by Kate Wilhelm
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Two of the names most associated with the Clarion Writers' Workshop are Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm. Prior to the development of Clarion, the two hosted the Milford Conference. When Robert Scott Wilson attended Milford in 1967, Knight and Wilhelm were concerned because they were opposed to the Viet Nam War and Wilson had a known connection to the CIA. In fact, Wilson was scouting them, but to figure out how to run a successful writers' workshop. Storyteller is Wilhelm's memoir of the foundation of Clarion and its subsequent history.
In fact, Storyteller is neither a straight history of the Clarion Workshops, nor is it a how to write book. It doesn't tell Wilhelm's autobiography or her theory of writing or teaching. Storyteller is, at its heart, a true memoir, the sort of thing you might learn if you had the opportunity to corner Wilhelm and ask her about Clarion. The book rambles about how Clarion works, what happens at the conference, how it came about, and other aspects of what is the premiere science fiction Writers' Workshop.
Wilhelm mixes three different books, all of them interesting, to form Storyteller. There is a look at Clarion. As noted, she does cover the history, but also looks at much more. Her stories of water fights and dinners, late night chat sessions, and housing difficulties present a picture very different than one of writers sitting chained to their typewriters churning out pages for their instructors to read. At the same time, Wilhelm makes it clear that these activities were, in fact, a means of releasing the stress being chained to typewriters incurs.
The second part of the book is autobiographical. Wilhelm discusses her life with Damon Knight, frequently, but not always, with regard to either Clarion or Milford. In discussing Clarion, it becomes clear that having the two of them working together as instructors provided a very different feel for the Workshop as opposed to the single instructor methodology used for the rest of the Workshop.
Finally, Wilhelm does discuss writing, or, if not writing, methods of critiquing writing. Spaced at random throughout the book, Wilhelm does provide a summary of these techniques, along with writing exercises, in the final chapters of Storyteller. Although the techniques as described are frequently (not always) designed to be used in a group situation, Wilhelm provides them in a manner in which they could easily be adapted to proofing one's own work.
Storyteller is an interesting and personal look at the Clarion Writers' Workshop and Wilhelm's own life and career. While it does beg for an history of Clarion to be written, Storyteller is satisfying in its own right, presenting an informative, and entertaining, blend of history, memoirs, and writing lessons.
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