VONA Reportback and the Real Work

28 06 2010

I was offline much of last week because I was at VONA, short for the Voices of our Nations writing workshop, at the University of San Francisco. I had the privilege and pleasure of being in an advanced fiction workshop with author and all-around-cool dude Mat Johnson, who wrote Hunting in Harlem and the graphic novel Incognegro, among several other books.

Despite the tough-looking photo on the home page of his web site, Mat was a generous and encouraging teacher. He gave lots of critical feedback too, don’t get me wrong, but what’s a writing workshop if someone doesn’t slice and dice your work? His case-study lectures on structure were especially helpful to me, and I made a note to myself that when I get stuck on a story, when it’s basically at the stage where I feel like I can’t do anything with it anymore, I should do what Mat did with our stories / novels-in-progress in class and figure out two things: 1) What’s this story about? and 2) What’s actually happening? We made scene ‘maps’ to identify what’s actually on the page (versus what we are ‘trying’ to write), which was extremely useful to all of us. It was also good to work with a writer (and especially a father) who has children and realize that it is possible to have a career and a family at the same time.

And Mat left me with a healthy dose of much-needed inspiration when he said to me a few times, “I can’t wait to see your short story collection. That’s a book I want to read.” (I recently found out that I didn’t make the cut for the Hyphen short story contest, although a friend and fellow VONA alum won the grand prize, Sunil Yapa. So while I’m happy for Sunil, I was a bit bummed.) But there’s no better anecdote for rejection blues than having an accomplished writer I admire telling me they expect more from me. Makes me want to get my butt in the chair and start writing! The same thing happened when I met Bino Realuyo for breakfast a few years ago in New York City and he told me, somewhat gravely, at the end of our conversation, “The next time I see you, I want to see your book.”

The Student and the Teacher: Me and Mat Johnson at VONA

And of course, the other magic at VONA is being around 60+ other writers of color from all over the country who are all dedicated to crafting their work and making it as good as it can be. I made new friends, as always, and got to reconnect with old writing buddies, and got terrific feedback on the short story I’m working on.

Me and Emily Yamauchi, a super-talented writer and new buddy

The view from the campus is pretty gorgeous, too.

View from Lone Mountain Campus, where VONA workshops take place

Been feeling a bit of post-VONA withdrawal these last couple days, which since this is my fourth time doing the workshop, I know is normal. And now the real work begins. I’ve set aside most of this week to write, and to hopefully put into practice all the brilliant advice Mat and my fellow writers gave me this week. Butt in chair. Write. Read. Write. Read. Write. Avoid Facebook and Twitter as much as possible. That’s my goal for this week. Wish me luck.




7 responses

28 06 2010
Barbara Jane Reyes

Hi Rona, Hoping all is well. Good to read this. So I’m wondering if you’d like to write about your VONA experience for the PAWA blog? Last year I asked Amalia Bueno and Darlene Rodrigues to share how their VONA experiences have helped them develop as writers, and as Pinay writers; how they decided to apply to VONA; the differences between the VONA community workshop and other writing workshops; the topic of mentors, and what they foresee as next steps in their writing.


Would you like to do the same? Pls let me know. Best, BJR

28 06 2010

Hey Barb, good to hear from you. Sure, I’d be glad to write a VONA piece for the PAWA blog. When do you want it by? I could probably get it to you late this week / early next. There were also several other Pinays at VONA this year, I’ll try to get some quotes from them for my piece. Peace, R.

P.S. I finally got a copy of ‘Poeta en San Francisco’. Hope you can sign it for me one day.

28 06 2010
Barbara Jane Reyes

Great Rona, thanks. Is one week from now enough time? Let me know. You can email it to me directly bjanepr at gmail dot com. Thanks so much; I would also like to hear from other Pinays (very few Pinoys seem to do VONA?). I’ve also asked Kim Alidio. I’m not sure who she studied with.

I’d be happy to sign your copy of Poeta. Thanks for picking it up!

28 06 2010

Yup plenty time. Will email you. Thanks, R.

5 07 2010

Your post inspires me to write in the post-VONA haze, too. Thank you, and look forward to keeping in touch.

7 07 2010
Gessy Alvarez

Great pics!

28 11 2012
Evelyn N. Alfred

I applied for the Miami VONA. I hope I get in. It sounds like you had a marvelous time.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: