This blog post was written by Mentor Alum and member of the Writing and Mentoring Program Curriculum Committee Kate Schmier on the October Writing and Mentoring Program Workshop on Dystopian Flash Fiction. The workshop featured two fantastic craft talk speakers Helen Phillips in the afternoon and Kamy Wicoff in the morning.
“How do you think I felt when I lost my hair?” asked craft talk speaker Helen Phillips, after sharing her experience of becoming bald at 11 due to the autoimmune condition alopecia.
“Like the world was ending,” one mentee responded.
“Worried you weren’t beautiful,” said another.
“Scared you would always be different.”
When I discovered Helen’s writing, I knew she would be the ideal speaker for our October workshop on dystopian flash fiction. However, as she recounted her personal journey, I realized we had also found the perfect person to kick off our program year and its theme of (R)evolution.
During her talk, Helen served as a powerful example of what (R)evolution is about: moments of growth and change. After years of wearing wigs and scarves, the author finally stopped hiding her baldness when her flash fiction collection And Yet They Were Happy was published. Since she had revealed so much of herself on the page, she explained, she was no longer terrified to reveal her scalp.
As an artist, Helen also grew by pushing her own creative boundaries. When she wrote her collection, she challenged herself to limit each piece to 340 words. This exercise forced her to whittle down stories to their essential elements, paying even closer attention to language. It also gave her the freedom to parachute right into the world she was creating, without being bogged down by backstory. She described her process as one of refining and reshaping successive drafts, which came into play during the writing of her new dystopian novel The Beautiful Bureaucrat.
Helen’s willingness to evolve, in literature and in life, clearly inspired her audience. We met a writer who commanded the room with her poise and humor—and who seemed unafraid to bare her true self.