Fall creek

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Study Groups

Soapstone offers a program of eight study groups each year. People of all genders and identities are welcome. Scholarships are available.

To register for a study group send an email to soapstonewriting@gmail.com, and once you receive a reply saying there is room in the group, we'll ask for a check made out to Soapstone, 622 SE 29th Avenue, Portland, OR 97214.

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Fall 2022

 

Reading Deborah Levy’s memoir trilogy: Things I Don’t Want to Know, The Cost of Living, and Real Estate 
Led by Natalie Serber
Six Sundays, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. PST, Aug. 28, Sept. 4, 11, 18, 25 and Oct. 2
via Zoom 
$75, scholarships available
Limited to 16 participants

“When happiness is happening it feels as if nothing else happened before it, it is a sensation that happens only in the present tense.”
–THINGS I DON’T WANT TO KNOW

“It is hard to write and be open and let things in when life is tough, but to keep everything out means there is nothing to work with.”
–THE COST OF LIVING

“I guessed that no woman around that table had ruthlessly pursued her own dreams and desires at the expense of everyone else. In fact I knew we felt guilty every time we absented ourselves from the wishes and desires of those who depend on us for their well-being and for cashflow.”
–REAL ESTATE

In this study group, we will explore the ‘living autobiographies’ of Deborah Levy. Through reading about Levy’s childhood in Apartheid South Africa, enduring with her the bitter end of her marriage and the death of her mother, celebrating with her the launch of her daughters into their own adult lives, and the growth of a keen-eyed thinker and writer, this trilogy opens a door to a deep dialog with the self. What have we internalized from the world, taken on as a burden that has inhibited our growth? What gem-hard truth has pushed us forward toward our dreams and a more satisfying life? Because it is both isn’t it? If the point of life is “to think and feel and live and love more freely” does that not require curiosity and tenderness toward our past selves, as well as thoughtful examination of our current desires, and making steps toward the future we hope for? 

Combining personal history, philosophy and gender politics, Levy explores what it takes to make a woman a major character in her own life rather than a minor character in a world arranged to take advantage.  

It is my goal that in our discussions not only will we touch upon Levy’s creation of an amazing narrator who maintains a conversation between her past and present self, but that we will also begin a conversation with our many layered selves. The trilogy is incisive, funny, moving and a bit like having a middle of the night conversation with your best friend. 

In the tradition of Soapstone study groups, our conversations will welcome participants’ thoughts, questions, wild ideas, thoughtful challenges and respectful dissents as we learn from and with each other. 
 
The required texts will be: 
Things I Don’t Want to Know, Deborah Levy. 2014 Bloomsbury (111 pages)
The Cost of Living, Deborah Levy. 2018 Bloomsbury (133 pages)
Real Estate, Deborah Levy. 2021 Bloomsbury (208 pages)

Deborah Levy writes fiction, plays, and poetry. Her work has been staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company, broadcast on the BBC, and widely translated. The author of highly praised novels, including The Man Who Saw Everything (longlisted for the Booker Prize), Hot Milk and Swimming Home (both Man Booker Prize finalists), The Unloved, and Billy and Girl, the acclaimed story collection Black Vodka, and two parts of her working autobiography, Things I Don't Want to Know and The Cost of Living, she lives in London. Levy is a Fellow of The Royal Society of Literature.

Natalie Serber writes fiction and memoir. She is the author of three books: Shout Her Lovely Name, New York Times Notable Book of 2012, and a summer reading selection from O, the Oprah Magazine; Community Chest, a memoir about her breast cancer experience; and her novel-in-stories, Must Be Nice, currently shopping for a home. Her fiction has appeared in One Story Magazine, Zyzzyva Magazine, The Bellingham Review, and others.  Essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, O, The Oprah Magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Rumpus, Salon, and others. Natalie also writes a popular newsletter, read.write.eat. which you can find on her website www.natalieserber.com.  She lives in Portland with her husband and Stanley, a tiny dog with a winning smile!

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Reading Ellen Bryant Voigt
Led by Andrea Hollander
Five Saturdays, 10 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. PST, Oct. 22, 29, Nov. 5, 12, 19
via Zoom 
$75, scholarships available
Limited to 16 participants

I first read poems by contemporary American poet Ellen Bryant Voigt in the early 1970s in literary journals when I was beginning my solo apprenticeship to the art and craft of writing poems. In Voigt’s work I found a poet who, like me, seemed to care significantly about the sound of poems, something I failed to find in the poems of too many other contemporaries. Twenty years later, I met the poet at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and heard her speak about her journey as a poet, which she traces to her love of music, having played the piano as a child. She went on to tell the audience of writers that she writes “by ear”—first the sounds of words and the rhythms of lines and sentences. I have continued to be intrigued (and certainly influenced) by Voigt’s work, and I look forward to exploring her journey with the study group participants. 

Ellen Bryant Voigt was raised in Virginia but has lived in Vermont since 1969. She is the author of eight full-length poetry collections and two books on craft. Winner of numerous awards, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship (known commonly as a “genius” grant) in 2015. Before this, she was poet laureate of Vermont for four years and a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets for six. She also created the first-ever low-residency MFA program at Goddard College in 1976. 

Required Texts: Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976 - 2006 (W. W. Norton, 2007) and Headwaters: Poems (W. W. Norton, 2013)

Andrea Hollander was born in Berlin, Germany, of American parents, and raised the United States. In 2011, after more than three decades living in the Arkansas Ozark Mountains, where she ran a bed & breakfast for fifteen years and served as the Writer-in-Residence at Lyon College for twenty-two, she moved to Portland, Oregon. Her many awards include the Williamson Prize for Excellence in Teaching, two Pushcart Prizes (in poetry and literary nonfiction), and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Her fifth full-length poetry collection, Blue Mistaken for Sky, was a finalist for the Best Book Award in Poetry from the American Book Fest. Her fourth, Landscape with Female Figure: New and Selected Poems, 1982 - 2012, was an Oregon Book Award finalist, and her first, House Without a Dreamer, won the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize. Until she suffered a back injury, she taught for both Mountain Writers Series and The Attic Institute of Arts and Letters. In 2017 she initiated the Ambassador Writing Seminars, which she facilitated in her home until the pandemic. She now teaches and mentors writers through Zoom. www.andreahollander.net 

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Reading Deborah Eisenberg
Led by Lee Montgomery
Six Sundays, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. PST, October 9, 16, 23, 30 and Nov. 6 and 13
via Zoom 
$75, scholarships available
Limited to 16 participants

Since her first collection of stories published in 1986, Deborah Eisenberg has devoted herself to writing exquisitely distilled stories, and over the past three decades, has produced four short-story collections: Transactions in a Foreign Currency (1986), Under the 82nd Airborne (1992), All Around Atlantis (1997), and Twilight of the Superheroes (2006). Michiko Kakutani, the New York Times book critic writes “Deborah Eisenberg writes with a playwright’s quick, bristling ear for dialogue and a painter’s affection for nuance and image…Miss Eisenberg has found the words to capture all the fleeting ambivalent emotions of daily experience …and turned those elusive feelings into shimmering stories….” 

Eisenberg’s preeminence as a short-story writer has been recognized by countless other critics and a host of awards, including a DAAD residency, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature, many O. Henry prizes, the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, and a MacArthur Fellowship, commonly called a “genius grant.” 

The adult narrator of Eisenberg’s story “All Around Atlantis” recalls, “Yes, I had nightmares—children do. After all, it takes some time to get used to being alive. And how else, except in the clarity of dreams, are you supposed to see the world all around you that’s hidden by the light of day?” 

Learning how to live is difficult work for Eisenberg’s characters. Her first three collections are largely populated by people who are trying to piece together life. They are youths, travelers, immigrants, and people recovering from trauma—abuse, war, the death of a beloved. In her more recent stories, characters live more outwardly settled lives, but who, --despite successful spouses and good china, lead provisional existences laden with perplexity. What mystifies her older characters is not so much how life works but that it is passing. 

This study group will explore all three decades of the wonderful stories by Deborah Eisenberg, two or three at a time, beginning with her early work and progressing to the present. 

Participants should purchase the Picador paperback The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg. 

Lee Montgomery is the award-winning author of The Things Between Us, Whose World Is This? and Searching for Emily: Illustrated. In addition to editing multiple anthologies and literary journals, she has worked as a senior editor at several publishers and spent a decade at Tin House as the executive editor for Tin House magazine, founding director of the Tin House Writers’ Workshop, and editorial director and associate publisher of Tin House Books. Lee has also taught both fiction and non-fiction and has been a visiting writer at a number of colleges and universities. www.leemontgomeryeditorial.com 

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Past study groups are listed on the Previous Study Groups page.