- Jill McCorkle
The first time I ever taught at the Sewanee Writers' Conference, I flew from Massachusetts with my children who were eight and eleven. I had been assured that Sewanee welcomes children, no problem at all.
"But are you sure?" I remember asking Wyatt. His phone call had caught me completely by surprise, the offer itself still too good [End Page 733] to be true. And children are welcome? My son had once thrown so much food from a cafeteria high chair at a writing event, there was discussion about whether or not any children should ever be allowed there again. I was standing in my long-ago kitchen—a pile of dishes in the sink and a fat yellow Labrador licking crumbs from the floor around my feet—phone cord stretching as far as it could go so I could see around the corner where both kids were plugged into the television, their video game's mechanical music already stuck in my head for the day.
Wyatt assured me that Cheri Peters, his then amazing right-hand person, and the many staff members would help me figure it all out. We would have our own house. There were teenagers to babysit if necessary. There was a nice pool and gym. They could borrow bikes. There were camp events on the Mountain and so on. It really did sound too good to be true, and I think that a part of me remained in disbelief until we arrived, a member of the staff meeting us at the Nashville airport and escorting us up the Mountain and into our house, where the kids began claiming their rooms and setting up for the next ten days.
That first night, we went to the Pruntys' house for the annual and much anticipated welcome dinner where my daughter immediately met and fell in with the Bausch sisters; and once my son located a television and was plugged into the All-Star Game, all was fine.
"This is just sleepaway camp for grown-ups," they had determined later in the week. By then the girls were fast friends, spending every minute together, while my son happily sat in the most comfortable chair in the house—an overstuffed recliner—and played his new video game, Madden; within days he had the likes of Richard Bausch and Alan Shapiro playing along with him and had decided that being a writer was a very cool thing. [End Page 734]
The girls, older and more sophisticated, took a little longer in their summation as they tiptoed in and out of the French House. They used creative names to identify those they observed and had crushes on a few of them (including the Pruntys' son who was a lifeguard at the pool). They knew who smoked and who visited the bar too much and who spent time together. I came back at night reeling with literary discussion and the aftereffects of brilliant readings, and their commentary made it sound like we had attended the junior high dance. Beyoncé sang "Crazy in Love" over and over long after I turned out my light, video-game beeps and snack-seeking cabinet slams in the background. Amazingly we only broke one lamp.
At the end, they were sad to leave and begging to return. I, too, wanted to return, but there were no guarantees unless I got the call, meaning the invitation from Wyatt. Luckily we did return, and we ventured from house to house of generous faculty members away for the summer. We had cats one year—sneaky, shy creatures—and another year we had a lot of discussion about crucifixes. The porch light of one house attracted the most beautiful, gigantic moths we had ever seen.
For me, the best part was being able to have a foot in the literary world while also maintaining my maternal responsibilities, something not always easy to do. I had taken my son as a two-week-old to a job interview, and my daughter had sat and colored during my class, but this was total immersion. Thanks to Wyatt and the kid-friendly Sewanee atmosphere, they had fun and also...