They treat me like their wayward son, bringing me carrots and fruit to keep me healthy and cookies to keep me happy. In turn, I give them cheese and crackers and bottled water, joke with them, laugh with them and love them all like a favorite grandmother. Does this sound like a serious writing workshop to you? It does to me. It’s mine.
When I retired as a columnist for the Los Angeles Times three years ago, I created the Topanga Writers Workshop to give back, to share what I had learned in 60 years as an author of books, essays, short stories, novels and movies. Everything but psalms, hymns and haiku poetry.
What the workshop has attracted are women over 50 who, past the requirements of child-rearing and husband-pleasing, want to reinvent themselves as literary mavens. They’re the galloping grannies, one a 92-year-old practicing attorney, another a woman who took flying lessons in her forties and now buzzes about the sky in her own plane. She’s our Butterfly.
There are male members too, including a 12-year-old who wrote a novel based in mythology, and a brilliant 18-year-old, now at Harvard, who had his own column in a neighborhood newspaper and has already won the attention of two major dailies. But it’s the grannies who keep the workshop going.
We meet every Saturday in my home at what we call the Rectangular Table West. I lecture and assign, they write, I edit and we discuss. I judge their work the way I’ve been judged, and if it upsets them occasionally, they get over it and still bring me cookies. I place emphasis on the “work” part of workshop, and explain to them it isn’t a club, it’s a place to learn the craft of words and stories by actually living among them. Two have self-published books, a few have been printed in newspapers and one has won a national short story contest. All have projects under way.
Why do they write? Some to fulfill lifelong dreams, some to leave footprints of their existence, some to enlighten succeeding generations, some to record their travel adventures, some to figure out their lives, some for fun, some because they must, and, as the 18-year-old explains “because I get to hang out with all the dames over 50.”
And get cookies too.