Posted by: Viola | June 3, 2014

Meeting Rita Dove at the SummerWords Creative Writing Colloquium

The wonderful SummerWords Creative Writing Colloquium at American River College took place over the weekend. It’s an amazing event in the Sacramento area, drawing great speakers and authors and making their wisdom available to budding writers at an affordable price and in a beautiful location. It went by so fast. Three days of pure bliss. It started on Thursday evening with readings by two fiction writers and authors, Lois Ann Abraham and Jason Sinclair Long. Friday was a full day of workshops and panels in various genres–I focused on poetry workshops. In the evening, Rita Dove read her poems, and it was amazing. After her reading, we got to meet her in person and have her sign/autograph books. She has a beautiful smile and voice. I am happy I was able to stay calm and not let my being starstruck get the best of me. That way, I was actually able to say “hello” and take a photo with her, tell her I am a poet from Cameroon, working on a book manuscript, and that I once wrote a review to her book Sonata Mulattica (2009). Before her poetry reading, I bought her book of poems On the Bus With Rosa Parks (1999), and after her poetry reading, I got her autograph. I had ordered a copy of her edited anthology of American poetry but it arrived after the conference and I will have to wait for a future opportunity to have it signed. I cannot describe how inspiring it is to meet a poet, and not just any poet, a former Poet Laureate of the USA. A woman poet. A woman of color poet. I could see my spirit expand just being in her presence. Just by being there, she answered many questions I have, questions about whether one can live as a poet, succeed as a poet, be happy as a poet, make a difference as a poet, be a woman and be a person of color and thrive as a poet. Maya Angelou passed away last week on Wednesday, and she has been on my mind. I never got the opportunity to meet Maya Angelou, though I often wished for it. So it made me very happy to meet Rita Dove. Rita Dove was in Sacramento five years ago, and I had tickets to her poetry reading but I never made it. I regret that. But it made it all the more sweet to be able to finally attend her reading. On Saturday morning, Rita Dove gave a Q&A session, taking questions from the moderator, Traci Gourdine, and from the audience. I absolutely loved the session. In some ways, I loved it even more than the reading because Rita Dove shared her personal experiences as a writer and poet, her routines and interests, her journey as a poet and how she began that journey. Because I am always endlessly fascinated with the life stories of writers, I was in awe. I wished for the session to go on for the entire day! But the rest of Saturday was a full day of workshops and panels and so off we went. I took several nonfiction panels/sessions, attending a memoir session by Claire Bidwell Smith. It was perfect. Her memoir, The Rules of Inheritance (2012), will be turned into a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence. How cool is that? I took some poetry panels/sessions on Saturday as well, including one led by the current Sacramento Poet Laureate, Jeff Knorr. The day ended with a reading and Q&A with John Lescroart, a crime thriller writer. It was great to listen to his story of how he came to be the writer he is today and what his process is. I left his reading feeling that writing, on one level, really is a gift…and getting published, too, is a gift. We can push for opportunities to publish and we can be disciplined about our writing, and all of this helps immensely, but at the end of the day, the opportunities that come to us are gifts, the people who connect us to opportunities are gifts, and the words and stories that fill our minds and pages are gifts. The conference ended on Sunday afternoon with a call to write, delivered by poet and professor Traci Gourdine. I wish I could have tape-recorder her words. I am hoping someone will post a video of her closing address. We were glued to our seats and no one seemed ready to leave. After reading us a final poem, she simply looked at us and said, “Go home!” 🙂

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  1. […] the SummerWords creative writing colloquium a few weeks ago, the poet-presenters and fiction-presenters kept saying over and over again that we […]


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