Laura Eve Engel
Laura Eve Engel attended the Workshop in poetry in 2000 and 2002, joined the residential staff as a teacher and counselor from 2007-10, and returned as Residential Program Director in 2012.
For the moment, I live in Provincetown, MA, at the Fine Arts Work Center. I’m a Writing Fellow here, which means I get to live on one floor of a beautiful barn—it’s much warmer and cozier than it sounds—and write for seven months, with a group of other writers and visual artists. Writing brought me here. When I think about the places writing has brought me so far—Wisconsin, Texas, New York—and how it keeps me anchored to my home state of Virginia, returning every summer to Young Writers—I feel pretty lucky that writing’s the thing that I do.
Writing-wise, I’ve learned that I’m most comfortable when I have two things going at once. Maybe this is a problem with attention. But since I’ve been in Provincetown, the writing I’ve done falls into one of two categories. I’m not ready to call either category a “project” or a “manuscript,” but they’re somethings, in their beginning stages. Being at this stage in the generation of a new thing is a little frightening because there’s that issue of commitment, of knowing that you could allow yourself to give up on what you’re doing. Mostly, though, it’s exciting because it’s so dynamic. You’re exploring, discovering connections and interests, and stumbling upon more and more things to care about in the world, and in the work.
Otherwise, I work on writing the Young Writers newsletters that, if you’re lucky, arrive in your inbox once a month. (And if you’re still missing out, you can sign up to receive the newsletter here!) Every month is another set of opportunities to brag about the accomplishments of YWW alumni. What’s not to enjoy?
Lately I’m reading a lot of what is sort of generically looped into the category of “non fiction.” In my case, this is everything from Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven to collections of essays on New Mexico to Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey to Pierre Lazlo’s self-described “ignorant treatise” on salt (called, uncontroversially, Salt). These books are loosely related in that they have a relationship to the writing I’m doing, but reading these books is also a way of making the small slice of world that I can see—which gets smaller the colder it gets, out here—bigger.
I’m also reading an advance copy of What About This, Copper Canyon’s forthcoming volume of the collected poems of Frank Stanford. I think I’ll be reading and rereading this hypnotic, voluminous book for a long time to come.
I’m fortunate to have had pieces appear in The Awl, Boston Review, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Colorado Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Denver Quarterly, Pleiades, Salt Hill, The Southern Review, Tin House, Versal, VOLT and elsewhere.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that most of the big decisions that have shaped my life since I was first a student at YWW were and continue to be influenced by my experience with and involvement in the program, from studying poetry at UVa as an undergraduate to pursuing an MFA to teaching writing and thinking of myself now as a writer. And it goes without saying, but I still spend my summers at Young Writers. I have a lot to thank the program for, and I’m not quite done giving back.
Read a ton. Write a ton. Cherish your community. Respect your reader. Nourish your sense of humor. Don’t worry too much about “finding your voice”; you will always be made up of multiple voices, and exploring them all is part of the joy of the project. Listen hard for those qualities that make your brain, your way of seeing, unique, and write from them.(And if you want a bit of practical advice, here’s mine: don’t pay for an MFA. Programs that will fund you are out there. Find one.)