CHARLOTTE—At the North Carolina Writers' Network 2018 Fall Conference, award-winning essayist Cynthia Lewis will lead the nonfiction session "Get People Talking."
Fall Conference runs November 2-4, at the Hilton Charlotte University Place. Pre-registration is open through October 26.
Cynthia Lewis is Charles A. Dana Professor of English at Davidson College, where she has been teaching Shakespeare, Renaissance literature, and creative nonfiction since 1980. She has published numerous articles and two books on Shakespeare and his contemporaries, the latest just out: “The game’s afoot”: A Sports Lover’s Introduction to Shakespeare. Her creative nonfiction ranges in focus from American culture to personal essays and has been published in such venues as The Hudson Review, New Letters, The Antioch Review, Southern Cultures, The Massachusetts Review, and Charlotte Magazine. Four of her essays have been cited as a “Notable Essay” in the Best American Essays series between 2006 and 2016. Her essay “Return Engagement: The Haunting of Hamlet and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.” won Shenandoah’s Thomas Carter Essay Prize for 2016, and another essay, “Body Doubles,” was awarded the 2017 Meringoff Prize for nonfiction by the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers.
This year, NCWN has been celebrating publishers based in North Carolina, so we asked Cynthia to answer the following prompt:
"Congratulations! You've inherited a large fortune, on the condition that you use it to start your own publishing house. What kind of books are you going to publish?"
Here's what Cynthia said:
"For anyone who’s tired of reading that a publishing group is looking for work like the work they already publish, or for anyone who’s been told that a proposed book project just isn’t marketable, I’m founding a press that will, I hope, inspire you. It’s for books that are one-of-a-kind. My publication house, 'Sui Generis,' wants books so unpredictable but dead-on that readers will wonder why no one had thought of writing them before; books too delectably different not to prove sellable; books that each pave a new and stimulating path. Think Thomas More’s Utopia, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo. Think Joyce’s Dubliners, nine years in the pitching for a total of eighteen attempts with fifteen publishers. The principal criterion is quality—not quirkiness for its own sake, not experimentation that hasn’t quite panned out, not work in progress—but finished, polished, irresistible fiction, nonfiction, or poetry, as well combinations and variations thereof. I’m looking forward to reading your manuscript."
The title of Cynthia's class, "Get People Talking," is the first sentence in William Zinsser’s chapter on “Writing about People: The Interview” in his gem of a book On Writing Well. This class is indeed about interviewing, a craft that any writer of nonfiction will use at some point. Even a memoirist will need to consult others about the past and acquire factual information from other people. How do you ask for an interview? How do you conduct an interview? What are the ethical considerations a writer should take into account about interviewing? How about practical concerns—should you take notes or use a voice recorder? How do you “get people talking”?
Cynthia will begin the class by sharing some experiences, strategies, and recommendations she’s collected over many years of interviewing subjects for reported creative nonfiction. Then she’ll ask class members to share their experiences with interviewing and ask questions about their own work. Ideally, class members will read Zinsser’s chapter—which should be available in almost any public or school library—before the class meets. Each class member should also be able to refer to an example of interviewing that seems especially well done, as well as a weaker example and ideas about how it could be improved.
Fall Conference attracts hundreds of writers from around the country and provides a weekend full of activities that include lunch and dinner banquets with readings, keynotes, tracks in several genres, open mic sessions, and the opportunity for one-on-one manuscript critiques with editors or agents. Master Classes will be led by Judy Goldman (Creative Nonfiction), Maureen Ryan Griffin (Poetry), Randall Kenan (Fiction), who, as a 2018 inductee into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, also will give the Keynote Address.
The nonprofit North Carolina Writers’ Network is the state’s oldest and largest literary arts services organization devoted to all writers, in all genres, at all stages of development. For additional information, visit www.ncwriters.org.