About the Cover
Our cover design by Nanette
Black features Dusk Island Shrine, Suttsu, Hokkaido, Japan
(2002), a photograph by Michael Kenna. Kenna, who grew up in England
and now lives on the West Coast, is “a diurnal and nocturnal
photographer, fascinated by times of day when light is at its most
pliant.” More than twenty books and catalogs have been published
on Kenna’s work, including Michael Kenna: A Twenty-Year
Retrospective (Treville, 1994), Impossible to Forget
(Nazraeli Press, 2001), and Japan (Nazraeli Press,
2004). Represented by dozens of galleries across the globe, his
photographs are included in the permanent museum collections of
the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Patrimoine Photographique
in Paris, and London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, among others.
In 2001, Kenna was made a Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters
by the Ministry of Culture in France. His work can be viewed online
Sunday, June 5
I’m sitting in my hotel room, the window
wide open, a steep hill of pines and plane trees climbing across
the way. The Tuscia, this area north of Rome, is much greener than
I’d expected, its sharp hills and mountains rising from the
broad plain below. Only a few hours ago I was buffeted by the weekend
bustle of da Vinci Airport in Rome, worried—as I always worry—about
the new Kenyon Review Writers Workshop about to begin. But this
one is in Italy—a far cry from the well-known paths of Gambier.
Our writing programs have become an ever more important part of
the identity and mission of The Kenyon Review. Our workshops
for young writers and adults in Gambier have grown every year. We
are developing new generations of readers and writers, and that’s
a critical and creative way to keep the flame of literature alive.
But adults are a challenging market: persuading them to spend money—and
time!—on themselves can be a hard sell. The idea of launching
this new program abroad is to offer both the chance for serious
writing and instruction and for the pleasures of exploration and
holiday as well.
A ninety-minute drive through the green-golden hills outside of
Rome brought the twenty-plus participants and staff up into the
vineyards, olive groves, and forests of the Cimini Mountains. The
air is immediately lighter, cooler, lovely. This is an authentic
Italy that one so rarely has access to—nary a tourist coach
on the horizon.
Monday, June 6
Truth is, last night after dinner I sneaked out
of the Hotel Piccola to glimpse Vitorchiano firsthand, the village
where the workshops will take place. I did not, could not write
about my impressions on returning, not merely because I was sleepy
and the hour late, but because I doubted my ability to do so in
anything other than a tone of hyperbole that readers would dismiss
as preposterous. I considered, truly, abandoning this journal. But
in this morning’s brilliant sunshine, I returned to the central
village once more, this time with the ten participants of our fiction
workshop, and now I feel better able to take a shot.
Last night, passing through the archway of a wall that encircles
the small hill town, all I could make out were the ancient buildings
themselves. At the edge of one terrace, staring out into the vast
blackness of the chasm that falls away to three sides, I could see
only the stars high overhead. From the distance came the song of
the nightingale and the clockless call of the cuckoo.
Everything here—walls, pavement, churches and houses, alleys
and arches—is wrought from a dark gray stone mined locally
and aptly named pepperino, or pepperstone. The village
perches on the crown of a jutting outcrop of that same rock, as
if it were part of the same original extrusion from the earth, or
perhaps a later, stony blossom. Built largely in the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries, Vitorchiano seems largely untouched by the
modern world, except that tiny cars do indeed sidle through the
narrow lanes and alleys, and the denizens who live here are very
much a part of our world. No touch of Epcott in these precincts.
Today we arrived to begin our program at the seminar center recently
opened by the American poet Linda Lappin. The cottage is in the
center of the village. Its main room—comfortable space for
twelve or fourteen writers—looks out across that great chasm
falling protectively away below.
Tuesday, June 7
Our participants—seventeen writers and four
partners or guests— make up an interesting group of most every
size, shape, and persuasion. They come from across the U.S. And
though several have been involved with earlier KR workshops
in Gambier, most have never had a Kenyon or KR connection.
I’m pretty sure that after this experience, most will continue
as part of the national community that has become such a signature
of our programs.
One thing these writers all share is talent and commitment. Amazingly,
there’s been not a single whinge so far—remarkable for
any enterprise such as this. It helps to have Nancy Zafris teaching
fiction and David Baker poetry. They are marvelous, challenging,
inspiring instructors, and they share not a little diplomatic talent
The fiction workshop meets each morning for two hours, the poetry
for two hours; one group took the early shift in the seminar room
on Monday. Today they have flip-flopped. I can tell that all is
going well because everyone seems so eager to keep writing in the
afternoons, despite the fine lunches and the lure of a siesta at
the Hotel Piccola.
This afternoon we took the first of our special outings, this to
a local “park of monsters.” The Tuscia, it turns out,
is full of these unexpected glories. The park was created on a mountaintop
near the hill town of Bomarzo by Prince Orsini in the sixteenth
century. In dells and glens, across rolling hills and sharp rocky
spines, enormous stone gorgons and giants preen and astonish. Supposedly,
the prince was so in love with his young wife that he built this
park as a place to play and sport, and one can imagine the parties
here. Many of the monsters have been carved in place from outcrops
of the dark gray pepperino, and the artistry is astounding.
Waterfalls and streams flow throughout, and it’s impossible
to tell which of these waterways were created, which occur quite
naturally. David Baker suggested—and I think it’s a
great idea—that next year we arrange a picnic here and have
workshops in the park in the afternoon.
Wednesday, June 8
One of the women on the program came up to me
after dinner. “I thought, when I first saw the schedule, that
taking a day off would be a waste of time,” she said. “But
now I realize it was brilliant—we’ve been working so
hard. I needed the break!”
I was glad to hear that, of course. A handful of our writers decided
to stay in Vitorchiano and keep at their work. More power to them!
Most of the others, however, used the off-day to travel near and
far for fun and, I suspect, for fresh inspiration. Orvieto is only
forty-five minutes away, with one of the great cathedrals in Italy,
its famous wines, its glorious views from high above the countryside.
More locally, Viterbo and Orte are well worth a visit. One woman
took a train to Florence for the day, and reported tonight that
she had a marvelous time just walking nonstop through that magical
city. Still others, myself included, slipped away for a bright,
breezy day of walking, shopping, eating in Rome.
Friday, June 9
A good day of work it has been. I’m
delighted that each of the workshop groups has developed its own
personality and independence. They’ve taken to meeting when
and where they like, sometimes in an open air café just outside
the walls of the old town, sometimes in the hidden grotto that lies
all but secret within another café within the narrow, cobbled
streets. You have to enter the outer chamber, find your way down
a dark hole, before the inner room opens out with spaciousness and
warmth. A wonderful place to collaborate—if only you can find
David and Nancy have their cohorts writing around the clock, all
sharing a bond of excitement and exhilaration and not a little conspiracy.
Tomorrow night before our parting gala dinner there will be an open
reading and, as always, I know it will be great fun.
Already Ellen Sheffield, our program director who has made this
all happen, and I are planning for next year. I’d anticipated
making wholesale changes after the initial event, but there’s
surely no need. I can hardly wait.
—David H. Lynn