Samuel Ligon is the author of two novels—Among the Dead and Dreaming and Safe in Heaven Dead—and two collections of stories, Wonderland, illustrated by Stephen Knezovich, and Drift and Swerve. He’s co-editor, with Kate Lebo, of Pie & Whiskey: Writers Under the Influence of Butter and Booze. His short fiction has appeared in Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, New England Review, The Quarterly, and elsewhere. Ligon serves as the Artistic Director of the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference.
In the classroom, we use critical language to approach and discuss writing, as if it were rational. And it is, on many levels. But the rendering of who people are and how they behave and what connects us as humans transcends the merely rational. What we’re really after, it seems, as writers and readers, is something we recognize first in our guts, which must then be struggled with intellectually while still resonating in the guts. As writers, readers, and editors, we use our critical minds to rationally approach any piece of writing; but this critical sensibility, and, certainly our writer’s sensibility, is informed by an evolving irrational and instinctive understanding of what makes a line or story powerful and true. I think it’s crucial to recognize the enormous depth of what we don’t know, what nobody knows, what we have to constantly struggle to learn, which is how to write a line, a story, a novel that reveals to the reader, viscerally and intellectually, something about what it means to be human. My goal as a teacher is to promote conscious exploration and understanding of elements of craft, while also emphasizing the importance of the irrational, provoking and promoting, then, both rational and irrational—conscious and unconscious—approaches to line, character, voice, story, and all the problems that come with trying to make something that matters.
My favorite aspect of this program is that most of my interaction with students takes place outside the classroom: during weekly editorial meetings for Willow Springs; in one on one thesis advising; at dinners with visiting writers before they read and at the parties that follow; at student and faculty readings; at GetLit! events in Spokane; at the AWP conference, where I take students every year; at regional book festivals in Seattle, Missoula, and Portland; and in a variety of other social and professional settings in which faculty, students, and other local artists interact. The Inland Northwest Center for Writers is the heart of a thriving community of writers in Spokane. I think one of the most important elements of an MFA program is that students have the opportunity to completely devote two years of their lives to writing and reading, surrounded, encouraged, and provoked by peers and teachers similarly devoted and engaged, similarly immersed in writing and reading. In her essay, “Writing Short Stories,” Flannery O’Connor writes that “Art is the habit of the artist; and habits have to be rooted deep in the whole personality. They have to be cultivated like any other habit…, and teaching any kind of writing is largely a matter of helping the student develop the habit of art.” Spokane’s community of writers, readers, and editors cultivates that “habit of art” in students and teachers alike.
For more information, visit Sam’s website.