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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 payment through Zelle, or, if you prefer, a check made out to Soapstone, 622 SE 29th Avenue, Portland, OR 97214.

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Winter/Spring 2023

 

Small, Potent Packages—Second Edition: Reading Short Stories by Women Writers
Led by Anndee Hochman

Six Sundays, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. PST
January 22, 29, February 5, 12, 19, 26
via Zoom
$75, scholarships available
Limited to 16 participants

A short story is a love affair; a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph; a novel is a film. ~Lorrie Moore
The great thing about a short story is that it doesn’t have to trawl through someone’s whole life; it can come in glancingly from the side. ~Emma Donoghue

In this study group, we’ll explore six different short stories—compact, compressed, revelatory, oblique—by six very different women writers, spanning just over a century.

Here’s our eclectic reading list:
“The Story of an Hour,” by Kate Chopin (1894)
“I Stand Here Ironing,” by Tillie Olsen (1961)
“Everyday Use,” by Alice Walker (1973)
“Rules of the Game,” by Amy Tan (1989)
“Two Words,” by Isabel Allende (1989)
“Chin,” by Gish Jen (1998)

These stories spring from a range of cultures, vantage points and storytelling styles. We’ll examine and respond to all of that, as well as to each story’s language, rhythm, themes, structure, point of view, references to real events and to other texts. We’ll consider parallels and differences in female authorship. We’ll ask: What was it this writer had to tell us? And how does this story resonate now, in our lives and in this historical moment? 

Participants will receive audio files of each story, read by the instructor; during class, we’ll revisit key portions aloud—tuning our ears to repetition, inflection, cadence and silences—as we explore and discuss the texts. 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 text will be Women & Fiction: Short Stories By and About Women , which includes “The Story of an Hour,” “I Stand Here Ironing” and “Everyday Use.” The other three stories are either available online or will be sent to participants in pdf form, along with supplemental material and links to interview excerpts and articles. 

Anndee Hochman is a journalist, essayist, storyteller and teaching artist who lived in Portland for ten years and is now based in Philadelphia. For more than 20 years, she has facilitated community-based literature discussions through People & Stories/Gente y Cuentos. She also guides writers of all ages and experience levels in crafting poetry, memoir and creative nonfiction. Her books include Everyday Acts & Small Subversions: Women Reinventing Family, Community and Home (The Eighth Mountain Press) and Anatomies: A Novella and Stories (Picador USA). She’s currently at work on a young adult novel titled My Plural Is People. 

    

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Reading Ada Limón
Led by Judith Barrington
Six Saturdays, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. PST
March 4, 11, 18, 25; April 1, 8
via Zoom
$75, scholarships available
Limited to 16 participants

I am thinking of this study group as an introduction to the poetry of Ada Limón. Unlike some of my favorite contemporary poets, she is not of my generation and not one whose work I have followed for many decades. I came across a few of her poems about five years ago and loved them immediately. She speaks of animals as equal to humans in importance, and writes movingly about the natural world. I told myself to watch out for more and then—as we do—got distracted until The Carrying won an award and I began to read her work seriously. Now, of course, her appointment as US Poet Laureate has brought her work to a much wider audience. 

She recommends reading and savoring poems one at a time, which is what we all will do together. 

Required texts: The Carrying (2018, Milkweed Editions) and The Hurting Kind (2022, Milkweed Editions) 

Judith Barrington’s poetry books are: Long Love: New and Selected Poems, 1985–2017; The Conversation; Horses and the Human Soul; History and Geography; and Trying to be an Honest Woman. Her chapbooks are: Lost Lands and Postcard from the Bottom of the Sea. Her poems have appeared in many journals and her Lifesaving: A Memoir was the winner of the Lambda Book Award and a finalist for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for the Art of the Memoir. She was a faculty member at the University of Alaska, Anchorage’s MFA Program and is co-founder of Soapstone Inc.  

 

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Reading Lauren Groff’s Matrix
Led by Tricia Snell
Six Saturdays, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m. PST
April 15, 22, 29; May 6, 13, 20
via Zoom
$75, scholarships available
Limited to 16 participants      

She rides out of the forest alone. Seventeen years old, in the cold March drizzle, Marie who comes from France. ¶ It is 1158 and the world bears the weariness of late Lent. In the fields, the seeds uncurl in the dark cold soil, ready to punch into the freer air… —Opening of Matrix, by Lauren Groff 

Lauren Groff’s bold, Booker-longlisted novel imagines the life of the enigmatic historical figure, Marie de France, who was both the earliest known French woman poet and a nun in late 12th Century England. Marie de France left behind a series of short story-poems, still in print, called lais, based on old Breton tales about romantic love. Groff invents a biography of Marie that explains why a nun would be writing such tales and shows us how female power and ingenuity could operate—no, dominate, sometimes terrorize—in the middle of the extreme patriarchy of England in that century (and arguably, all the centuries since). 

All of this makes for a wild, earthy, lusty ride of a novel, but with the kind of razor-sharp intelligence, feminist perspective, and exquisite use of language that puts it into the category—for me—of brilliant. And thought-provoking. (Brilliant and thought-provoking, just like Soapstone study groups!). 

In this study group we’ll first and foremost enjoy the ride of MATRIX. We’ll also read at least one of the lais that Marie de France wrote, we’ll jump into the conversation MATRIX may be having with our own times, and we’ll look at how Groff pulls off her magic. (For instance, did you know that Groff revises her novels by finishing one draft, putting it aside without reading it, then writing a completely new draft? She did that eight times for MATRIX!) 

MATRIX, by the way, is, in Old French, the word for womb or vagina. It has come to mean a place where something else originates or takes form. I see Groff ripping the word back from Tom Cruise and the makers of the cyberpunk movie series that may have come to mind when you first saw the title of her novel. 

I grew up reading only the very best gothic and historical romances :). This novel satisfies my younger tastes and my older demands. I believe in the power of art not only for the sheer bliss of experiencing it, but for its ability to open our minds to a variety of identities, to new ideas, and to new language. I’m looking forward to celebrating all of this through discussion of this novel! 

Texts include Matrix by Lauren Groff (2021, Riverhead Books-Penguin Random House LLC) and The Lais of Marie de France (1986/1987, Penguin Books Ltd.) available in bookstores and online. 

Tricia Snell is a Canadian-American writer and flutist who also teaches writing and music. Her story "Out to the Horses" was published in the Dec/2019 issue of Room Magazine, a Canadian quarterly literary journal that has been featuring the work of women and genderqueer writers and artists since 1975. The story also made the longlist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's (CBC's) 2019 Short Story Prize. Tricia is the author of the nonfiction book/directory Artist Communities (Allworth Press); her writing has also appeared in magazines and newspapers and been read by actor Barbara Rappaport on the National Public Radio (NPR) show, The Sound of Writing, a PEN Syndicated Fiction project. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing/Fiction (George Mason University) and an ARCT flute performance degree (Toronto Royal Conservatory of Music). Tricia's past roles include Executive Director for two arts non-profits (Caldera and the Alliance of Artists’ Communities). She lives in Nova Scotia, Canada, has lots of friends in Portland, Oregon, where she used to live, and is currently (still!) working on a novel. www.triciasnell.com  

 

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