Tag Archives: Diana Sanders

Once again, Writers Retreat at HPMEC

Those of you who’ve been around this blog for at least 7 months know of the Hemingway-Pfeifer Museum and Education Center and the awesome writers retreats. I’ve just come away from another week of retreating writers in the small town of Piggott, Arkansas, where Hemingway penned portions of his famous Farewell to Arms.

While I’ve known about the Pfeifer home and the museum for some time now, I wasn’t aware of the writers retreat until the summer of 2007 when the contacted me to do a story for the paper where I was editor. They fed me lunch, I listened for a bit, and did a story on it for the paper only to find out it was the first time the paper had ever even been there (I wasn’t editor there for the other retreats!). Needless to say, that shocked me, but one of the goals I had as editor was to make it more of a local paper, something it hadn’t really done before then.

The next summer, 2008, I’d already moved on from the paper but kept in contact with a lot of the people there, and the kind folks at HPMEC contacted me about being one of the Writing Mentors there. I jumped on the opportunity. It must have gone well, because they invited me back to be the sole Mentor in 2009 partly because Dr. Rob Lamm, the regular summer Mentor, couldn’t make it that year. Interest in the retreat had been growing and they were looking for ways to enhance the experience for writers, so the now annual Fall Retreat was created and I became the Mentor for that. This past April they put on the first (and abbreviated) Spring retreat. As I’ve said before, writers should consider doing something like this—if not the HPMEC retreat.

There were 14 writers in attendance this time, 10 of whom were first timers! Pictured are: front row, l-r: Brinda Gore, Dorothy Johnson, Cristy Phillips, Monica Moore, Teresa Lee, Kayla Dean; back row, l-r: Freeda Nichols, Elizabeth Foster, Richard Collum, Linda Wyss, Shannon Richards, Sue Whitmire, Barbara Collier, me, Evelyn Clark, Diana Sanders-HPMEC Assistant Director.

As usual, the writers came from all over and had a wide variety of interests. It is the first time, however, that I’ve ever had one bring part of a working dissertation for comments!

As usual, the writers left both full exhausted from the long week of writing and fully energized at the same time. Teresa Lee was so much so that she began her very own blog the very following Sunday. Check it out here: Close To Home

I am beginning to wonder, though… Two years ago Deana Dismukes, who was coordinating the retreats and putting together the anthologies, retired to many tearful writers and joyful grandchildren. At this retreat, Diana Sanders let us know she was about to retire and spend time with her grandchildren. A retirement party was thrown in her honor and her presence will be greatly missed.

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Writers leave Legacy

As most of you who read this page know, I’ve had the privilege to Mentor the Fall version of the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Writers Retreat held at the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Education Center in Piggott, Arkansas. I generally sing the praises of the writers, but thought I’d do something slightly different this time—not to suggest the writers shouldn’t have their praises sung: they created brilliant writings, as always.

Noticeably missing this year were Bob and Wanda Jones. Wanda, an exceptional poet, passed away just weeks ago after a long battle with cancer. She wrote a story last year about craving blood that still haunts me.

A retreat is a different monster than a workshop or a conference. In general, a retreat allows the writers to get away from the daily grind at home and focus solely on whatever it is they wish to write. Not all of them come with something in mind to write, but many do. Those who don’t, rely on the daily writing exercises to get their writing muscles going.

Each morning, I present the writers with some sort of writing exercise, generally with the idea of targeting some specific aspect of writing. One of the favorites at Arkansas is an exercise I do about dialogue, forcing the writers to listen to the different voices around the table and then attempt to convey personality and attitude simply by specific choice of words.

Last year I tried a “smell” exercise, trying to hone in on the five senses. I think smell is often overlooked in most writings. While it was a good idea, it didn’t work as I’d hoped.

This year, I tried a POV (Point of View) exercise in which I scattered the writers (there were 13 of them) around the Education Center and then had them watch a skit (brilliantly performed by Diana Sanders and Karen Trout!) which wound into several of the rooms in the center allowing them only glimpses at best and often not allowing them to hear parts of the conversation. One writer was placed outside the front door (it’s all glass) and had to try to discern what was happening by peeking inside.

At the end of the week, the exercises are collected into an anthology. The writers may also include other work they’ve created while at the retreat, but the exercises makes up the bulk of the material.

This year, I had a special treat in that Mom decided to attend. She’d mentioned it a couple of times before when I first started doing it and decided at the last minute she wanted to try it. Thankfully there was room for her (thanks, Diana!). It felt a little odd “critiquing” Mom. J

The Hemingway-Pfeiffer Writing Retreats are, I think, the model for retreats—and not just because I’m a mentor. In fact, there is a retreat in the summer which is mentored by someone else and I recommend it as well. But I think writers should at least try a retreat sometime during their writing career—just get away from all of life’s day-to-day worries and write.

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