The Oxford American Summit for Ambitious Writers and pictures of Audrey

Model: Audrey Dean Kelley (wearing her own clothes)
Photographer: Starr Crow

I'm finally home after six days on the mountain. I apologize for leaving so unexpectedly, but I'm home now and ready to tell you all about where I was and what I was doing. To set it all up I'll have to go back to the Thursday during spring break, about three months ago:

Thanks to a blog reader-turned-friend, Nicole, I had a meeting with the editor of Oxford American, a great Southern literary magazine ran out of Conway, Arkansas. I'd been a long time admirer of the magazine, but it had never occurred to me to apply for a summer internship until Nicole encouraged me to do so. But because of overly conflicting schedule issues and the fact that I still have three semesters left of school, I decided it would be best to wait until next summer. Marc, the editor, still wanted to meet me though.

We met at the Oak Street Starbucks in Conway, just a few blocks from my old house––the last one I lived in before finally finding my ticket into Little Rock. We talked about fashion mostly, which was okay with me because it was something I felt confident-enough talking about. He told me about a lady he had met a few weeks before at a dinner in D.C. and about the paper gown she was wearing and how fascinating she was. He seemed to me suddenly curious about fashion as a creative gesture. I felt like I was in the right place at the right time.

He took me back to the OA headquarters and introduced me to all of the editors. They took some time to get to know me, and then we brainstormed ways to fit fashion into a Southern lit mag. We weren't sure of any of the details when I left, but I think we all felt the obvious attraction between our aesthetics.

I emailed with one of the editors for a while, but eventually, the brainstorming emails came to a stop––have you ever tried coming up with ideas via email? It's tough stuff. I tend to detach myself from the title of "writer" or even "photographer", even though I do both nearly everyday, so in the back of my mind, I just thought they had lost interest in me. But then I got the invitation to The Oxford American Summit for Ambitious Writers.

I got it a few weeks before the event. It was from Marc, and it said: "You’ve been selected as an “Editors’ Pick” Scholarship winner for The Oxford American Summit for Ambitious Writers, taking place June 21-26, 2011 in Arkansas." It was a $1,700 value, waived for me and a few other writers. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect going in, but it felt like a sure-fire way for me to gain confidence as a writer and it was a treat that I probably would've never bought for myself.
It was held at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute at the top of Petit Jean Mountain––you know, the one that Mattie Ross went 'coon huntin'' on with her daddy in True Grit. It was only an hour or so from my house in Little Rock, but it was different. It was euphoric. The place was 188-acres of pure bliss. There were paddle boats and bikes available at any time, a scenic overlook just steps from my room,  you could sign up for tours at the archeology exhibit or the antique car show, or you could go hiking under the waterfall or swimming at the pool.

We were served three massive meals per day and given a few free cocktail hours every night. There were interviews with David Reminick and Bill Whitworth, editors of The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly, which were extremely interesting and insightful for me. Travel writer, Pico Iyer, gave an interview too, and he also happened to eat dinner at my four-person table later that night. It was an experience.

 Some local bands came in from Little Rock to entertain us after dinner, and one of them happened to be a friend, Audrey Dean Kelley, who I hadn't seen perform yet and had no idea was coming. Her music was wonderful. I kidnapped her for some pictures after the show, because it was sundown and because she looked cute, and because I had my camera and knew that I HAD to get some pictures while I was on the mountain. Thanks to her, we have some visuals to go along with all this commentary.

The only real requirement I had during my stay was to attend a day class, which met for a few hours everyday and was pretty much just a writing workshop. The classes were split into fiction and non-fiction, and though I obviously should have been in non-fiction, those classes were filling up too quickly. I made the choice to be flexible and attend the fiction class instead, and I'm glad I did. My instructor was Tom Franklin, an amazing and lovable author out of Oxford. I didn't have a manuscript to submit since I only do newspaper and blog writing, but I still participated in reading and critiqing the other students' manuscripts. I learned a lot about fiction. It was an extraordinary experience having ten people talk about one story, constructively arguing about what works and what doesn't work and about the consistencies and inconsistencies of the characters. My classmates poured so much love into their stories, and it was a powerful thing getting to express my opinion as a reader.
I made so many new friends and learned about so many new things. I laughed and I cried (some of the stories raked it out of me) and I drank like Fitzgerald. It was a life I could have sustained forever (besides all the drinking). I kept telling Jake how nice it was to not think about what I was eating everyday. The work was done for me. Oh, and my roommate, Jessica, was amazing!

Anyway, it was great, and I hope they continue this event for years to come. I'm not sure I could ever show enough gratitude to Marc or Carol Ann and all the other OA people for all they've done for me in the past few months, but I will say that I feel like a very lucky girl. It's an indescribable feeling knowing that somebody you think is great sees greatness in you somewhere. And that's exactly what the OA is all about; helping writers hone their voice. It's a commendable thing they're doing with the magazine, and now that the event is over, my schoolgirl crush has turned into a giddy obsession.

Update: My sister told me I should take that crazy edit off the photos. She said she liked it but that the originals were better, so I switched them out. Surprise!


La Fille D'or said...

As a fiction writer, this would have been a dream come true! As a small child I had work published in the Atlantic.. now I submit work to smaller magazines. I recently went to a Pitch -fest which was amazing.

Kaity Stardust said...

Holy canoli, that sounds like an amazing opportunity!

Congratulations, really! It is bloggers like you that help me keep the desire to keep blogging. I'm also a photographer and would have killed to be along side you during that amazing event. Lucky girl you are!

Your photos are amazing, btw. You have a great eye and very unique style. Thanks for keeping me inspired! :D

xoxo www.sadeesays.com/blog

KristiMcMurry said...

Wow, Starr! What a wonderful experience. I love the pictures you took, and the summit sounds like a great learning experience.

Kathryn Heller said...

I heard the whole event was a success. Wish I could have attended some of the music and open-to-the-public events!

So Yeah So said...

Oh my gosh. This is just so amazing! Congratulations.

Fantastic photos, again. I'll definitely be checking out Audrey's music.

LisasRuby said...

The colour of this dress is so pretty!



moonshinejunkyard said...

oh starr this is so amazing! exactly the kind of synchronicity and magic that keeps creativity alive and well. i am so excited for you and proud...did you have to try your hand at any fiction and how'd you do? as a literature major, i know the feeling you mean about sharing discussion related to such a specific creative piece...one story, one novel, one poem. and i LOVE the way that dialogue progresses. the whole thing just sounds amazing and makes me so excited to see what you'll be up to next! this could open new doors you never thought possible. congrats my dear, so inspiring!

Marina said...

Wow what a wonderful experience!!!!!

xx Marina

herecomesthesun said...

Hun that is completely amazing! What a journey. And i love when life just comes together like that. I am so happy for you and you so deserve it :) x

Emily, Ruby Slipper Journeys said...

Awesome Starr! That sounds completely amazing and I basically would have killed to be there! I certainly hope you continue with writing and get a chance to do that internship next year!

nicole said...

Starr! Thank you so much for this. I was going to ask you for a report from OA Land (as I call it). I'm so happy you attended the writer's summit. What an amazing experience. Thanks again for sharing. xoxo.

Rebecca said...

Wow! What an amazing experience Starr. The whole thing sounds amazing. It's the best feeling to be surrounded by other creative people all sharing ideas. Sounds pretty serendipitous all in all. And the photos are lovely too. I really like the first one of the building, feels like something from another era.

Amy B. said...

I am so jealous! I wanted to go to this very badly, but no way was I paying that price.

Also, Audrey is gorgeous. More pics of her, please.