LGBT Writers Find Friendship, Inspiration, and Impromptu Karaoke at Lambda Retreat

During the summer, Poets & Writers supported Samuel R. Delany, Malinda Lo, and Sarah Schulman at the Lambda Literary Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices in Los Angeles. P&W intern Brandi Spaethe was also a fellow at the conference. We asked her to blog about her experience.

Lambda Literary fellowsI’ve been thinking about how I could possibly talk about the Lambda Literary Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBT Voices in the space of a blog post. Honestly, this is my fifth draft; ok, let’s be serious—twentieth. Do you want to know about the forty-eight fellows from locales all over the U.S. and other countries? Would you like me to discuss how essential the workshops and panels such as the People of Color Caucus and Kyle Sawyer's workshop on writing trans* characters were to the conversations flooding the American Jewish University campus in Los Angeles? How about the late-night writing sessions in dorm lounges or the karaoke outbreak in the room reserved for faculty and fellow readings?

Lambda's retreat can't be captured in this small space, but I can say for certain that it changed me in ways I am supremely grateful for. The four workshops were led by Samuel R. Delany (fiction), Malinda Lo (genre and Y.A. fiction), Sarah Schulman (nonfiction), and David Groff (poetry) and met each day for three hours. Each day, Groff gifted me and my fellow poets with a prompt for a new poem to write following the workshop. We would bring our new poems the next morning to be read aloud and workshopped by the class. One prompt pressed us to write about our parents, a parent, or any parental figure. This seemed easy enough. I’d written about my parents here and there, plenty.

Poetry fellows.Yet nothing could have prepared me for what happened in that room when all twelve poets read what they had written. Voices rose and fell, some soft, some so affected they had to stop a moment, and voices that spoke truths so hard I felt myself not breathing. We sat silent afterward, not speaking. Just stewing. The poems I heard by others and the poems I had written that week broke whatever had been barricading me before. What caused the shift could be attributed to a number of things—the discussions we were having prompted by our various backgrounds in queer communities, the work we were reading and listening to, panels and workshops offered beyond our genre-specific spaces.

Above all, the friendships we developed with one another and the honesty among us was most pivotal. I’m often among queer folks who have a variety of backgrounds, but rarely do I find those who share my obsession for writing. Conversely, queer folk are usually few and far between in my writing community. At the retreat, I had a sense that many of us shared that plight and were grateful to have this opportunity and space to share not only our writing but our experiences as queer writers. We took those friendships with us when we left. Lambda gave us access to each other.

On the last night, there was an open mic reading followed by a variety of cocktails and dancing. Nine of the poetry fellows gathered for a photo outside. A colossal thanks to the staff, faculty, and fellows.

Photos: Top: Lambda Literary Fellows. Bottom: Nine poetry fellows after an open mic reading; Brandi is second from the right. Credit: Joshua Barton.

Major support for Readings/Workshops in California is provided by The James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.