Pen, Paper & Fork: A Food Writing Symposium

Why can food activate such powerful memories? How do we translate the sensuous experience of taste and touch into writing? And why are we so eager to describe what we eat to others? These are just some of the questions Pen, Paper & Fork will explore. This special symposium and workshop will bring together nationally known food writers as well as local bloggers and journalists to explore how and why we write about food.

Above was part of the promo for a two-day food writing symposium held last weekend at the University of Tulsa  The free event was sponsored by the Oklahoma Center for the Humanities.

The first night featured readings and Q&A from two acclaimed food memoirists: Sasha Martin and Nina Mukerjee Furstenau.   Martin is the author of Life from Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family and Forgiveness (National Geographic, 2015).  Furstenau authored Biting through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in the Heartland (University of Iowa Press, 2013).  Both authors use food to spark memory and discover or explain family ties, relationships and traditions.

Furstenau on left; Martin on right.

Day Two featured Furstenau and Martin leading small writing workshops.  We were arbitrarily split into groups and I luckily found myself in Martin’s group.   I  mistakenly thought we would meet with one writer, take a break, and then meet with the other.   Although I missed not getting instruction and tips from Furstenau, I relished my time with Martin.   The second day concluded with a round table discussion featuring several local food writers and journalists including Mark Brown (Assistant to the Director, Philbrook), Angela Evans (Tulsa Voice) and Jessica Rodrigo (Tulsa World).

I almost missed this event.   If I had not read the Wednesday paper (which usually doesn’t happen until the following Saturday morning), I would have been so out-of-luck.   I also don’t usually seek out events like this that I know I will have to attend solo.   Something was working in my favor, externally and internally.

I wanted to just briefly highlight the first evening’s events and spend a bit more time on Day Two later.

I have read Life from Scratch and although I enjoyed the book, I was a bit ambivalent about it.   Don’t get me wrong, I admire Martin’s resiliency, determination and motivations for writing the book, but there were a few family dynamics that I just couldn’t wrap my brain around.

Sasha Martin reading from Life from Scratch

Hearing her read her own personal story and comment on the writing process gave me a whole new appreciation for her book.

She was adamant about one thing:  “The world doesn’t need another recipe.”  Instead of another cookbook, another recipe online, “It has to bring something new…something of myself.”

Furstenau echoed these sentiments.  “Does your phrase open the world?”  She continued with “You have to be brave enough to put something of yourself on the page.”

Nina Mukerjee Furstenau reading from Biting Through the Skin.

Regarding the relatively new food memoir genre, they both discussed in parallel conversations that memory is fluid and that the author owns his/her own memories.  (These comments were in response to the moderator harping on the issue of truth in memoirs.)

Furstenau teaches at the University of Missouri Science and Agriculture Journalism program and the MU School of Journalism. Besides Biting Through the Skin, she has penned Savor Missouri: River Hills Food and Wine (Missouri Life and Acclaim Publishing, 2013).  Biting through the Skin was awarded the Les Dames d’Escoffier International Grand Prize and the MFK Fisher Book Award for Excellence in Culinary Writing.

In addition to Life from Scratch, Martin spent four years delving into international cuisine on her blog, Global Table Adventure.  She graduated from Wesleyan University and was an MFK Fisher Scholar at the Culinary Institute of America.  Her work has been featured in many national publications.

Martin is the featured author for the April/May edition of Cook the Books.   More to come of this event!

I really can’t wait to share information, tips and my reflections from Day Two of this symposium.

6 comments to Pen, Paper & Fork: A Food Writing Symposium

  • Sounds like a fun event! Newspapers always write about events right before they’re about to happen, don’t they? I understand why — but it’s not how I read them! 🙂 Fun read — thanks.

  • I have not yet started reading Life from Scratch. I will remember what you say about the author above. Interesting perspectives from the two authors. Thanks for the report!

  • What a great event to get to attend and the fact that it is free is pretty amazing. I have been going to an annual local one-day writing workshop at a university here the past three years and although it isn’t food related, I love learning from the different authors. It’s next weekend and reading your post is getting me into the mood to go. Great that you got to hear from the author of our next CTB selection too. 😉