A Week in Provincetown
By Patricia Florio
If you’ve ever had a dream come true, or received a wonderful compliment, or someone really special came into your life when you needed him or her most, that’s how it felt when I received notice that I had been a finalist in the 2012 Norman Mailer Fellowship Contest and I could choose two weeks in Provincetown at the Norman Mailer Center. I settled on one week to keep my life and my family’s life uncomplicated.
We were nine nonfiction writers sitting around the conference table in Norman Mailer’s house under the guidance of Dr. J. Michael Lennon. Six of us had never met before. Three of us were alumni from the Wilkes Creative Writing Program.
We all were in awe of our surroundings as Norman Mailer’s energy filled the room. Dr. Lennon gave us a tour of the home early on Sunday morning. You have to experience this tour through his home to understand the magnanimous legacy that he left behind. His office and writing desk were exactly as he left it on the day he died. Books surrounded him. Papers, drawings, ideas on index cards filled his desk. We were on the third floor of his home looking at the view of Provincetown. A view, we were told, that Norman Mailer loved.
Every morning as we entered the house, the view of the beach and Cape Cod Bay filled our eyes. Dr. Lennon’s voice filled our ears. It was the perfect storm for creative juices to flow. And flow they did.
Young, Andrew, and Diane seated to my right hailed from Los Angeles CA, Lexington KY, and Brooklyn NY, along with all of the other writers, listened attentively as Patrick, across the table, shared his creative ideas for his book. Patrick is a state court judge from Chicago who has fought a tough fight for justice over the past forty years. Directly after his pitch that involved a fire in his building where his secretary and friends were killed, trapped inside a stairwell, is when our discussions took shape. We elaborated on our critique for his opening chapters. Our minds worked on overtime, much to everyone’s delight. Patrick wrote down our suggestions. I think everyone of us would agree we would have stayed around that table discussing ideas through the night, if they would have let us. But there are house rules at the Mailer Colony. By six o’clock we all had to be off the premises. Most days we broke at four and sat on the deck together as boats went by, people swam in the bay, and our minds churned over the day’s events.
We were a forceful team thirty minutes into our first session. It’s amazing how it all happened. We bonded like glue; nine people who didn’t have a relationship when we entered the room became a force of creative power. We were like a thunderbolt of electricity. Light bulb after light bulb went off in our minds as we went around the table reading each other’s work.
Nick from Miami was working on a memoir he completed for Kindle Short: an exceptional piece of polished work that blew the rest of us writers away. Peggy from Dallas shared her memoir and memories of Paris, a love story that captured our souls. Nicole from Boston is working on her dissertation for her PhD about Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings. We worked extensively on this brilliant piece filling in the blanks for readers to understand how complicated his novel is to decipher. Rachael from Wilkes-Barre struggled with the opening of her of memoir, as did I with my new memoir. By the end of the week we sailed into the room, perhaps a bit tired, but we all made amazing breakthroughs in our work.
You can’t put a figure on what we received and gave each another that week. And you can’t put a dollar amount on how blessed we were to have Dr. Lennon as our facilitator. A week for writers at Provincetown: Priceless!
Patricia A. Florio is the author of My Two Mothers and a graduate of the Wilkes University MA/MFA programs. She writes travel related articles for Striped Pot and lives in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. Find Patricia online at http://about.me/patricia8.