Friday Night Writers: Who we are. Three of the four students from my Fall 1989 Poetic Techniques class wanted to keep meeting after the semester ended. I was willing. We set up a Sunday afternoon session at my rented house in the shadow of I-95 in Hallandale. We met sporadically through the semester, sometimes with only two students attending. The house was inconveniently too far north for some. So I decided to move the sessions to FIU and to hold them on Friday nights. That way, I figured, only people who really wanted to write would show up. And I was correct. I never got permission from Space & Scheduling, if such an office even existed at the time. We simply gathered in the breezeway on the second floor of AC2. We sat at picnic benches we lined up like a long seminar table. We did this for a few years. We complained about eh mosquitoes, the wild cats, the squirrels climbing the walls, and the occasional foraging raccoon, but we kept meeting. When the weather didn’t cooperate at all, when the rain was blowing sideways through the breezeway we retreated to the nearest open classroom. Eventually I wrangled a classroom just off the breezeway. At some point the acoustics got so bad, we couldn’t hear each other. That’s when we hit on the idea of AC 2 110 as our classroom—a well-lighted, amphitheater. And Friday Night Writers have been there ever since.
Friday Night Writers
Hundreds of writers have come through the group over the years. Some stay for a short while; others have been with the group almost since the beginning. Steve Almond was writing for Miami New Times. He attended Friday Night Writers during the breezeways era and was writing stories about Russian peasants. He’s now the author of seven acclaimed books of fiction and nonfiction and is a commentator on Boston’s NPR station. The late, great Barbara Parker brought several of her novels to the group when the books were in their early stages—we were her first readers. She wrote twelve novels before her untimely death a few years ago.
A workshop like ours is a literary salon of sorts. What is this Friday Night Writers group anyway? Let’s start with what it is not. Friday Night Writers is not a social club or a mutual admiration society, though you may indeed make friends here, and you may admire one another’s work. It is not a debating society. It’s not a repair shop. It is not a fight club or a soap box. We are not here to expound on our ideologies. We are not here to defend a particular theory of literary criticism. Friday Night Writers are not literary critics, after all, not while we’re in this room at any rate; we are creative writers. Critics, in the words of Kenneth Tynan, know the way, but they can’t drive the car. We want to be behind the wheel, not whining in the back seat. Friday Night Writers want to invent the highway. (And with this automotive conceit in mind, E. L. Doctorow said this about fiction writing: “It’s like driving a car at night. You can’t see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”) The Friday Night Writers workshop might be described as a family, albeit, a dysfunctional one. Think of it as Thanksgiving dinner once a week with a few creative works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and screenwriting as the main course.
Workshop is a place for Friday Night Writers to have a conversation about a creative work. Not about a writer. About the work on the table for discussion. Sometimes it’s difficult to separate the creator from the created, especially if you’re this week’s writer. But remember that you are not your story, not your poem. A conversation, then, not a series of pronouncements. And it’s a conversation that flows, that is give and take. It’s not a series of speeches in turn around the room. Ideally, the conversation flows organically, comments follow comments; you amend another reader’s observation or disagree with it, or you jump in with a new suggestion, idea, question. One thing leads to another. You don’t necessarily need to raise your hand in here unless it’s a polite signal to me up front that you’re ready to speak as soon as there’s a lull. We don’t interrupt, however. We listen to each other. A conversation, then, followed by a deep breath.
The readers converse; the writer listens and takes notes. Each of us brings to the conversation our own aesthetic principles, our own tastes, our own past experiences, our own expectations, writing and reading histories, and so on. And so this means that there will be disagreements about the work in question. And none of these disagreements needs to be settled. As a writer you can and should expect to hear conflicting responses to your story. Writing a story, you understand, is not done by consensus. We’re here simply to help the writer make the work the best it can be. We do that by responding with generosity, honesty, specificity. and humility. And as writers we take what we can use and we disregard what does not make sense. Our most important relationship in the Friday Night Writers group is with our work.