With a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in creative writing, Alexandra Kostoulas has had many teachers and learned many approaches to writing, but of all the courses she’s taken, the one that helped her through the difficult teenage years has proved the most powerful.
“I met Jack Grapes when I was 17 at a poetry reading that I had to go to for extra credit because I was not getting a good grade in my English class, and I had to give proof that I went,” Kostoulas said recently at WeWork, a communal work space above the Golden Gate Theatre. “He signed this paper that said, ‘This is to prove Alexandra really did come to my reading.’ ” She’s still proving it.
Grapes, a Los Angeles poet, developed an approach to writing based on method acting, which focuses on finding a deep, authentic voice. Initially based out of his home, the method writing workshops became so popular that Grapes eventually had to get an office; participants have started a writers collective, and they’ve long been one of the main draws at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
Grapes has now been teaching method writing for more than 30 years. One of the first people to receive his blessing, Kostoulas has been running a San Francisco Method Writing workshop since 2012.
“He uses a concept called the deep voice, which is a way of connecting through what he calls the transformation line, to sort of the soul of who you are, or the deepest part of who you are in your writing,” she said. “I learned step by step how to massage that idea of the deep voice and generate fiercer, deeper work. He teaches you how to say all the things you hold back from saying, and all the things that you carry around with you.”
The workshops, which are designed to create a nurturing environment with a focus on doing real work on the craft, attract people from different generations and from all walks of life: Recent participants include a scientist, a tech worker, a dancer, a visual artist, a choreographer and a healer.
“The one requirement,” Kostoulas says, “is that people are willing to go deep and tell the story they’ve always wanted to tell.”
Many of the people who take the class repeat it, and a community has begun to emerge here, too. Kostoulas, who was by more than a decade the youngest in her first class, remembers her experience: “They all were doing this really compelling work and striving to rip their hearts open on the page, and say the truth about who they are, and I found that to be profound and I really enjoyed it.
“Someone asked me yesterday, who was working on a scene: ‘Is it always like this: Do you always go to render your work and then you feel frustrated and then you get through it?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, that’s what I do every day.’ That’s the process. But part of it is knowing what the process is, and focusing on process over product.”
Offered three times a year, the workshops span eight weeks of weekly meetings and conclude with a group reading at the Emerald Tablet. (The fall session will begin enrolling soon; cost is $395. For more information, go to www.methodwritingsf.com.) This Sunday’s event, called “Write From the Gut,” will feature work of all kinds by more than 20 writers, each reading for three minutes or less, with an intermission and refreshments.
IF YOU GO
Write From the Gut: 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Free. The Emerald Tablet, 80 Fresno St., S.F. (415) 500-2323.
Photo by Christina Theologou