reflecting on Fishtrap

July 23, 2013


A guest post by Jo Ann Heydron

I’ve just returned from Summer Fishtrap, my favorite writing conference. I’ve attended better-known, juried conferences — Bread Loaf, Tin House, Napa, Squaw Valley — but I go year after year to Fishtrap. When I skip a year, I stumble into fall as if deprived of some major nutrient. I might as well have scurvy.

Located in a Methodist retreat center near the Eastern Oregon town of Joseph, Fishtrap is a few hundred yards from the spectacularly beautiful Wallowa Lake, ringed by mountains and serviced by cabins, lodges, a mini-golf course, elevated tramway, and ice cream stands that recall the 1950s. Counterpointing this old-fashioned cheer are the ghosts of Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce people, who claimed the Wallowa Valley as their own, were betrayed by the U.S. government, resisted relocation, and almost won the day. You can’t look into the lake or hike in the hills without feeling their presence.

Writers, the 150 adults and youth who sign up for this week of workshops, and the ten or so who teach them, are attracted, I think, by the beautiful sorrow of the place and the way it speaks to saving what we can of our dying world. Teachers this year included William Kittredge, Annick Smith, Judy Blunt, Ben Percy, Scott Russell Sanders, Holly Hughes, Minton Sparks, Tarn Wilson, Myrlin Hepworth, and musician Anne Sibley. Jane Vandenburgh and my own instructor, Kim Stafford, wound up yearlong workshops. Wild author Cheryl Strayed was keynote speaker for the weekend and Jennifer Sahn, editor of Orion Magazine, moderated a panel on storytelling.

I appreciate Fishtrap’s noncompetitive, congenial atmosphere, in which you can hear messages that shake up your writing life among friends who quiet the fear and anxiety that accompany growth.

Registration for Summer Fishtrap 2014 will begin in April. Next year’s keynote speaker will be poet Naomi Shihab Nye. We’ll celebrate the hundredth birthday of the late iconic poet William Stafford by remembering the title of one of his books, You Must Revise Your Life, and imagining what following that advice that might entail.

. . . . .
Jo Ann Heydron lives in Bellingham. Her work has appeared in Puerto del Sol, Trachodon, The Nebraska Review, So to Speak, the Pacifica Literary Review and elsewhere. In 2009, she received an MFA in fiction from Pacific University. Her poem “How to Stay” was a 2010 winner in the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest. This year, she’s enjoyed a yearlong workshop taught by Kim Stafford through Fishtrap. She has taught at community colleges in Washington and California and blogs at Talking to Strangers: An Introvert Hits the Streets.

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