Pulitzer winner Robert Olen Butler inspires readers, writers at Savannah appearances

At the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home’s 5th annual Ursrey Memorial Lecture last week, Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler spoke with considerable passion about the creative act of writing.

“Art comes from the place where you dream.”

He was talking less about the dreams of sleep than the other dreams — the yearnings for something other than what is.

For Butler, yearning “is the deepest level of desire. That’s the thing that makes stories go.”

“Plot is simply yearning challenged and thwarted.”

Both at Friday’s Ursrey lecture and the next morning at a workshop for area college and high school creative writing students held at the historic Carnegie Library, Butler said that good fiction writers do not write from the mind. They do not write from ideas.

Writing students do need to study technique, Butler argued, but they study technique so that they can forget it. He compared the process to a swimmer practicing the hand’s entry into the water; the swimmer practices that over and over, so that she can forget it — so that it becomes automatic. (I tell my students of nonfiction composition almost exactly the same thing about technique, practice, and forgetting.)

I took some photos of both the Ursrey Lecture, held at Trinity United Methodist Church on Telfair Square, and the Saturday workshop.