- Adam Latham
I took an undergraduate fiction workshop with Tom Franklin my last year at Sewanee. At the end of the semester, he encouraged me to apply to the Sewanee Writers' Conference. When I asked Tom whom I should work with, he said Barry Hannah. [End Page 726]
I hadn't heard of him. Then I read his collection Airships and was blown away.
On the first day of workshop, Barry wrote thrill me on the chalkboard. Halfway through the Conference, he workshopped one of the two stories that I gave him. I was twenty-two. They were the third and fourth that I had ever written.
For half an hour, Barry eviscerated me. "This sentence couldn't find its own way into an eloquent trash can," he said. "I've written bad stories too," was another zinger.
I was embarrassed. Cindered. What it amounted to was more than a harsh no. Write, he seemed to say, but don't ever do that again.
Barry ended his critique by telling the workshop that he liked my other story.
We discussed that one in our individual meeting. He was kind to me in the wake of his ruthlessness. At the end of our session, he asked me to take him fishing. On the last day of the Conference, he picked me up in his Jeep, and we drove to a stocked pond on the Mountain. On the way, we listened to Jimi Hendrix. He was more excited about music than any of the writing we'd discussed in workshop. "Hendrix's sound comes straight from heaven," he told me. It's the truth. Art is fun and holy. It's a sin to treat it poorly.
Barry's scorching me in workshop—and then spending time with me afterward—saved me from law school and changed my life. He not only made me want to be a writer but gave me a glimpse of what it would take.
I remain challenged, haunted in the best sense, by Barry—that I can't or won't live up to what he saw in me. Most days, I fall far short. But my experience with him drives me to labor harder, to be my own fiercest critic, and of course, to thrill. [End Page 727]
Adam Latham is an associate director for the Sewanee Writers' Conference. His fiction has appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Blackbird, Mississippi Review, and storySouth.