As a writer, I came up in Lexington, Kentucky. Before I studied with Alicia Ostriker, Jean Valentine, Ross Gay, or Gerald Stern, before I entered my M.F.A. or my Ph.D., I studied with my neighbors. Neighbors who were also writers, who apprenticed me. They weren’t getting paid a salary for it, though surely I was a piece of work. They didn’t earn tenure in any institution other than my heart. We looked after each other, across generation and ideology; Nikky Finney, Wendell Berry, Pam Sexton, James Baker & Mary Ann Taylor- Hall, Gurney Norman, Guy Mendes, Maurice Manning, Crystal Wilkinson, Gray Zeitz (and so many others) looked after me.
By doing so, we participated in a literary tradition far older and more rational than degrees, one I’m afraid now grows scarce. Back then, we raised up our artists the way we once raised up a barn; by every neighbor’s hand. Because we were grounded in a single and singular shared place, we shared lives—weddings and births and funerals, meals and movies, and the work: its tedium and day-to-day frustrations, its tiny triumphs, its discipline. The work was put in its proper context, as a practice, as a part of a fully-lived life.
We also shared a secret, one kept among master writers, everywhere: that no character is actually bereft of her place. This means that any writer’s job is to create a living ecosystem of self and other, a place. And to create a living place on the page, you must first know your own place deeply, painfully, credibly.
This is why I created The Makery. I love to learn and I love the classroom, and clearly I have benefited from formalized inquiry; but I know I am made at the hand of my neighbors; those who shaped me, my imagination, my discipline and practice, into something so much more than a book contract.
The Hindman Settlement School has been the seedbed of the Appalachian literary tradition for more than a hundred years. This accomplishment is earned by the use of one simple formula: apprentice the emerging by the elder, in an environment that merges high standards with honest encouragement with a respect for the ground on which our feet stand.
I created The Makery because I wanted you, wherever you are, to be given access to this style of learning. So I assembled a literary neighborhood, online. At The Makery you can study writing in four-week blocks with writers who are profoundly accomplished—not in spite of, but because, they know place. You can study at your own pace or apply to enter the Fellowship, in which you can practice at the M.F.A. level (without incurring the heavy costs). And you can do it right where you live, absorbing what the Appalachian literary tradition offers by bringing it into your place, your practice, be that in Alaska or Alabama, Paris or Texas or the next holler over.
Spring registration is open now. The deadline for Fellowship application is November 1. Come to hindmansettlement.org/themakery to get to know your teachers; we look so forward to spending time with you.