Lisa Lopez Snyder
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site and the Friends of Carl Sandburg at Connemara are pleased to announce the 2015 Carl Sandburg Writer-in-Residence, Lisa Lopez Snyder. The writer for 2015 is a prose writer.
Ms. Snyder will also appear at the Carl Sandburg Student Poetry Contest Celebration on Friday, April 17 at 7:00 p.m. at Blue Ridge Community College, Patton Building Room 150. The public is welcomed to join in the recognition of the students as they are honored for their winning poems.
Community outreach has always been a part of Snyder's writing life. In South Carolina, she initiated amonth-long creative writing workshop for Latino immigrant children in one of the Richland County public schools. As part of this effort, she established a collaborative between the school and the Women's Well-Being Initiative, a project of the Women's and Gender Studies Program at the University of South Carolina. When she moved to New Hampshire to teach freshman composition at Dartmouth, she developed a creative writing club at Windsor High School, as part of Second Growth, a nonprofit organization serving underserved youth in Vermont. She also co-hosted a monthly "Writer's Night Out" event of writer readings, as part of the New Hampshire Writers' Project. Snyder holds an MFA infiction from the University of South Carolina, and is currently working on a collection of essays about growing up in Huber Heights,Ohio. She is also at work on revisions to her first novel.
Lisa Writes to the Friends of Carl Sandburg at Connemara
As the 2015 Writer-in-Residence, you spoke to elementary schools and various civic groups to encourage people with their writing. You also spent hours in solitude at the Estate. Overall, what was the most rewarding experience of the residency?
Perhaps one of the most rewarding experiences was having the time to not only reflect on my writing, but simply being immersed in an environment that allowed me to re-imagine a time that has often confounded me—my Ohio childhood. I'm primarily a fiction writer, easily drawn to developing and molding characters that I delightfully chase around on the page. And while I've written essays, my biggest struggle has been how to create a structure around the details of so many memories about growing up.
The residency gave me a chance to explore this structure more deeply. These times often came on my regular hikes up Big Glassy Mountain, right outside my door. I'd hike to the flat rock at the top overlook, or sit on a bench along one of the trails, and write for hours. Something about the forested solitude opened up the past -- the rich smell of pine brought back the adventures of family camping trips or the hush of a still-fresh Sunday morning as I delivered newspapers. I was the first and only paper girl in my neighborhood. The site of a young family hiking brought to mind the memory of a friend's dad missing in action in the Vietnam War, and the rest of us fourth-graders wearing our MIA bracelets in class, and Walter Cronkite covering the anti-war protests—all of these memories quickly emerged as linked vignettes. I realized that collage essay was the form I was looking for. There were some really powerful moments along the trail. I had also brought to the residency journals I had kept as a teenager. Reading these so many years later was a bit bizarre, but they helped trigger ideas for the vignettes. I had even scribbled songs that were popular at the time in the margins.
As educators, we're always looking for opportunities to bring something into the classroom. How has the Sandburg experience changed you as an educator?
Sometimes in the rush of the school day it can be easy just introduce a new concept without understanding where students are in their thinking or life experience. I teach college freshmen and conduct creative writing workshops for high school students. The challenge with the Sandburg educational outreach, however, was when I worked with a group of five- and six-year-olds. Of course, I had to drastically change my vocabulary and delivery for that group. We made and colored Sandburg goat puppets and sang songs about the farm. Actually, this made me want to be more thoughtful in lesson planning for the older students, asking myself, how can each class or week begin with some kind of personal connection? As an educator, using "the familiar" to make a connection to a new concept is an important one.
Can you describe your text message assignment and relate it to the Sandburg experience?
The text message assignment is a fun one! I use this as a warm up. I tell students they'll all be writing a "Crazy Poem." The beauty of this assignment is that students don't have to pay attention to grammar or punctuation (!) and what they write doesn't have to make sense. First, ask students to pull out their cell phones and to write down the last text message they received—this should be a message they could read aloud. If a student doesn't have phone, have a student next to them share a different message. Next, tell students to put their phones away. Then, have them write start writing something—anything—for 10 seconds. Count aloud. As you count, tell them they can write anything silly or strange, real or imagined. At 10, say "pass!" and have students pass the poem to the person to their right. Tell them "don't think, just keep writing." Keep doing that (but extend the countdown to 20 and then 30 seconds), and have them pass until they get their own paper. When finished, ask for volunteers to share. Of course, during the writing and reading, students are gasping and laughing. After a student reads, ask what words and images stood out. This exercise helps draw students' attention to word choice and use (make short comments about that), and the bonus is that everyone gets to hear a line they wrote in the poem.
At Sandburg, I followed this exercise up with one that had them writing their own short poem without passing the paper. This time I gave the students a first line from "Breathing Tokens," a Sandburg poem: "Give me a quiet garret alone." I had them write for five to six minutes. Afterwards they could share. The students wrote some really powerful pieces. After students read, others joined in and talked about the word choices and images that stood out to them. This exercise often surprises students, and it's wonderful to see how excited they are by their own creation —that's the biggest reward a teacher can get. After they shared their work, I told them it came from a Sandburg poem, and then I read the poem.
At the time of the residency, you were living in Hanover, New Hampshire. Flat Rock, North Carolina, perhaps, has some similarities toHanover? Can you speak to any similarities/differences between the two towns?The most visible and immediate similarities are the mountains. I love to hike, and given that I had just left beautiful, mountainous New Hampshire, it was a delight to see I could just leave my front door and follow the trail up to Big Glassy Mountain, a wonderful 1.5 mile-hike. The biggest difference was definitely the weather. New Hampshire was still sliding between winter snow and the spring "mud season" in April, so the grass in Flat Rock was a wonderful, lush, green welcome. I had never been so excited to run outside without a coat on, and then to join the adorable Sandburg goats in the green pasture. I felt like Dorothy when she entered the technicolor world of Oz.
The other similarity between Flat Rock and Hanover is that they're both vibrant literary communities. In New Hampshire I was active in the statewide New Hampshire Writer's Project, and co-organized the local Upper Valley group, which hosted monthly writer readings. I met some of my best friends there. I was thrilled to meet local writers in Flat Rock, attending a local writer's group that one of the Friends of Carl Sandburg hosts, and participating as a reader in the North Carolina Writers' Network at the Hendersonville Public library. Blue Ridge Community College hosted a book festival. I will add that Flat Rock and Hendersonville has many more cafes, restaurants, and bookstores than Hanover, so that was quite a treat.
Describe a time that you were frightened, elated, surprised, or challenged during the residency.
I was a little spooked the first night in the farm manager's house, but not because it was quiet, pitch dark out, and I was the only one in the park. I had returned from a late night grocery trip and was on the back porch placing grocery bags inside the door. I had just turned around to get the last bag when I saw a large furry animal on the porch. It seemed like it had just appeared out of nowhere. I gasped and hit my hand on the door panel. Turns out it was just a large cat. He was a beautiful tabby, sitting there, just watching me as if he had been there all night. He had a collar on so I knew he had to be "Sandburg family." I soon learned he was Tiger, and every few nights he joined me on the front porch to listen to the distant sounds of the birds in the trees.
Who are some of your literary heroes and why? Note: Can be other heroes too.
Some of my literary heroes include John Steinbeck, and contemporary writers Edwidge Danticat, Reyna Grande, and Rigoberto González. I admire them for having written bravely of the working class and migrant experience. Steinbeck, of course, chronicled and championed disenfranchised people, challenging modernist tradition with a piercing eye on representations that most writers of that time steered clear of. Mexican writer Grande and Haitian-American writer Danticat are novelists whose characters speak to the extraordinary lives of the Mexican and Haitian experience, respectively. And as memoirists, their work reveals their own migrations to the United States and draws our attention to the universal question of what it means "to belong." I've taught their works at Dartmouth College and at the University of South Carolina. I studied under poet, essayist, and novelist Rigoberto González last summer at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and in recent months have been returning to his collection, Red-Inked Retablos, as a study on innovative narrative. I highly recommend it for anyone who writes in several genres.
Last updated: July 20, 2015