting experiences of memory down on the page. This was what inspired the dare.
There’s a O.b.g.y.n who has worked a lifetime to welcome life, a woman raised on a missionary in China who worked at a funeral home, a gentleman who works at the casino but spent many years as navy security for nuclear warheads, a woman of Hungarian origins who survived cancer at a young age, an artist who moved to Egypt and surprised herself by marrying there, a teacher turned Corporate Guy who retired to write stories and play lots of piano, a woman who ranches and runs a software training company and you’d never guess lived on a hippie commune in Hawaii back in the day spear-fishing for food and riding bareback up the volcano, a retired Amador cop intent on documenting his adventures, a thirty-year plus middle school teacher of Amador County who saw some students soar or stumble, a huntress poet who is capturing both the elusive nature of grief and also of nature itself, a Reverend who founded the first church to marry gay people and worked to decriminalize homosexuality, and a widow who, in the process of finding her voice in this workshop, took off to Paris for the week to write in her journal….
“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.” -- Allen Ginsberg
As a teacher, I had no idea what to expect of new Amador County writers. I expected the diversity of what I see out my window everyday—a sultry palm tree set right against a stalwart Douglas Fir, one so Southern you can taste a margarita, one so Northern you can hear the crunch of snow around it. Baja California meets Alta. The stunning fact that at this band of the Sierras at 2,200 ft., I can grow the most tender of lettuce leaves and still find a cone from the highest mountain Ponderosa Pine is a daily awakening for me. I expected rich history when I moved here from an island in Lake Superior and have been told that underneath my little office rests a wealth of unmined gold. Treasures there, said my old-timer neighbor who digs everyday. “You got the will to go down at least 1000 feet, you’ll find it,” he said, clearing rattly dust from his throat and presenting a welcome present of a quartz-gold rock to us in his ruddy hand. He lifted an eager uneven smile, then stabbed at the plate and lifted the fork of our mid-western extra-buttery apple pie to his toothy smile as if he hadn’t seen sweets for a while too. And then I understood: Amador County is not a faded relic of the Gold Rush like history will have it. There are still yellow veins and unknown tunnels burrowing their history of dreams underneath us. It is this sumptuous stratum and eclectic terrain that is pushing up stories around us: The palm and the pine, the economic struggles that persist just over the mysteries of gold underneath, the land that drew dreamers from all over the planet and continues to unmine a creative and spiritual destination for its residents, the largely retired population and the virgin stories to be told…. These students have dared me as a teacher to help them dig deeper and scale higher in our collective journey to shimmy up to take a look at the sweeping vistas of what their stories can see….
--Sarah Luck Pearson