Have you ever considered what “home” means to you? The answer is likely to be as unique as the individual answering the question. It could be the house you grew up in or something as simple (and wonderful) as the scent of a pot of spaghetti sauce slowly cooking on the stove, that feeling of liberation when you kick off your shoes after a long day at work, or the sound of your best friend’s bark greeting you after you’ve been away.
It might be the the sight of the Market Street bridge or the sign to the North Scranton Expressway after a long trip.
Whatever home means to you, it’s yours and yours only. Those who attend The Gathering, a literary conference at Keystone College in La Plume, will ponder what home means to them and others as this year’s theme is “Physical and Metaphysical Home: Memory, Grace, and Structure.”
The conference runs from Thursday, July 14, through Sunday, July 17, and will include lectures, panels, readings and elective workshops for people of all ages and interests. Now an annual summer tradition on campus, the event will feature poetry, fiction, nonfiction, children’s literature, film, music, the visual arts, science, dance and yoga.
We recently caught up with author Suzanne Fisher Staples, The Gathering program coordinator, and Charlotte Ravaioli, The Gathering site coordinator, two of the creative forces who founded the conference five years ago, to discuss what the conference is and who might benefit from attending.
“I think the most exciting thing about it is formulating a theme and then having everybody thinking about it,” Staples said. “We have a reading list before they come so they have ideas and thoughts about it that they’re eager to share when they get here.”
Suggested reading for the conference includes Delights & Shadows by Ted Kooser, The Good Son by Craig Nova, Victory by Susan Cooper and My Two Polish Grandfathers by Witold Rybczynski. (If you won’t be able to read this list of books prior to the conference, don’t despair. While reading them does make the experience more meaningful, there will be panel discussions of the books, too).
Ravaioli said the conference will draw people from all over the country. The event features speakers such as U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, architect Peter Bohlin, novelist Craig Nova, children’s writer Susan Cooper, architect/writer/urban planner Witold Rybczynski, nonfiction writer Sarah Rossbach, poet/novelist/translator/playwright Karen Blomain, and poet Craig Czury.
Guests may opt to stay on campus or commute, or they may choose up to three individual programs to attend if they aren’t able to attend the entire event.
“We hope that people will come to the whole thing because they become immersed in an experience,” Ravaioli said. “They sit across the table and have lunch, for example, with Witold Rybczynski or with Peter Bohlin or they have dinner with Susan Cooper, and that’s an opportunity that if you lived in New York City, you would never get.”
She recalled the experience of seeing Salman Rushdie on campus at a previous conference. “I was thinking, ‘There’s Salman Rushdie in the cafeteria of Keystone College having breakfast with our students – it was just mind blowing. It’s an opportunity that people just don’t get.”
Although they hope their guests will be able to attend the conference in its entirety, organizers know that not everyone’s schedule can accommodate the full schedule.
“So people can choose up to three individual events and pay individually,” Ravaioli said.” There are the major events, the speakers, and then there are a series of workshops on Friday afternoon and Saturday afternoon from 3 to 5 p.m.”
Ravaioli noted one of the workshops will be led by fine arts instructor Nikki Moser, who will offer “Don’t You See, I Am Home?”
“She’s actually bringing construction materials and people are going to create their own homeless shelter with materials that she has gathered,” Ravaioli said.
Incorporating an element of social justice into the conference has been important to Staples from The Gathering’s early days.
“It’s hard for me to imagine a discussion about home without discussing what happens when there isn’t home,” she said.
In addition to Moser’s workshop, a panel discussion called “Unbelonging: the Homeless Imagination” will feature three people who offer different points of view about homelessness. You’ll hear from Samuel Mwangi, Kenyan author of The Pygmy World: The Endangered Bambuti of Congo, who is trying to find a homeland for the Bambuti pygmies in Uganda; Tara Finnerty from the Community Intervention Center in Scranton; and Craig Czury, a native of Kingston who now lives in Reading. He has hitch-hiked all over the country, living as a homeless poet.
“They’re going to talk about how homeless people develop these mental capabilities to cope with being homeless,” Staples said.
In addition to exploring the meaning of home and homelessness, there will be plenty of ways to unlock one’s creativity through relaxing and fun activities as well, including yoga classes and a labyrinth, on loan to the college from Covenant Presbyterian Church, Scranton.
“It’s a printed maze on this cloth and the idea is you enter into it and you just follow the path in a very quiet, contemplative, spiritual way. It’s there all weekend in the Theatre in Brooks,” Ravaioli said.
No matter how you may choose to explore the concept of home, Ravaioli and Staples hope participants will leave feeling their creativity has been recharged, and their spirits enlightened.
“I think probably you’ll have a better idea of what you think home means to you whether it’s a place of origin or a place you’ve made,” Staples said. “It means something different to everybody and it will be interesting to hear everybody talk about it.”
If you go
What: The Gathering, a Literary Conference
Where: Keystone College, La Plume
When: Thursday, July 14, to Sunday, July 17
Registration: $25 per event (register for up to three events); $455 for commuters, includes meals; $530 for residents, includes meals. Register online.