Helping young writers find meaning
At a time when social media has made expressing one’s thoughts easy than ever, an approach to write more genuinely can be found right here in the Swannanoa Valley. Nestled in a secluded mountain cove at Montreat College, Kimberly Angle’s workshops are devoted to authentic self-expression.
Fittingly, this ideal stems from her childhood love of creation itself.
“I grew up in Georgia on a small farm,” Angle, a professor at the college, said, “in love with the fields and the woods. I would stop and stare at the sunset. It wasn’t until I was older that I discovered everyone else wasn’t doing that. I was interacting differently, feeling a profound gratitude, making up songs of praise.
“My grandmother gave me a diary when I was 13. and I started filling it up, describing the beauty all around and how it was affecting me.”
Becoming more and more in love with words, Angle studied literature in college and became deeply influenced by the Southern Catholic writers Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy. Though she had grown up as a Southern Baptist, she found that reading about other ways of perceiving faith was enlightening. O’Connor and Percy especially taught her about grace and how it was all-encompassing. O’Connor, for example, delved in the possibility of transcendence beyond the pain, violence and ludicrous behavior of her flawed Southern characters.
Angle went on with her graduate studies with a view toward writing something transcendent herself. In so doing, she found she had to concern herself less about getting published and more about pouring her thoughts onto the page.
In order to put all thoughts of validation aside, Angle in one of her primary exercises has students go outside on the banks of Lake Susan, separate from their classmates, and experience stillness. She wants them to take in their surroundings moment to moment in much the same way she herself experienced revelations as a child.
“When I myself do that,” she said, “it’s a filling (up) of everything around me. I come away richer for having incorporated something much greater than what I am.”
She believes this fundamental grounding leads to a poetic imagination and helps explain why so many people in this region sense something beyond the hurly-burly of the beaten path.
“We’re all raising our eyes to the mountains,” is the way she puts it. “There we can always find beauty.”
In this way, the objective is a search for meaning, and to continually ask, “How does this make sense in my experience?”
This creative activity doesn’t take place in isolation at Angle’s classes at Montreat College. Whether dealing with short stories, novellas or poetry, Angle has her charges engage in conversations. In this way, she creates a community that openly looks out for one another even if some classmates are confused or angry. “You have to get it out and express it,” she tells her students, “because we’re engaged in a common endeavor to bring light into the world.”
Moreover, by taking away the competitive edge and affirming that everyone is talented, original and has something important to say, a deepening of each quest unfolds and is eventually achieved.
“When you write something,” she said, “after you’ve done it, you feel more alive. It’s an act of hope as well as clarity. What did I discover this time? Is there conflict, is the story evolving? Are the characters leaping off the page? How can I say it well?
“If it’s a poem, did it make me feel or see something differently? Is the world a little different now, and can I share the clue that I just found? Writing is a blessing.”