SPRING 1997 Montanan - Volume 14, Number 3
The 1997 Yellow Bay Writers' Workshop, August 10-16, will feature fiction writers Kevin Canty (UM) and Jayne Anne Phillips, nonfiction writer David James Duncan, poet Jane Hirshfield, agent Heather Schroeder of International Creative Management and editor Jordan Pavlin of Alfred A. Knopf. For more information, send an e-mail message to email@example.com or call (406) 243-2094.
by Annick Smith
Was it poet Dick Hugo's idea to hold a writers' workshop at the Flathead Lake Biological Station at Yellow Bay-some vision of writers lolling on the beach? Or Lois Welch's, University of Montana English professor and former creative writing director? Or mine? No matter. It was a perfect use for an almost perfect place. And this summer-after ten years-fifty students, four instructors, agents, editors and visitors will gather again at the Yellow Bay Writers' Workshop for six days and nights devoted to the craft of writing literature.
Informality is key. Participants and faculty are scattered in cabins on the pine-shaded peninsula that protrudes like a thumb, dividing the calm waters of Yellow Bay from wave-tossed Flathead Lake. When everyone shares bathhouses (his and hers) and eats meals on the commissary deck, when a discussion begins in class, continues through cocktail hour and into the night, ending in a moonlit swim-that's how friendships begin. And that's how a bunch of strangers becomes a community.
Administered by UM's Center for Continuing Education and Summer Programs, with scholarship help from Hellgate Writers and a faculty member from UM's creative writing program, the weeklong session offers morning workshops, afternoon lectures and evening readings. People ranging from their twenties to their seventies come from as far away as Switzerland and as nearby as Bigfork for the natural beauty and the excellent faculty. Not to mention the tasty food, the network of friends, the shared wisdom, foolishness, generosity and jokes.
Over the years, we have been graced with some of the most sought-after writers in the country, including National Book Award winner Andrea Barrett, Ron Hansen, Poet Laureate Robert Hass, Marilynne Robinson and Pulitzer Prize winners Carolyn Kizer and James Tate. We have also featured Montana's own Mary Clearman Blew, James Crumley, Patricia Goedicke, Bill Kittredge, Tom McGuane, Deirdre McNamer, Greg Pape and James Welch. Not to mention David Long, who first came to Yellow Bay as an emerging voice on the Montana Writers Tour.
For a publishing panel, Yellow Bay has invited editors from major New York publishers, small presses and such magazines as Esquire and The Atlantic. We were even featured on National Public Radio's "Bookworm"-the only workshop in the country to be so honored.
Stories are what writers live for, and there have been plenty. There was the day a magisterial elder poet stepped into a canoe with her equally distinguished husband. The canoe wobbled and tipped. It turned 180 degrees and dumped the poet into the lake. Not missing a beat, the poet ascended from the water in her purple jump suit, purple dye running down her arms and legs. Paying no attention to the crowd gathered to help, she walked majestically up the path, dripping purple all the way.
There was the famous writer whose female students got mad as killer bees when he was discovered romancing another student, the two of them nude as Greek gods on the warm sands of a cove. Or the screenwriter who refused a lake cruise because he was frightened of boats, then appeared at the helm of a speedboat, ponytail flying, glass of chardonnay held high. There was the evening reading when a thunderstorm knocked out the lights, and the writers had to continue by flashlight.
Some stories are darker: the stalker with a wig who harassed a young girl into leaving; the seminary student gone mad-walking, walking; the woman who got hives and locked herself in her room; the librarian who fainted in the rain from a bleeding ulcer.
Writers are great gossips. They spread the word, and the word about Yellow Bay is good. Each year we have more inquiries. Even as workshops proliferate in ski resorts and college campuses from Maine to Oregon, we hold our place as one of the best summer retreats where writers can study and have a swell time while they're at it.
Ten years is a long stretch. Ten years of squalls and sunsets over Flathead Lake. At this rate, I'll be there ten years from now, a bent crone stumping from classrooms to dinners, from readings to meditations in a wave-washed canoe. Every year I threaten to quit. "This is the topper," I say, "This is the best workshop we've had." And every year, I'm right.
Missoula writer Annick Smith chooses Yellow Bay's writing faculty and directs the creative writing program on site.