Member Dispatch: Lit Fest, Four Months Later

by Carrie Esposito

[caption id="attachment_6242" align="alignleft" width="300"]Lit Fest 2014 Lit Fest 2014[/caption]

After Lit Fest, I came away with a new short story—my first told by a male protagonist, and to make people laugh out loud—a revised manuscript of my novel, and the knowledge that a personable literary community exists nearby in a cozy house filled with interesting, accomplished, and supportive writers. Who knew? I should have, as I’ve been writing in Denver for three years now. I’ll attribute my ignorance to a fierce protection of my time. With writing to be done and small children to raise, not to mention a night out here and there, I thought my life held all it could.

For that reason, I debated attending any of the Lit Fest classes, and even after acceptance, I debated attending the juried class with Antonya Nelson. I knew that I’d admired her brilliant writing for years. But would it all be worth it? The time, the money, the engagement of myself in a new community?

Answer: An unequivocal. Resounding. Yes.

The lessons Antonya taught in her class dug deep under the skin of writing. These weren’t lessons I would ever have found anywhere else. They were tailored to the stories told by the talented writers in the class yet contained a universal wisdom about storytelling. Every story is a coming of age story. Binary forces, not conflict. Shape, not plot. You can get away with anything in fiction as long as the story acknowledges its weirdness.

[caption id="attachment_6243" align="alignright" width="225"]Antonya Nelson reads at Lit Fest 2014 Antonya Nelson reads at Lit Fest 2014[/caption]

But it wasn’t just Antonya’s class. There was an entirety to the experience of Lit Fest perhaps not unlike one of those three day festivals where you see your favorite band and then many others that you never expected to love so much. And you come away tired, blissful, and aware, electrically so, of communion in this world.

So, there was the date night that my husband and I decided to spend with Steve Almond. And fifty other equally spellbound writers. With wine and hamburgers afterwards, we went over and over what we’d learned about riveting scenes. More or less, context. If your reader doesn’t know anything about the character’s world, then what happens within it won’t resonate. Period. This has changed where I will begin my stories. How could it not?

Then, there was the early evening hours spent in Jenny Shank’s wonderful Disobedient Masters class, where I felt like I was back in one of my English classes in college—stimulated intellectually, emboldened, and ready to spend all day and night sitting at a mahogany table discussing literature. For me, there’s nothing better. In her class, I thought more about my choices as a writer. Was I making them in service to expected norms? Was I afraid to break out of certain narrative structures?

The week or so ended with a party on the lawn at Lighthouse, which was every bit as lovely as it sounds. Music, wine, beer, writers, and books being sold. In other words, a haven.

A good way to describe how, after Lit Fest, I’ve come to think of Lighthouse. I’m from New York, which many think of as the hub of writing and publishing, but here, in Denver, exists a humble, vibrant writing community. I’ve learned that Lighthouse thrives on rigor and quality, but never on exclusivity. As is true of how I feel about many things I’ve come to love in Denver, I both do and don’t hope that the rest of the country discovers the power of what exists here.

Carrie Esposito's short fiction appears in Mused: the BellaOnline Literary Journal and her web site can be found here.

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