Oregon Writing Project

Writing Marathon

From time to time, OWP hosts writing marathons.  Normally, these day-long sessions involve meeting early on the Willamette campus, dividing into small groups, sampling various cafe and coffee shop fare around Salem and - of course -- writing, writing, writing.  If this sounds like fun to you, stay tuned to this web site for information about future marathons!

Writing Marathon Basics (doc)

Three Pieces from the 2006 marathon in Portland

On Chance Encounters

Fear changes people. Pity comes from a place of inequality; love comes from a place of equality. People try to change people because of fear, because of pity under the guise of love. Sometimes, self-righteousness stirs it up. When one travels to another culture to embed religion, food, sexual mores, music, what is the result? Amalgam? Improvement? Loss? Casual contact is no barrier to such change. It is certain that once two cultures collide, neither is ever the same again.


Afternoon sun bakes concrete, which replaces what should be a lawn. Around the house, the adobe fence sparkles, its top pierced with shards of green and brown glass from bottles shattered to deter birds from perching and lizards and humans from stealing into the compound. A solid black metal gate allows entry for cars and people. A loud knock on the metal alerts me in the cool, tiled kitchen. I put down the limes I'm squeezing over rice and vegetables, wiping my hands on the rough white cloth. At the gate, a woman murmurs, 'Buenas tardes, se'ora. Por Dios, por favor dame una poca comida para mis hijos.' Another is a series of women asking for food for her children. I open the gate a crack and look out.

She is short with light brown hair pulled into a braid and wears traje, hand-woven clothing of an indigenous people from the highlands-long blue skirt, an embroidered top, both tattered and dirty. Sweating, she grips the hand of a small dusty boy of about three who wears calf length pants that used to be white and a striped blue, green and red shirt. His swollen belly sticks out under the lone button. He states at me, the unblinking gaze of a child fatigued from the door-to-door pilgrimage. But what makes me stare back is neither the boy nor the woman. A baby is slung on her hip in a filthy cloth, its torso visible from the chest up, a baby bottle of brown liquid in her hands. I can tell it's a daughter, her tiny ears pierced with small gold-colored earrings. Her face is parched, a dried apple, shrunken and wrinkled. But it's her hair. Instead of bristly black coconut hair typical of Mayan children, her hair is white like the aged wheel chaired in a retirement home. I push the gate wide and motion them to come in.

In the kitchen, I search for baby formula that has more protein than she's had in a month. Outside, I hand the woman a full bottle, tortillas, rice and beans wrapped in a cloth, and a plastic cup of cold limeade. She looks at me, then ducks her head. 'Muchas gracias.'

* * * *

I fly back to the United States and the quick trip doesn't prepare me for re-entry into my own culture. On the way home from the airport, I'm overwhelmed by our abundance--miles of fast food restaurants--and by the unnecessary--a doughnut shop advertising 54 varieties.

I still picture the woman at the gate, a chance encounter I did not seek. I find myself measuring my life against hers, even now. When I lapse into self-pity over what I think the world owes me or fear I'll lose something I have, I have to stop short. The woman gave me a gift that I can re-open every day, the gift of knowing what I do have. I have so much. And daily, I realize just how lucky I am to be me.

- Megan Trow Garcia, 2006

Starting a poem in a coffee shop in Portland

What am I thinking right now? Honestly, I don't know. This poem will be harder.

There is genius in my head. I can feel it. I don't know where it went, but I promise it'll be back momentarily. Eureka! Pause. Had you there, didn't I? For a second, you thought I would share my intellectual discoveries with you but you're wrong. The secret won't come out. It's so secret my brain won't even share it with me. My brain is really good at keeping secrets, fantastic even. It's incredible, I am telling you what.

- Savannah Madigan-Curtin, 2006

OSU Teaching Assistant

The growling coffee steamer punctuated his story, provoking the writer to gulp the last swallow of caf' mocha, grip his pen enthusiastically and describe his character, Norm'a young writing TA at OSU whose office was next door to the new junior prof, Bernard Malamud, an emerging novelist'as Norm rose from his desk, crossed the hall and invited Bernard out for a late night beer; little did Norm know that twenty years later he'd show up as a lusty TA in Malamud's tell-all novel about relations among English Department TAs at a small Pacific coast state university 'A New Life' was widely read and discussed on campus where Norm was now a full professor and Bernard was long gone, ensconced in a prestigious university back East.