Hassayampa Institute hones literary skills

For the past six years, the Hassayampa Institute for Creative Writing has brought writers and poets together in Prescott for five days of intensive writing, conversation, panels and readings.

Meant to enrich their work, the week-long conference July 22-26 hones attendees' literary skills, as well as fostering community among writers, said organizer Susan Lang, a faculty member in the Creative Writing department at Yavapai College (a co-sponsor of the institute with Sharlot Hall Museum).

Since Lang began teaching there in 1983, she established both the Southwest Writers Series and the Hassayampa Institute for Creative Writing.

"I wanted to have contact with writing and literature," Lang said, as well as provide opportunities for other writers to be exposed to working, published authors.

Through these two writer-based programs, Lang has brought such illustrious writers to Prescott as Edward Abbey, Grace Paley, Tony Hillerman and Barbara Kingsolver.

Heavily influenced by its setting in the Southwest, the conference allows as many as 90 participants to work with nationally-recognized authors in a professional, but informal, setting that includes morning workshops, afternoon panels and discussions devoted to broader cultural issues.

"These events reflect the various aspects of the writing experience, from the nuts-to-bolts process of setting words on the page to the social impact of certain subjects, to the sheer pleasure of literature," Lang said.

Free evening readings are also a part of the program, where published authors share their work with both the students and the general public.

This year's writers/workshop instructors are Marge Piercy, Ron Carlson, Mary Sojourner, Ira Wood, Brady Udall, Syl Cheney-Coker and Martin Espada.

Marge Piercy has been hailed by Erica Jong as "one of the most important writers of our time who has redefined the meaning of female consciousness in literature." Piercy has authored 35 books (translated into 12 languages). They include "Gone to Soldiers," "Braided Lives," and "City of Darkness, City of Light." Her latest work is a memoir, "Sleeping with Cats."

Ron Carlson has published six books of fiction and two novels, including "The Hotel Eden," "At the Jim Bridger," "The News of the World," "Truants" and "Betrayed by F. Scott Fitzgerald." A frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review and The Los Angeles Times Book Review, Carlson teaches fiction in the Creative Writing program at Arizona State University.

Mary Sojourner is known throughout the West for her activism and her Open Spaces environmental and social justice column. Her novel, "Sisters of the Dream" is set in the Southwest. Her latest book, "Bonewhite: Ruin and Grace in the New Southwest," a collection of essays, explores damage, loss and renewal – of the earth and the writer herself.

Ira Wood's books include "The Kitchen Man," "Going Public, "Storm Tide," and "So You Want to Write." He has produced eight plays and written six works of interactive fiction for children and young adults. His short fiction is widely anthologized in magazines such as "Yellow Silk," "Negative Capability," "Utne Reader" and others. Wood lives in Cape Cod where he writes, teaches and is publisher of the small press, Leapfrog.

Brady Udall's stories have appeared in Story, Playboy, South Dakota Review and The Quarterly. According to Thom Jones, Udall is slated to "take his place as one of the top writers of his generation." Udall's latest book, "The Magical Life of Edgar Mint," won the Quality Paperback New Voices Award for Fiction, as well as the Mountain and Plains Booksellers Award for Best Fiction of 2001. He teaches at University of Illinois, Carbondale.

Syl Cheney-Coker's four books of poetry and fiction are, "The Last Harmation of Alusine Dunbar," "The Blood in the Desert's Eyes," "The Graveyard also has Teeth" and "Concerto for an Exile." Born in Freetown Sierra Leone, Cheney-Coker was educated at the University of Oregon and the University of Wisconsin. Currently in exile, he lives in Las Vegas, where he teaches at the University of Nevada in its International Parliament of Writers.

Martin Espada's fifth book of poetry, "Imagine the Angels of Bread," won an American book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His latest collection is "A Mayan Astronomer in Hell's Kitchen." Espada is a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where he teaches crea-tive writing, Latino poetry, literature of the Spanish Civil War and the work of Pablo Neruda. He is the first Poet Laureate of Northampton, Mass.

The Arizona Humanities Council, Arizona Commission of the Arts, Friends of the Prescott Public Library, and the Yavapai College Foundation support the institute.

Cost of the Hassayampa Creative Writing Institute is $350. To register, call 776-2276. For more information, call Susan Lang at 776-2281, or check www.yc.edu/hassayampa.nsf.