Saturday, November 29, 2014

PINTURA : PALABRA: the next phase: prose.

“The following book is a collection of ekphrastic short stories, many very very brief, and written by a writer from the Philippines. Several will be used for the workshop.”

Fred Arroyo
November 28, 2015

Thus wrote the facilitator of the next PINTURA:PALABRA workshop, giving us a sense of some of the materials he'll be sharing with our workshop participants. What follows is what I'll call an informational interview in which Fred offers some thoughts on the gathering he'll be leading in Salt Lake City, UT--this time for writers who will be exploring ekphrastic prose


LLB: Letras Latinas Blog
FA:   Fred Arroyo

You recently spent a few days in Sacramento, CA, visiting the Crocker Art Museum for three consecutive days, for several hours each day. Will you share with our readers why?

The weekend of March 28-29, 2015, I  will be leading a creative writing workshop, Creative Dialogues: A Workshop in Brief Ekphrastic Prose, at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City, Utah. The workshop is taking place in conjunction with the exhibit Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art. Drawn from the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the exhibit highlights Latino artists and the rich, beautiful, and important contributions theyve made to American art and culture from the mid-20th century to the present, and will travel across the United States until the Spring of 2017. Letras Latinas has set in motion PINTURA : PALABRA, a project in ekphrasis, a multi-year national initiative that seeks to enkindle new creative writing inspired by Latino art, and, thus far, poetry workshops have taken place in Washington, DC, Miami, and Sacramento. The next installment in the project will be the workshop in brief ekphrastic prose in Salt Lake City.

Currently the exhibit is in Sacramento, at the Crocker Museum, and I traveled there to engage with the exhibit, have a sense of how the works are curated within a museum space, and to view, read, imagine, and write from the exhibit as a form of practice, process, and preparation for the workshop. I composed between 12 16 creative works (very brief fictions, prose poems, and essays) during my three days, and these are works that Im eager to return to and continue revising and refining. I have to say that attending the exhibit was one of the more enriching and productive experiences of creativity that Ive experienced in some time. The exhibit helped to affirm and provoke intuitions that have shaped the stories I write. You feel a great sense of pride and gratitude giving yourself to the exhibit, following the peoples, places, artistic choices and forms as they begin to offer stories, connections, and differences that Latino artists in the exhibit work with. You begin to see a shared history emerging in a variety of forms and mediums, a new language connected and different to Latino literary expression, and as you contend with these elements of expression you begin to hear and see new images and locations of culture and identity, and you begin to see and hear silences. And in those silences you begin to imagine new forms of expression and representation that are needed within our collective history, our literature and arts, and the communities we want to inhabit. 

What has been the extent of your experience with ekphrastic writing up until now, and how do you think this experience will help you as move forward in designing and developing Creative Dialogues: A Workshop in Brief Ekphrastic Prose?

Photographs, paintings, and objects have always sparked my writing; they help me to begin inventing, clustering, and collaging together various strands of a story. Often when I write, I have a painting or photo that exists as in the background. The landscape itself in my writing comes to life through a kind of ekphrastic moment. From my limited study of the Greeks, ekphrasisa description of some place, artwork, or objecthas been a natural part of my writing process for some time.

The exhibit (and the preparation for the workshop) is helping to extend and change how I envision the ekphrastic. Im very intrigued by the materiality or spirit of an artwork as it is brought to life in literary writing. How to experience and create a real presence? In viewing the exhibit Our America, I started to welcome more voices into the ekphrastic, more versions of self and other, a more multilingual, multigenerational, multicolored, or multi-lensed approach, where richer possibilities of creativity and expression can arise in engaging with a work of art. And I think this may be because the works in the exhibit have greater power in relation to each other, rather than in their singularity, or isolation. This isnt to suggest that I would deny the power of a single work. Instead, the artworks in Our America collectivelyin pairings, in groupings, in creative dialoguesbegin to register and offer nuances and particulars that make for such a compelling presence of art, and the silences that art makes us to listen to as well. This is shaping the ekphrastic literary works we'll read before the workshop, and as well as how we might approach the exhibit beyond the categories or themes found in the exhibit, so workshop participants might envision how different worksoutside their categoriesoffer creative  connections and dialogues.

Will the workshop participants be asked to carry out any tasks before the workshop?

There will be an anthology of readings participants will need to read. They will include many different forms of ekphrastic writing, as well as more craft or process-orientated writings focused on writing brief prose. In addition, I want to offer readings that return back to an original sense of the ekphrastic: a literary description of a place, a work of art, or an object. In contemplating brief forms of writing that emerge from the ekphrasis of a place or object, my sense is that the ekphrastic dialogue with a work of art will be more particular and imaginative. In the end, well have specific texts to discuss, along with accompanying artworks projected on a screen, have some craft or process language that helps shape our discussions and our writings, and then have these readings and discussions inform our workshops focused on our original creative writings.

Each participant will also need to explore the online exhibit,, and then write three brief ekphrastic prose works (650 words or less) before the workshop. Ideally, it would be great to distribute the works a few days before our first workshop.

Each day will be divided between discussion of works from the anthology, workshops of the participants writings, and a good space of time to interact with the actual exhibit. Saturdays workshops will be of writings created before arriving in Salt Lake City, and Sundays workshop will allow for writers to present both a revision and a new work. This will allow for each writer to feel more confident and creative given how the workshop unfolds, the more time they have with the actual exhibit, and as they accumulate ideas, suggestions, and possibilities they want to bring to their writing. Saturday will also be dedicated to focusing on heuristicsinventive prompts, guides, or possibilitiesfor engaging and discovering the ekphrastic. Sunday evening, after the workshop, we hope to have a celebratory reading where workshop participants can share their writing. 

What will the post-workshop phase of the Salt Lake City edition of PINTURA : PALABRA look like, both in terms of writing, and publication(s).

I am very excited by the two-day workshop at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, the new brief ekphrastic prose that will emerge from the workshop participants, and the future work of curating these works for publication. The plan for now is to edit a portfolio of brief nonfictions for the on-line journal Brevity. In addition, I would like to also edit a portfolio of brief fictions and prose poems for another literary journal, which is still in the works. Before publication, though, Id like to create an online post-workshop, where workshop participants will have a chance to go home, consider there writing within a larger space of contemplation and creativity, and revise or create new works to share with the group. This on-line workshop can then provide more insights and possibilities into new revision and accomplishment, so participants can send their work in for possible publication in the portfolios. I see the space and time after the Salt lake City workshop as a place to invent, revise, and refine, for each participant to imagine more poetically what the ekphrastic can mean and offer to Latino/a literary expression, and why that expression can become a vibrant part of our communities.

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