- Christine Schutt
That was the night he played all the parts in his play.His craft talk he said was on Nothing.The son did Rubik's Cube tricksbefore his father read. She saidshe could teach me meterin an afternoon, and she did.He introduced himself as the general.I was the lieutenant.
The Sewanee Writers' Conference on the Mountain is a moment-struck affair. First summer at the Sewanee Writers' Conference, I was paired to teach with Barry Hannah; Lucy Corin was a Fellow in our class. Miriam Berkley took photographs of the three of us on the porch at the French House, happy—I was happy in Barry's company. On the last reading of the last Saturday, we sat together in the back row of the Women's Center. He planned a quick exit, but we stood at his truck afterwards and talked. The overcast sky, starless and close, was inauspicious, and I was weepy. I said, "I don't think I'll ever see you again." And although he protested, I was right. Four years of letters—and not so very many letters at that, but I live by his wise words still. The novel does require "too much awful thinking … unless you find the right music." Lucy Corin is still striking the right notes. [End Page 747]
Next partner, John Casey—what didn't he know? He once spent a good part of our workshop explaining the finer points of rowing to Pamela Erens so that she would get it right in her boarding school novel. More than once, he broke into song.
Late afternoon, our workshop over, Tim O'Brien told me not to take it personally that we didn't like the same Cormac McCarthy novels, advice that has served me well when in disagreement with others over books. Such moments.
Inimitable exchanges, confessions, promises made in the company of newly met writers: these, rather than dates, have distinguished the summer conferences. I remember R. O. Kwon's resolve to take as long as it takes. At the Sewanee Inn, after our conference, just before we parted, she said she wanted to get the first novel right. (She did.)
Sisters! Jill McCorkle, Mary Jo Salter, and I lived in a large house when the Inn was under construction. An "older brother"—less excitable—Randall Keenan lived on the second floor. He had a car, but we girls had a golf cart. Whenever Jill drove onto the sidewalk, people jumped out of the way. Now most everyone stays at the new neo-Gothic Sewanee Inn. Adrianne Harun lives next door; we keep close company.
Other moments recur: the sunset clouds castle in pastels on the Mountain, or else the moonrise stuns us; skunk scent near the Inn; at Wyatt's and Barbara's house the cicadas make a ruckus; a fox (snake, skunk, deer) on the shortcut to the French House—again!
In the company of writers someone is always snatching something from the scene. This moment: a late night at the French House and Alice McDermott's younger son is playing Irish music with his friends in the foyer that has the staircase. The foyer is the last, best room left in which to play music—all the other rooms are taken up with talkers—so the boys play here. They attract an attentive [End Page 748] crowd, but when Amy Jarman begins to sing, we draw closer, and some move up the staircase to make room for others pressing in to hear the soprano. She is singing "Down by the Salley Gardens," the Yeats folk tune, that simple elegy for love set in a garden of willows—spring-green, I think, more yellow where "my love and I did meet." Amy's voice is so lovely and near, and then from the top of the stairs John Casey begins to sing, "She bid me take love easy, / as the leaves grow on the tree; / But I, being young and foolish, / I with her would not agree." This toward the end of the Conference in the summer of whatever summer it was. I didn't want it...