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How would you define the experience of SWP? What happened to you/your writing?
SWP is difficult to explain—it’s kind of like trying to tell someone about an epiphany you had, or a long dream. It is intense. I’m not sure how so many people maintain the stamina, but it happens, and there is a magic in that. I’ve dreamed of a writing program that would encompass going from one writing school to another, semester by semester—or maybe quarter by quarter. The idea is that you could be exposed to a lot of different writers, workshops, disciplines, approaches, etc. SWP does this in one month. There are at least 28 writers who come to teach in one summer alone, and while you only get to take four workshops with four instructors you are still exposed to the lectures and work of the other visiting writers. And you can arrange to have writers meet with you and critique your work each week. I think the experience broadens the worldview of a student writer. You get to see what other writers and teachers are doing in other parts of the world. The selection of writers is curated in a way where the people are both diverse and harmonious.
It can be difficult to generate a lot of material during SWP because the schedule is so full, but I’ve given birth to some great work during the summer regardless. It was work I came back to. For example, I wrote a modern day Little Red Riding Hood tale for a workshop I had with Brian Evenson the summer I attended as an undergrad—I’ve tended to it since then, editing and revising, and it was just selected for an anthology of other contemporary takes on fairy tales to be published by Indigo Ink Press in May 2013.
SWP is a time for absorption. I think about when my oldest daughter did her vision quest. She was sixteen at the time and having many of the problems anyone that age is having. She participated in this organization called School of Lost Borders in which she was trained to go into the high desert for three days and three nights alone with only a gallon of water, one power bar, a tarp, a sleeping bag and a pack of matches. Obviously she had an empowering experience—not to mention some tremendous visions, but then she had to go back to high school and juggle the paradox of her rite of passage into adulthood while being in a world that didn’t understand her awakening. SWP is like a rite of passage, or vision quest. When it’s over you have to find a way to incorporate and integrate the experience into your life as a writer. I found that the summers changed me far more than I even realized. I don’t think you just stop incorporating the experience. I return to certain writing exercises again and again, or suddenly recollect something someone said and realize it in a different way.
Sarah Elizabeth Schantz lives in Boulder, Colorado. In 2011, she was the recipient of a fiction prize hosted by Third Coast, and in 2012, she was awarded the Orlando Prize in Short Fiction. Her work has appeared, or will appear in The Adirondack Review, Alligator Juniper, Bombay Gin, Third Coast, Midwestern Gothic, New Stories from the Midwest, Hunger Mountain, Los Angeles Review and Modern Grimmoire. She recently finished her first novel.