St. Gertrude’s L.I.V.E.~Finding the Story

St. Gertrude’s L.I.V.E. > Finding the Story

Finding the Story in the World Around You: A Writing Workshop

2-5 p.m. Pacific Time, Sunday, March 14, via Zoom, with Peter Chilson

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The late Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe, wrote once that “The world is like a Mask dancing. If you want to see it well, you do not stand in one place.” I first read those words in college in Achebe’s novel, Arrow of God and I’ve tried to live them by roaming Africa, Europe, and places in my own country for work and pleasure. But cooped up as we have been this past year, many of us are now more focused on environments closer to home than ever, particularly the neighborhoods and towns where we live. Some of us have lived in the same towns and neighborhoods for years but are now getting to know them for the first time, maybe even arriving at life-changing new realizations. This is certainly true of myself.

This workshop uses personal writing as a way to make sense of what is happening around us and to us. The three-hour writing workshop involves two short talks by travel writer Peter Chilson on the craft of observing place and people — right where you are — and turning our observations into personal essays and stories. The talks will be followed by prompt-based writing exercises, sharing from our work, and discussion of writing craft.

Workshop Theme 1: Place as a living, breathing character. What are the defining traits of this place, its reasons for being, ways of communicating, physical features, its odd quirks and boundaries, if any? Can you think of a metaphor for this place? What is it like to live here? What separates this place from any other place you have experienced?

Workshop Theme 2: Who lives here? Is there any one person, or group of people, who define this place for you? What do they look like? What are their values? How do they walk through the world, speak to the world, interact in the world? What defines this person or these people apart from others you have known? What is it like to know them?

Peter Chilson teaches writing and literature at Washington State University. He is the author of the travelogue Riding the Demon: On the Road in West Africa (University of Georgia Press, 1999), which won the Associated Writing Programs Award in nonfiction, and the story collection Disturbance-Loving Species: A Novella and Stories (Mariner Books, 2007), winner of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Bakeless Fiction Prize and the Maria Thomas Fiction Prize. His essays, journalism, and short stories have appeared in Foreign Policy, the American Scholar, Gulf Coast, High Country News, Audubon, and Ascent, among other publications, as well as twice in the Best American Travel Writing anthology. Chilson first traveled to West Africa in 1985 as a volunteer in the Peace Corps, teaching junior high school English in the village of Bouza, Niger. A longtime visitor to Mali as a travel writer and journalist, he traveled to Mali in 2012 for the Foreign Policy-Pulitzer Center Borderlands Project, becoming one of the few Western journalists to visit the country’s troubled northern half to see firsthand the impacts of civil war and the new breakaway jihadist state.

Suggested donation: $30. Participant max: 15

If you have any questions or need assistance, contact Theresa at 208-962-5065 or email