Desert Nights, Rising Stars – Day 1

Simon Ortiz, photo courtesy of Kevin S Moul

Simon Ortiz, photo courtesy of Kevin S Moul

The Desert Nights, Rising Stars (DNRS) conference opened today at Arizona State University (ASU), with afternoon workshops, followed by a reception and a keynote address by Acoma Pueblo Nation poet Simon Ortiz.

I started my conference experience at a session with TM McNally, author and director of the ASU’s Creative Writing Program, on ‘Lyrical Fiction’. TM quickly rejected popular notions of ‘lyrical fiction’ as referring to the use of poetic language, redefining it as fiction that ‘says more than it says…[that] conveys the most essence in the least amount of space.’ Just as I was thinking, Surely he’s going to quote Hemingway, he quoted Hemingway — specifically, his desire to ‘make people feel something more than they understood’.

Lyricism, TM suggested, is about efficiency. To illustrate, he handed out some lyrics from a Colin Hay song:

I drink good coffee every morning
It comes from a place that’s far away
And when I’m done I feel like talking
Without you here there is less to say

Old Main, DNRS venue

Old Main, DNRS venue

He suggested that all we know about the speaker in the song comes from what is not said in this passage — that what is most powerful is what is implied or conveyed.

TM went on further to suggest that anything that happens in a story happens for three resasons:

1. Because it is true (true = feels real)
2. Because it is necessary to propel the plot
3. Because it is emblematic, i.e. works on a metaphorical level

Following TM’s session, I ran a workshop called ‘Never just description: Using setting to enhance your story’; and as it happens, I made similar points, quoting Andrew Cowan (from The Art of Writing Fiction) on the use of detail in story. Cowan suggests detail must:

1. Be concrete and appeal to the senses (aka “feel real”)
2. Advance or enhance the story telling (propel the plot, shed light on character)
3. Signify or resonate at the thematic level (be emblematic)

img_9524In fact, the resonances between the two sessions were so strong that a number of participants asked if TM and I had planned it that way. We hadn’t, of course: I don’t even known his real name!

My workshop was attended by 35 people, and the feedback suggested it was well-received and useful. I was really impressed with the level of participation and the quality of the writing in the exercises that people read out. For the most part, they even understood my accent. (I didn’t actually know I had an accent until I arrived in the USA!).

After the sessions, we all attended a reception featuring smoth jazz and fabulous food — hominy grits with jalapeños, tacos, tamales — and where I enjoyed meeting and chatting with some local emerging writers.

Kenny Dyer-Redner & Simon Ortiz: fighting words

Kenny Dyer-Redner & Simon Ortiz: fighting words

Simon Ortiz then gave the keynote address, which was really a call to arms. His resounding message was, ‘Speak truth to power.’ He cited the Cheyenne River Sioux protest at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline (#NoDAPL) as an example of speaking truth to power, and spoke of knowledge — particularly ancient knowledge invested in Indigenous peoples — as ‘sorely needed in the world’.

Simon also suggested that ‘literature is essential to inclusivity’ — an assertion I’ve heard echoed by people of colour and Indigenous writers in Australia. He challenged the DNRS conference to become more truly inclusive of Indigenous/Native American writers. A powerful and eloquent address that I hope will set the tone for the conference as a whole.

I’ll do my best to keep blogging the conference sessions, but if I fall behind, check Twitter under #dnrs2017 for more.


About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. She won the 2004 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, and the 2011 Scarlet Stiletto Award short story award. Angela holds a PhD in Creative Writing and currently works as Director of Writers Victoria.
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7 Responses to Desert Nights, Rising Stars – Day 1

  1. kathy d says:

    Sounds like a great conference to me. Wish I were a fly on the wall (figuratively).
    Well, Australian accents can be a little difficult to fathom for us folks from the U.S. However, I can usually understand the actors in the TV Phrynne Fisher series, which I love. The only problem is when people are speaking quickly.
    And very glad to hear that Simon Ortiz raised that “literature is essential to inclusivity,” that is so important everywhere. Also, good that he raised the important protest at Standing Rock led by the Oketi Sakowin Sioux Nation. It has inspired protests all over this country in solidarity.
    Hope the rest of your trip goes well and that you always find excellent food.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hah! Barbara Peters was also raving about the televised version on Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher novels, Kathy. She loves the clothes (don’t we all)!

      Thanks for your comments. Next time I’ll try to meet up with you in New York.


  2. It sounds that you’re richly enjoying the conference, Angela, and I’m delighted. Fascinating topics, too! I love it when a conference is both well-structured and interesting, and I hope you’ll enjoy the rest of this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel so fortunate to be here, Margot, as excited to be a participant as much as a guest. It’s a great professional development opportunity for me. I think it’s just me and Kwei Quartey flying the flag for crime fiction, though I think they’re are a few emerging crime writers in the crowd.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Jo says:

    Sounds (reads) like it’s going to be a great conference – & that your session went well. Enjoying travelling along through the blogs.


  4. haydn Savage says:

    well done Angela,seems that you are thriving in the international scene.Also I enjoy the photos of those remarkable cacti xxdadxx


  5. Back with more catching up.

    I love this “Because it is true (true = feels real)” i.e. that “truth” is about “feeling real” not about “fact”, at least that’s how I read it anyhow. And how wonderful that your and TM’s sessions aligned so well.

    BTW, no no no, you’ve got it wrong, you don’t have an accent, THEY do! At least that was always my line over there!


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