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On Mentorship: Learning to Embrace Life, Process, and Community

Updated: Dec 19, 2022

by Katelyn Kornegay, E.R. Smith, and Audrey Hargrove

Today's Chautauqua blog continues On Mentorship, a series in memory of Philip Gerard, beloved writer, professor, and co-editor of Chautauqua, who was taken from us all too soon. Philip's generous and whole-hearted ethic of listening and encouraging everyone to be their best selves enriched the lives of everyone in his orbit. It is what made him such an excellent teacher, mentor, and friend. To honor Philip's indelible spirit, we have asked our editorial team to recall moments of mentorship that inspired them, shifted their worldview, or put them on the path to follow their dreams. We hope this blog series allows you, dear reader, to sit and reflect with us.



—James King

Managing Editor

 

One of the most profound mentorship experiences occurred outside of school. My mother is the reason why I function as well as I do today. Despite not expecting to have a child, especially one with a severe sensory disorder, she did everything she could to ensure that I could navigate the world.

I remember countless trips to therapists’ offices, thinking at the time they were just places where I played with toys. Now that I’m older, those moments are recontextualized. I have to consider how much those appointments must have cost and how much time she sacrificed just to help her child learn how to handle sound, smell, and texture without screaming and being ill.

My mom used every type of experimental home therapy that she could get her hands on, from music therapy to before-class physical exercises. Over the first seven or eight years of my life, she sorted through what worked and what didn’t.

After all that time fighting for me, I can’t imagine how it felt to watch me finally learn how to do things that other children could do just fine at my age, like handle loud noises and be around strong smells without being sick. Some things, I wish that I’d learned earlier, like how to swallow pills, something I’d struggled with until age 19, and finally got down maybe six months before her death.

It’s been six years since she passed, but the habits she helped me form will always be with me, helping me tolerate things that might be too intense for me without her guidance. I fully credit her with my getting through high school, navigating college, and being accepted to the graduate program in Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.


—Katelyn Kornegay

Assistant Editor

 

When it comes to mentoring in writing, much can be said about the use of workshops as an essential tool. Workshops are vital to the writing process, providing constructive criticism and pointing to necessary edits within a piece. One is encouraged to always return to a piece in progress, because, in true writer’s fashion, it’s never truly done.

The best advice I’ve been given came from Tim Bass, a lecturer at the University of North Carolina Wilmington: “Keep writing and keep revising.” He told my class that revisions don’t have to be done all in one sitting, but returned to when the moment feels right, or when it fits with your schedule.

The advice is this: writing is a muscle that needs to be stretched in your brain every day to progress and to develop skills. Set aside time in your mornings or afternoons. Turn off your phone. Leave it in another room. Cut yourself off from the rest of the world and just write. Pick a prompt at random, use it to spark something else you’ve been working on. Change perspectives, write in a peculiar fashion you’ve never before.

What I’ve learned as a writing student in a creative writing program is to never disregard a silly writing idea. Jot it down, see what it grows into.


—E.R. Smith

Editorial Assistant

 

I never realized how valuable it is to have a friend who loves creative writing as much as you do until I met Jacob—he has helped me expand as a reader and given me valuable advice for my writing.

We met in a nonfiction class at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and have worked together on many workshops since. I respect his opinions on craft and literature, as he often offers a point of view that I overlook. He also respects my opinions, and we are comfortable enough to share our ideas and writing with each other. I trust that I may ask him questions that would make me feel stupid if I asked in class. I can ask Jacob, "Hey, what does it mean when an author has an acerbic tone?" Without skipping a beat, he will recite the answer like he's got a vocabulary list in his head. He knows how to explain his answers too.

Jacob played a significant role in the revision of a nonfiction assignment of mine. We reviewed my draft together, and he pointed out every time I made a lazy choice in my writing. He critiqued me, knowing I could do better than submitting something simple. He appreciated my creative quirks and encouraged me to include a poetic interlude toward the end of the piece.

"Expand on this," he'd told me, "Show, don't tell." I took his suggestions and created something better than I anticipated.

When the class later workshopped the piece, they loved the specific areas that Jacob originally suggested I develop. He told me he felt like a proud dad sitting through that workshop with me. I've never had a friend with whom I share a creative hobby, but it's life-changing. My friendship with Jacob has enriched my writing experience and deepened my love for it. I encourage all writers to have a friend like that.


—Audrey Hargrove

Editorial Assistant

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