The serendipitous opportunity came in an email from Peggy Still Johnson, Callanwolde’s new Executive Director, within 24 hours of my retirement from CNN. She needed someone fast to fill an unexpected vacancy just days before the beginning of the spring term. She sent me a link to a YouTube video showing the splendid 1920s mansion that had once been home to the Candler family of Coca-Cola fame, but is now a site for all sorts of artistic pursuits including dance, pottery, weaving, photography, and writing. I watched the video with my choral conductor wife Cindy and we were both mesmerized by the place.
Within minutes, I was on the phone with Peggy to let her know of my interest. But she’d been under the mistaken impression that I still lived in Atlanta. She gulped when I told her I now live in Washington, DC. To her credit, however, the gulp gave way to enthusiasm. Peggy told me that my presence would give her the opportunity to put into place her vision of an Artist in Residence program for Callanwolde.
The only thing missing was the residence — that’s many months and a capital campaign away from becoming a reality. So, Peggy and I cobbled together what amounted to a Writer in Itinerance program. During my stay in Atlanta, several people graciously put me up (or put up with me): Lynn McGill, Tommie and Frank Nichols, Andrew and Judy Keenan, Glenn and Sheri Emery, and Bruce and BJ Crabtree. Their selfless generosity – and Peggy’s nimble flexibility – made it possible for me to come to Callanwolde. A hearty thank you to you all.
I taught two fiction writing classes. Students learned the basics about how to write a novel, how to write scenes, revise, get an agent and market their work. And they bravely shared their works-in-progress with one another and received helpful feedback. I come away humbled and impressed with the creative talent that a place like Callanwolde attracts. One student, Callanwolde employee Christina Bray, had never considered writing fiction before taking my class. By the end of my stay, she confidently read an engaging excerpt from her novel-in-progress to a room full of about fifty people attending a reception for me in the Callanwolde library.
Thank you to Peggy Johnson, the Callanwolde staff, and my students for making my Callanwolde experience fulfilling beyond measure.