In April I received an email: “…you have been awarded a scholarship to the Historical Narrative workshop led by faculty member Charles Strozier which begins on Sunday, June 27 and ends on Saturday, July 3.” Out of the workshops offered, this was the best choice for a ridiculously full schedule this summer and it was a great experience. Saturday, I flew to Boston and spent the night at the Seaport Hotel right across the street from the ferry I took the next morning (after a lobster roll dinner of course). We arrived at MacMillan Wharf in P’town. It was crowded and a band was playing in the gazebo. New England! Fortunately we stayed the much quieter East End near the Mailer home. NMWC provided a great apt. Neighbors included Mary Oliver and Michael Cunningham. Literary!
Ours was one of the busiest workshops they’ve had, so be aware – results may vary. Charles Strozier (Chuck) is enthusiastic, energetic and we had a full week. Eight of us met Monday morning at the Mailer home. There are pics of the house on the website. Just know that you cannot beat the view from the porch. After introductions, Chuck had invited Mike Lennon, Mailer’s biographer, joined us and gave us a tour of the home, including Mailer’s study followed by a talk and Q&A. To say he knows his subject is an understatement, so there was no question unanswered. During the rest of the week we discussed each others pieces as well as three books: The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History, Washington’s Crossing (Pivotal Moments in American History)and the first hundred pages or so of Chuck’s upcoming book on 9/11 (heartbreaking, excellent and should be out for the 10th anniversary next year). On Tuesday we were joined by Steve Bukowski who briefed us on Provincetown History and gave us an orientation to the digital archives as well as some local stories (so many resources!) and Wednesday took a tour led by Laurel Guadazno of the P’town Museum. We each wrote a piece based on an artifact at the Provincetown Museum, which had some cool stuff. I chose a painting by Charles Hawthorne of Portuguese fishermen in the area. Spent Wednesday afternoon and eve writing mine. Thursday we discussed the rest of the workshop submissions and final two books. That night on the way back from dinner, John Waters passed me on his bike. I was tempted to turn around. I didn’t. Friday we met Lawrence Schiller. He produced and directed The Executioner’s Song (among his many other accomplishments) and is one of the driving forces behind the Colony. As with the others who knew Mailer, Schiller also had great stories.
Mailer will likely be remembered for his non-fiction rather than his fiction. He’s not taught in English departments. To a large degree, feminists have seen to that – kind of ironic considering his literary aspirations that women would affect the womanizer’s place in literary history. My conclusion after hearing the stories, reading some of his work, etc. is that he couldn’t imagine the other. One of the knocks on him is that he only wrote about himself. Truman Capote and Gore Vidal nailed him for ripping off other writers. Still, the man didn’t lack for ego and he had a ferocious work ethic. 40 books and 50,000 letters in some 50 years is no small thing and he worked right up to the end, taking books to the hospital with him just in case things improved.
We all went out for drinks and lobster the last night after Chuck and his wife threw us a cocktail party. I won’t tell you that there wasn’t nearly as much drinking as it sounds. No, just imagine that we upheld the hard-drinking image of the writer and engaged in fisticuffs late in the evening.
If you want to know more about Mailer, read his widow’s memoir, A Ticket to the Circus and watch for Lennon’s 900 page biography. Even after death, Mailer continues to generate controversy. However, love him or hate him, the Colony was great. Our group was talented, respectful and fun, it’s always interesting and inspiring to be in the living/working space of an author, and P-town is not only a spectacular setting, but full of history. You have to pay your way to get there and most meals when you’re there, but I recommend the experience to writers.
Finally, no trip to P-town is complete without mentioning Ellie, the enthusiastic singer ‘living the dream’ (his/her words) usually in front of Town Hall