Big Stone Arts Council’s Mythic Writing Workshop: A Review

By c. m. bergeson

On the first day of the Big Stone Arts Council’s Writer’s Workshop 2012, Dr. Dennis Slattery stripped away my identity. Then, he allowed me the opportunity to reassemble my narrative, piece-by-piece, using metaphorical imagery-based writing meditations. The entire experience was filled with profound lectures, writing exercises, and powerful introspection on the subject of valuing, defining, and expressing one’s personal story.

The second annual Writer’s Workshop occurred during the weekend of October 19th, in quaint and magical Ortonville, MN, a personal haven of mine. After attending the 2011 Writer’s Workshop on memoir writing presented by Author Maureen Murdock, I knew I could not miss the next workshop opportunity.

A generous grant from the Southwest Minnesota Arts and Humanities Council (SMAHC) made this year’s workshop possible. My sincere gratitude goes out to The Big Stone Arts Council, SMAHC, Edie Barrett, Deb Larson, Doug Holtquist, Patty Haukos, and of course, Dr. Dennis Slattery, and anyone else who helped make the weekend workshop a success.

Award-winning poet Athena Kildegaard and Author Dr. Dennis Slattery offered a free will donation event on Friday night; seventy people came from the surrounding area to witness the discussions. Ms. Kildegaard read two poems from her recently published Cloves and Honey, and Dr. Slattery presented a lecture entitled The Value of Classical Literature and Mythology for Personal Understanding and Growth. Afterward, they joined each other on stage and discussed writing poetry and their respective creative writing processes.

Saturday and Sunday Dr. Slattery presented the Mythic Writing: Exploring Your Personal Story Workshop in the Ortonville High School Auditorium. Participants included 31 people, ranging from young fathers trying to find time to write to grandmothers reflecting on the past years. People traveled from South Dakota, Colorado, and Oregon, and all over Minnesota. Some of the participants had never been to Ortonville, including Slattery.

It was a true honor to conduct a personal interview with him after the workshop terminated. He reflected that this particular group “galvanized, bonded quickly. Boy, did they tune in,” he said with a smile. As a participant, I immediately felt part of a family the moment everyone began sharing the narratives which had shaped their lives.

The content of Slattery’s latest book Riting Myth Mythic Writing: Plotting Your Personal Story was organically created from his experiences during writing workshops on myth. When he refers to the writing meditations outlined in the book, he notes, “The permutations are infinite.” The outcomes of each meditation are as different as each person bringing his or her personal narrative to any piece of writing.

Dr. Slattery explained that the writing meditations are initially constructed from a psychological standpoint as to come at reality from behind. Immediately the participants identify the imagery with something inside themselves. The meditations take the mind of the participant from the figurative to the literal. For instance, he instructed us to envision and draw our personal sword and shield which we, figuratively, carry around with us every day. Each person brought forth narratives in which they would use or throw down their respective swords and shields. The personal narrative myth “poetically starts to create itself,” Slattery states.

One quotation from his Riting Myth Mythic Writing epitomizes the experience for me: “Writing has the capacity to mend some tear in the fabric of our fiction, the storied self that is always plotting its course both within and without. By exposing to the open air of prose what afflicts, wounds, emblazons the scar tissue of resentments, hurts, slights, wrongs, wrong paths chosen, one has the opportunity to close the gap or the gape in the soul-holes of one’s being.” Writing and reflection are powerful sources for clarity and peace. Many wounds heal by simply putting a pen to paper and letting ink bleed out and be witnessed by others.

Big Stone Arts is a tour de force in small town rural Minnesota. Two years in a row, they have hosted an outstanding writer’s event. By bringing professional writers’ insight and instruction to the Midwest, Big Stone Arts tremendously enhances the depth of the culture. It is my sense that every participant walks away inspired and enriched by the entire process, each year. I cannot wait to see what they do in 2013. I would not miss it for the world.

Christine Bergeson holds a B.A. in English from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She currently resides in Sioux Falls and is working on her first novel. When she is not honing her writing craft, she prepares perfect cappuccinos at Coffea Roasterie and Espresso Bar.

Day-to-Day Dante Review by Gregory C. Carnevale,

“First, let me begin by saying that I am a lifelong student of Virgil and Dante. Having studied and taught both of them over the last forty years, I continually find them in one way or other my touchstones. Reading the original has always brought me great joy and pleasure.

Professor Slattery has now given us Dante in bits and pieces, daily reflections that can turn into meditations, and, as he says in his introduction, can even make us go out and buy the Divine Commedia. Day-to-Day Dante: Exploring Personal Myth through the Divine Comedy will only reinforce the fact that each of us is on a journey.”


Top Reviews for Day-to-Day Dante from

Day-to-Day Dante, April 20, 2011 By Christopher Paris, Phd.
How can we not do this book? I take risk here; risk of disavowing my own sacred promise to drop the critical pen in lieu of my own mythos-making. But I’m compelled; compelled by the mastery of DAY-TO-DAY DANTE and Dennis Slattery’s humane temerity to challenge us to personal mytho-poetizing introspections. Slattery births the mytho-poets of us all by the same means as “know thyself,” “to thine own self be true,” and the parables of N.T. In the spirit of Will Durant, Dennis goads us to incarnate our present wills from out a magnificent monolith of the past, even for the spirit of our wills for the future. The beauty of DAY-TO-DAY DANTE is no surprise to me having come from a scholar par excellence who has been a leading and unremitting torch-bearer of his own mentor, Joseph Campbell.

Traversing the Spiral, April 20, 2011 By C. Jane Estelle, PhD.
Dr. Dennis Patrick Slattery has given us a remarkable touchstone. He has taken one of the foundational pieces of World literature, and has done something quite poignant and powerful: He presents the beauty of Dante’s deep reflections on life, death, and karmic outcomes, while giving us insight into those reflections in the larger part of each day’s Invitation. From there, he gives encouragement, as we, with sometimes flailing courage, encounter Life. It is a BEAUTIFUL work of intention, scholarship, and inspiration.

An excellent companion, April 21, 2011 By Aaron Duggan
Dr. Slattery’s take on Dante is thoughtful and helpful, especially for the casual reader who has no experience with Dante. My favorite parts are the daily meditations – many daily meditation books don’t seem to be grounded in much other than the author’s particular mish-mash of New-Age ideas. This isn’t very interesting to me. I much prefer a book where the meditations are grounded in some established work or tradition. Not being religious myself, it’s nice to have this book handy since Dante’s Commedia is a text that is both grounded in spiritual wisdom, but doesn’t require subscription to a particular dogma.

Writing the Self Open, May 1, 2011 By L. Stoupas
Long a fan of books that offer writing prompts and methods of self-discovery, I found myself profoundly moved by Dennis Slattery’s approach to understanding how one stands with herself in the world. By meditating on an excerpt from Dante’s epic of the soul, The Divine Comedy, reading Slattery’s own take on Dante’s words, and then writing in response to the deep questions asked at the end of the selection, I have begun to see soulful aspects of myself in a new and enlightening way. Slattery’s ability to ask the questions that a modern reader would want to know about herself is inspiring and delightful, and keeps me coming back to fill the empty page day after day.

Book Forum:
Psychiatry and the Humanities

The Wounded Body: Remembering the Markings of Flesh
By Dennis Patrick Slattery. Albany, State University of New York Press, 1999, 384 pp., $68.58; $22.95 (paper).

Reviewer – Armando R. Favazza, M.D., M.P.H., Columbia, Mo.
Am J Psychiatry 157:1536, September 2000
©2000 American Psychiatric Association

Click here to read the review.

  1. (Paperback) A nice book of iirinspng thoughts. As a big fan of Max Lucado’s Grace for the moment I really enjoy the daily reminders to help start my day. Wanting to stay away from a religious perpsective I purchased this book to give as a gift to several co-workers, and ended up purchasing one for myself!

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words. I am happy that the book has pleased you and perhaps your friends as well.