Writing the Ephemeral with Jordan Kisner

The Shakers, a utopian separatist religious group created in the 1700s, got their name from outsiders' descriptions of their unusual worship practices: Early observers describe the Shakers stomping, clapping, shouting, turning, falling down, and (of course) shaking during their meetings. ("This they call the worship of God," wrote one incredulous visitor.) This ecstatic group movement, which the Shakers called "laboring" was, they believed, a way of manifesting heaven on earth. There is little record of what this expression of divine feeling looked like except letters and newspaper clippings written by outsiders at the time. And yet the Shaker philosophy of group movement has inspired artists, choreographers, and writers ever since.

In this workshop, we will experiment with "laboring" across centuries. Using video of a group dance created from descriptions of early Shaker worship (taken from a public event at October Second Sundays), students will create a piece of writing that investigates the how and the why of recording group movement and group feeling. We will get into the practical details: what makes good movement writing? What's the difference between evoking what is literally happening and the feeling of what is happening? We'll also consider the chain of translation that this exercise continues–one that begins with feelings and dances that now live only has written descriptions in an archive, which in turn became group dance, and now becomes writing again. What does writing about something this ephemeral achieve? How do you do it well? What essential qualities of the original are preserved or lost?

Date: This one-time in-person workshop meets on Sunday, November 5 from 1-2:30pm

Price: $30

Audience: Open to all.

Materials: All materials will be provided.

Accessibility: Classes will meet on the 2nd floor, which is accessible via stairs.

Jordan Kisner is an essayist and former Narrative Arts resident whose current project explores ephemerality, creative practice, and the Shakers. She is the author of the collection THIN PLACES, named one of NPR's best books of 2020. She is a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and The Atlantic, and her work has appeared in n+1, The Paris Review, The Believer, The Guardian, The American Scholar, The Best American Essays 2016, and others. She is also the creator and host of the podcast Thresholds.

Classes at Pioneer Works are made possible by Sandeman Port.

This program is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.