After squeezing past the bookshop's many guests and scooting up the stairs, I arrived at the public gathering space at Shakespeare and Company. The very bookshop immortalized in a 'A Moveable Feast' as a refuge for Hemingway and other American writers.
Is this the writing workshop? I asked a blond woman at the entryway.
She looked at me with vacant eyes.
A slim toned man with a newspaper boy cap, replied, 'Yes!' We introduced ourselves. He then continued speaking to the two women beside him, of urgent things in hushed tones.
I sat down on the green cushion with my back resting against the books of the lending library and observed the space and the people milling about. Slowly, the others gave way and those there for the workshop came into focus. Newspaper Boy Cap took the seat by the window and called the workshop into order.
There was drama in the air. There were updates of developments, letters, requests for meetings with the owner and the daughter of George Whitman who opened the second shop at its current location. The original one was started by Sylvia Beach a friend to writers whose bookshop was closed during the occupation of WWII never to reopen.
It seems that this staple of the literary community for 13 years, was meeting unofficially this evening, since the powers that be had decided to open Sunday evenings to other groups. Without rhyme or reason. With little notice. I was perhaps attending my first and my last AWOL writing workshop in this space.
Under this fog of the unknown, we ventured into each others literary offerings. The process is as such: You provide each person a copy of what you want 'workshopped.' Then another person in the group reads your work out loud. Afterwards, we discuss what struck us, choice of words, potential ways to take it. The first writer shared a minimalist poem of 3 lines. Another shared a poignant four page narrative of a friend from long ago. The character was so alive! I shared the start of a short story and was amazed by the useful feedback...how the narrator was getting in the way of the story, what was compelling and what I could develop and some ideas to make it sing. It made the work seem more real somehow, to have other eyes on it and other impressions - and it will certainly help me take it forward. I will use the ideas that resonated, I will discard others, I will keep some in my back pocket.
After two hours, we headed to Bistro des Artistes for a glass and conversation. Newspaper Boy Cap is flying in the wee hours to the UK to work with cancer patients. Another, a dancer, fell silent and drank a cocktail from a mason jar. The only common thread of this quirky group seems to be our love for the written word.
As I walked home, I thought about experiences that are illuminating, that add shimmer. This was certainly one of them. I hope they get to stay at Shakespeare and Company but I know wherever they go (perhaps the Red Wheelbarrow that is reopening in September), I will go with them.