NORTH BENNINGTON — The Deane Carriage Barn was packed with over 70 people on Thursday for the first night of the June Writing Seminar series at Bennington College. Faculty members Asali Solomon and Amy Hempel kicked off the residency.
Solomon is new this academic term and read from her piece "Disgruntled" (2015), which takes place in the late 1980s in the life of Kenya Curtis in West Philadelphia, Pa. The writer aims to speak on universal troubles emergent adults encounter in a disgruntled world. She is a National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" writer and won the Rona Jaffe Writers' Foundation Award.
Solomon read, "The house was in chaos. Paper and envelopes covered the floor. Winter coats from the downstairs closet were piled on the couch. Nearly half of the books seem to be missing from the shelves. Kenya tasted terror. Her father stood behind her gripping her shoulder. He said her name in an alarmed way as if he were about to give her a order."
Solomon mentioned in an interview on The Rumpus that "There's not exactly a science to how I arranged [the plot] or which things I decided would be the case and which things wouldn't. I'm interested in the way people often live in their heads, and so things are happening but there's kind of level and realness to what almost happened or what people wish happened that's also going on at the same time."
Hempel read from two pieces, "Equivalent" and "Chicane." She is a fiction writer-in-residence with numerous accomplishments, including being the recipient of awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the United State Artists Foundation and the Academy of Arts and Letters, and her work has appeared in Harper's, GQ, Vanity Fair and other publications.
From "Equivalent" she read, "The former owner was supposed to fix the door. Instead, he left behind a pool-cleaning robot. He said it was equivalent to fixing the front door, though the house had no pool. It had once had a pool, but the seller's wife had been the swimmer, and when she died four years earlier, he filled in the pool."
Founded in 1994 by Liam Rector, who worked at the time with college president Elizabeth Coleman, the seminars had a core faculty of writers/teachers consisting of Susan Dodd, Maria Flook, David Lehman, Jill McCorkle, and Rector, according to the college's website. Notable writers-in-residence such as Bernard Malamud, Theodore Roethke, W.H. Auden, Mary Oliver, Kenneth Burke, Hortense Calisher, John Gardner, Edward Hoagland, Stanley Kunitz, Ben Belitt and Nicholas Delbanco, to name a few, crafted their passion at the college for many years.
The first seminar class of 20 students graduated in 1996 with a Master of Fine Arts degree in Writing and Literature. There is a residency in January and June over the course of 10 days each year based on a low-residency format and student-to-teacher ratio of five to one. Students get accepted into a writing/reading genre of fiction, nonfiction or poetry and commit to five residency periods, four correspondence terms and devote 25 hours per week to reading and writing. The residencies are a combination of workshops, craft classes and readings.
The MFA seminars are one of the top three low residency programs in the country. Sven Birkerts and Megan Mayhew Bergman currently organize the seminars.
"I find the guests and faculty reading are the most exciting," student Mirande Bissell from Baltimore said. "They introduce me to the work of faculty or outside my genre."
The remaining schedule:
June 20: Poet Donald Hall will read at 10:30 a.m. in Tishman
June 20: Non-Fiction writers Sven Birkerts and Vivian Gornickon at 7 p.m. in the Deane Carriage Barn
June 21: Students and faculty will read from translated works from underrepresented authors celebrating Global Literature from 3 to 4 p.m. in the Dean Carriage Barn.
June 22: Faculty and guest reading, Susan Cheever and David Gates, at 7 p.m. in the Deane Carriage Barn.
June 23: Faculty and guest reading, Lee Clay Johnson and Peter Trachtenberg, at 7:30 p.m. in the Deane Carriage Barn.
June 24: 2016 Pulitzer Prize winning poet, essayist and expert on the Armenian Genocide Peter Balakian will read with Dinah Lenneyon at 7 p.m. in the Deane Carriage Barn.
June 18: Lauren Groff will lecture on silence and musical notes in Faulkner, Duras, & Levi at 10:30 a.m. in Tishman.
June 19: Benjamin Anastas will lecture on Ferrante at 10:30 a.m. in Tishman.
June 21: Vivan Gornick will give a lecture at 10:30 a.m. in Tishman.
One Book Initiative: a panel of students and faculty will help lead a discussion on Ta-nehisi Coates Between the World and Me and James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time on June 22 at 1 p.m. in Tishman.
For more information on the seminars, visit bennington.edu.
— Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.