Centenary instructors deliver workshops at Chautauqua Writers' Center

Dr. David Havird at the Chautauqua Institute in July 2017.

SHREVEPORT, LA — David Havird, professor of English at Centenary College, and his wife, writer Ashley Mace Havird, were invited to present writing workshops in early July at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, New York. David served as poet-in-residence and Ashley as prose writer-in-residence for the second week of the nine-week summer session at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center.

The Chautauqua Institution in southwestern New York State annually enrolls approximately 8,000 students of all ages for summer education courses designed to explore human values, stimulate creative responses to important religious, social, and political issues, and promote excellence in the appreciation, teaching, and performance of the arts. More than 100,000 people attend public events during the Chautauqua Institution’s summer sessions.

As poet-in-residence, David Havird taught a workshop entitled “The Wonder of Travel,” leading students through an exploration of how specific poets have approached travel to foreign locales and translated their experiences into poetry. Havird asked students in the course to produce a journal-like entry of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile memories from their own travel and then guided them through the process of crafting this block of prose into an original poem about a “traveled-to, wonder-inducing” place.

“We set about discovering the poem within the prose - within the ‘sloppy copy’ - and then the participants set about delineating the poem, carving out the poem (like the angel from the stone) and then chiseling and polishing,” explains Havird. “I was frankly amazed not only by how quickly the participants caught on and embraced the process (which they later told me was unique to their experience in poetry-writing workshops) but also by how competently they all worked. The ‘final’ versions shared on ‘publication day,’ the last day of the workshop, were at least workmanlike and at best truly inspired. For me, this was a genuinely gratifying teaching experience.”

Ashley Mace Havird’s prose workshop, entitled “Exploring Home,” encouraged students to “peel back layers” of memories about home in an effort to discover new ideas about people, places, and experiences. Her goal was to get students to focus on a very specific memory and turn it into a three or four page scene that could stand alone as a complete short story or serve as part of something larger, such as the chapter of a novel. Since many Chautauqua students are adults, she was particularly interested in seeing how students would grapple with memories of home, often rooted in childhood or adolescence, that may have shifted over time.

“My students were eclectic in every sense of the word,” says Ashley. “Backgrounds and writing experience ranged from those of high school seniors to a professional statistician to the publisher of the Dow Jones Media Group. The warm rapport of the participants and their work ethic were typical of the serious devotion to art and ideas that permeates the Chautauqua Institution.”

The Havirds also gave a joint public reading and separate Brown Bag lectures during their tenure at Chautauqua. David’s lecture, “Life Amid the Ruins: Greece Through Poets’ Eyes,” was inspired by his experiences taking Centenary students to Greece during the College’s May Module program. They were also able to enjoy many other Chautauqua activities, including a morning lecture series whose theme was “The Human Journey,” featuring explorers from National Geographic, including the paleoanthropologist Lee Berger.

“We also attended the evening concerts, which included an exuberant July 4th pops performance,” says David. “And we did a lot of walking and bird-watching beside the lake. Like no place I'd ever been--and a beautiful village it is--Chautauqua makes real the ideal of lifelong learning.”

Ashley Mace Havird is the author of the award-winning novel Lightningstruck (2016), this summer’s all-school read for Caddo Magnet High School, as well as three collections of poetry. She has also served as an adjunct professor of creative writing at Centenary. David Havird is Harbuck Board of Regents Professor of English and has taught at Centenary since 1988. His most recent poetry collection is Map Home (2013), and his poems have appeared in multiple anthologies as well as The New Yorker.

His recent poem, “Les Mouches” (The Flies), published in The American Journal of Poetry’s July 2017 volume, is set at the Rodin Museum in Paris. The poem describes Rodin's statue of Eve and Havird’s encounter there with a real-life woman whom the poem relates to Eve - an experience that took place while he was teaching in the College’s Centenary in Paris program for first-year students.

“I wrote out an account there and then in my notebook,” recalls Havird. “Later the poem emerged exactly as the Chautauqua workshop's poems emerged from the blocks of prose - and as poems by the Centenary students in Paris will (I hope) emerge from notebook entries this August.”

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