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Writing Chicago: Northwestern Summer Writers' Conference

Workshop Descriptions


THURSDAY, JULY 28


Morning Sessions 9:30–11am

Workshop A

Backstory: Seamless Weaving

Eileen Favorite

One of the toughest skills in writing fiction and creative nonfiction is determining how much backstory the reader needs, and how to skillfully transition from present action to backstory. In this workshop, we'll look at different examples of how writers manage this issue, whether through space breaks, interior monologue, or jump cuts. Readings will include first chapters of novels, short stories, and essays.


Workshop B

Autofiction: Blurring the Real and the Imagined

Jarrett Neal

A genre made famous by the works of such writers as Truman Capote, Lucia Berlin, and Karl Ove Knausgaard, autofiction challenges writers to seamlessly merge biography and fiction. This workshop helps readers construct a plan for ways to balance the worlds of fiction and nonfiction and gives them insights into how to meld their lived experience with their imagined narratives.


Workshop C

Frame Work

Jac Jemc

In his essay, "The Perception of Reality", William James posed the question, "Under what circumstances do we think things are real?" We'll use this question as a jumping off point to examine how it is we generate feelings of authenticity in our fiction using different frameworks. How can voice be used to indicate truth? How can stories within stories aid the attempt at making meaning? How can a structure that supports multiple levels of fact or fiction strengthen the overall effect of the narrative and serve as a platform for the objective of the piece?


Workshop D

Research Tool Box

Miles Harvey

In this course, writers of all genres will learn how to make their work come alive through research. Taught by a veteran journalist and nonfiction author, the workshop will explore the art of interviewing, as well as secrets of mining information from various databases.


Workshop E

Lights Camera Action

Laurie Lawlor

This workshop for writers of young adult fiction will examine how to create convincing, engaging action. Hands-on exercises will provide opportunity to explore vivid gestures, spatial relations, and setting details that will fully and clearly reveal characters' movements and interactions through time and space.  Participants will bring scenes from their own works-in-progress (short stories or novels) to investigate revision strategies.


Workshop F

Writing Through Drawing

Ozge Samanci

This workshop is designed for writers and artists who want to write or draw graphic novels or single frame comics. Slight familiarity with drawing will be beneficial but not necessary. We will use drawing as a mediator to access stories. This workshop will also introduce a method to listen to the medium rather than trying to tame it. Sometimes we challenge ourselves to build a story but nothing impressive comes out. If we can look at a scene or a situation with an open state of mind and follow the path that it takes us, the result can often be exciting.


Workshop G

Forms of Contemporary American Poetry: Further Than the Sonnet and Beyond the Rhyming Couplet

Erika T. Wurth

American poetry is big. It’s now far beyond the European forms that we’re familiar with, and yet much more than simply rhyming couplets. But what are the forms that people are working with today? In this workshop, we’ll be looking at three forms of contemporary poetry, some poems in contemporary form, and then I’ll give a series of exercises designed to help us begin to write in those forms, to draw us away from the sonnet, yet push us further than the rhyming couplet.



Lunch and Keynote 11:15am–1pm

Keynote Speaker

Nnedi Okorafor

 


Afternoon workshops 1:15–3:15pm

Workshop A

Breaking the Boundaries of the Known

Bayo Ojikutu

Our objectives will be to push the limits of "writing what you know" in fiction, interrogating the differences between experience and acquired information as sources for story information, and probing the capacity of narration as mediator and gatekeeper of the conceit afforded us by imagination. Proverbially, we will seek to turn knowing "upside down" over the two hours, and from that practicing the means by which the new worlds upon which fiction depends for its flourishing are born from acts of disassembling the own.  We will complete one and discuss one prompt-based exercise, and discuss two fairly thorough fictive handouts (with readings) over the two hour session.


Workshop B

Dynamic Dialogue: Get Your Characters Talking

Eileen Favorite

In this workshop we'll discuss strategies for creating more vivid, informative, and compelling dialogue that moves your story forward. We'll examine what dialogue accomplishes more efficiently than narrative, as well as strategic choices of when to interrupt the flow of dialogue with narrative. We'll discuss dialect, tag lines, and how to achieve speedy characterization. The workshop includes exercises and close reading of stories.


Workshop C

Dark and Stormy Night: The Dynamics of Place

Janet Burroway

The difference between "description" and the dynamic use of setting is the ability to make place mean. How do you find the metaphoric, psychological or metaphysical connections between place, time and weather on the one hand and character, action and structure on the other? That is too tall an order for two hours, but we'll make a start. The focus will be on prose, but the explorations can be easily adapted to poetry and drama. This will be a hands-on writing-intensive class; bring lots of paper.


Workshop D

Accessing and Navigating Memories

Ozge Samanci

In this memoir writing workshop we will practice methods of remembering the past and turning them into stories. Focusing on certain keywords and listening to other people's stories will bring images from the past. We will use a technique developed by Marilyn Frasca and Lynda Barry to travel in these memories. Wondering in a memory will enable us to be present in the past and remember details including and beyond the visual. We will shut down the cruel editor that lives in us and write what we can remember. The most vivid stories come out when we are free from judgement.


Workshop E

Teens on the Edge: Writing About Social Justice for Young Adults

Danny M. Cohen & Christa Desir

Sparking conversation about difficult issues is a major benefit of many young adult novels being published today. In this workshop led by two YA authors, we'll explore fiction texts that deal with social justice, such as sexual assault, LGBTQ stories, racism, self-harm, bullying, and violence. Through exercises that encourage writers to use testimony and experiences from their own lives as the foundation for their stories, we'll consider questions about authenticity and the boundaries and ethics of fiction for young readers.


Workshop F

Sentenced

Jac Jemc

Gary Lutz claims that, "The sentence is a lonely place." Gordon Lish said, "Don't have stories, have sentences." Lewis Carroll wrote, "Sentence first, verdict afterward." A strong piece of writing is composed of building blocks, the most important unit of meaning being the sentence. In this session we'll pursue methods of making sentences that wow and ground the reader, drawing plot out of consecution and meaning out of the accrual of voice. Students will emerge with a firm handle on and inventive eye toward the core element of prose.


Workshop G

Serious is the Rubber Chicken: Tools and Tactics for Humor Writing

Ian Belknap

This workshop will help writers sharpen their comedic writing by dissecting recently published examples (The Onion, McSweeney's, etc.) and exercises designed to incorporate new methods into their own work.


Workshop H

A Poem of Poems: Appropriation in the Craft of Poetry

Jarret Neal

At some time in her or his career, every poet will reach a point of desuetude, when the ideas, lines, descriptions, and metaphors simply will not come. This workshop focuses on what William S. Burroughs referred to as the "cut up" method. Poets will learn to construct poems from rearranging and merging other poems and works of literature as a way to reinvigorate their poetic sensibilities and expand their own artistic boundaries. Participants will get the chance to literally play with language through various exercises, games, and drills aimed at helping them rediscover the joy and promise of language.


Thursday Faculty Panels

Panel A

Q & A with Publishers and Agents

Henry Carrigan, Naomi Huffman, Doug Seibold, Betsy Haberl (moderator)

An esteemed panel of publishers and agents will discuss the current state of publishing and what they expect from the writers they represent. They will also share tips for giving your unsolicited submissions the best chance of being noticed.


Panel B

Making it Work: Fitting Writing into Life

Danny Cohen, Christa Desir, Adrienne Gunn, Ish Harris-Wolff (moderator)

It can be challenging to find time to write amidst a busy schedule. Published writers who have families, day jobs, and other time commitments discuss how--and why-- they make time to write.



FRIDAY, JULY 29


Morning sessions 9:30–11am

Workshop A

Connecting to Characters

Garnett Kilberg Cohen

How do you write characters with whom audiences can connect? In other words, how do you create sympathy, empathy or interest (both negative and positive) without overstating or too much telling? In this workshop, participants will look at the traits and behavior of some of the most interesting characters in current literature, and then write according to prompts provided by the instructor for creating distinctive characters. The first forty five minutes will be spent discussing characters and writing to the prompts. The last forty-five minutes will be devoted to work-shopping pieces written in class OR previously character revealing scenes participants have brought with them (their choice).


Workshop B

Structure and the novel: how to carry the arc of your story

Erika T. Wurth

Are you intimidated by the idea of carrying a story, and creating an effective climax, over the course of 80,000 words or more? This workshop will offer some advice on understanding how to pull all of the threads of your story together throughout the course of writing your novel.


Workshop C

Pen as Sword: Writing About Other People

Suzanne Clores

Writers tend to fall into two camps when it comes to writing about other people: fearful and thoughtless. Memoirist Ann Lammott famously justifies her uncensored portraits of others with the comment, "if people wanted you to write warmly about them they should have behaved better.", while novelist Nick Hornby has said that writing about other people "is one of the most violent acts you can commit." This workshop will discuss the decision to write memoir or autobiographical fiction and how to portray one's truth when other people's lives and feelings may be at stake. Finding and owning your story, understanding the responsibility of the narrative power you wield, and taking precautions with the people you love are all discussed.



Workshop D

Up Close and Personal

Ignatius Valentine Aloysius

This workshop ​on narrative distance ​will focus on the use of language to create distance and/or closeness between the reader, the characters, and actions taking place in the story. We'll discuss how you, as the writer, can use different degrees of distance to various effects through your narrator. We’ll look at published work to uncover how a writer's choice of words and movement on the page can either create spatial separation from the events ​in the story ​or draw us close and closer still. There’s the observer and the observed to consider. How and when should you use a particular form of narrative distance for the greatest effect, and are you consistent with your use of it? This workshop appeals to fiction and non-fiction writers of any genre. Bring samples of your writing to the workshop.


Workshop E

How to Write About Music

Henry Carrigan

Why not combine your love of music and love of writing? Review your favorite artist’s new album for a local or national publication? Interview your favorite singer/musician and publish it? In this workshop, we’ll talk about how to write album reviews, reviews of live shows, artist interviews, and artist profiles. We’ll also talk about ways to get your writing into print. Henry Carrigan, who writes for several national music publications, will lead the workshop.


Workshop F

Writing in Time Part I

Marty McConnell

What is the responsibility of the poet to speak of the times in which we find ourselves? How can we write our experience of these times in authentic ways that don’t appropriate the experience(s) of others? How can we allow political and/or historical elements to enter our poems without becoming didactic, pedantic, sycophantic or some other bad poetic -ic? We’ll look at how poets ranging from WB Yeats to Wislowa Szymborska to Roger Reeves have managed it, do manage it -- and how we can as well.

The morning session will take the form of a craft talk and discussion of poems from various traditions and times that speak authentically and overtly to the political and societal contexts in which their authors live/lived and write/wrote. Poets will include WB Yeats, Adrienne Rich, Wislowa Szymborska, Martín Espada, Claudia Rankine, and Roger Reeves, among others.

Participants can attend either or both sessions.


Workshop G

Writing with your Feet

Miles Harvey

In this nonfiction workshop, you'll learn how to generate essays by moving through space and time. The class features a literary treasure hunt, led by Virginia Woolf.



Lunch and Keynote 11:15am–1pm

Keynote Speaker

Juan Martinez


 

Afternoon workshops 1:15–3:15pm

Workshop A

Making a Scene: Crafted Conflict

Eileen Favorite

Early drafts of writing often contain well-drawn characters and witty dialogue. What they often lack is narrative arc. In this workshop, we'll discuss how to build scenes that move your story or chapter forward. Every scene needs boundaries, which include these components: characters (who?), time (when?), setting (where?), conflict (what?), and emotions (mood?). Every scene also needs a purpose and an aftermath. By creating scenes with conflicts and clashes, we'll learn how to make our characters embody through words and deeds are deeper themes. 


Workshop B

Whose Story is This Anyhow?

Laurie Lawlor

Selection of point of view is one of the most important choices a writer makes.  Finding the best point of view for works-in-progress can involve experimentation and “thinking outside the box.” This fiction workshop probes techniques for uncovering the most effective point of view for the story the writer is attempting to tell.  Workshop will explore revising strategies and helpful character exercises.  Participants are invited to bring excerpts from their novels-in-progress.


Workshop C

Capturing Character in Nonfiction Writing

Kevin Davis

What makes people interesting? How do you capture a person’s essence? In this course geared for non-fiction writers, author and journalist Kevin Davis discusses various techniques that will help writers create better personality profiles and make them come alive. We’ll cover interviewing, background research and the challenges – as well as opportunities – of writing profiles. Classroom exercises include interviewing and writing short pieces. Fiction writers may also find this course valuable.


Workshop D

Who Cares? Turning Your Nonfiction Into Memorable, Published Work

Michele Weldon

Award-winning journalist, author and NU journalism emerita faculty Michele Weldon offers the skills needed to transform drafts into published work that readers care about, share and remember. How do you access the mind as well as the heart in your work? Weldon, whose fifth book, Escape Points: A Memoir, was named to Booklist's Editor's Choice of best adult books in 2015, shares concrete advice on finding story ideas, researching, writing, polishing and sharing creative nonfiction. 


Workshop E

A War of Words: Writing About Atrocity

Danny M. Cohen

Finding the words for the unimaginable is surely impossible. To describe or explain horrific violence and collective suffering endured through genocide or systemic abuse might be futile, yet, in the pursuit of "never again," we have an obligation to try. In this hands-on workshop, we will explore goals, pitfalls, and challenges of writing about extreme violence, mass-murder, and traumatic memory.


Workshop F          

Discovering the Soul of Your Story

Roger Rueff

At the core of your work-in-progress lie insights that can help you develop its characters, fix problems as (or even before) they arise, and guide your story along its most meaningful path. The trick is in how to unveil those insights and use them to your advantage. This hands-on workshop will show you how to explore the heart of your story using two original techniques for exposing its deepest secrets and charting its truest course. You will also learn how to combine the two techniques to generate stories from scratch. Learn more about the Discovering the Soul of Your Story book at www.soulofyourstory.com/book-dsys/.


Workshop G        


Workshop H         

Writing in Time Part II

Marty McConnell

What is the responsibility of the poet to speak of the times in which we find ourselves? How can we write our experience of these times in authentic ways that don’t appropriate the experience(s) of others? How can we allow political and/or historical elements to enter our poems without becoming didactic, pedantic, sycophantic or some other bad poetic -ic? We’ll look at how poets ranging from WB Yeats to Wislowa Szymborska to Roger Reeves have managed it, do manage it -- and how we can as well.

The afternoon session will revisit and extend the morning’s discussion, then engage participants in an exploratory writing process designed to generate draft text that gets beneath the surface of those political and societal issues. Through this process that utilizes breathing techniques and guided questioning, we will disrupt our usual writing methods as a way to go deeper, broader, and marry the personal and the political in the work.

Participants can attend either or both sessions.


Friday Faculty Panels

Panel A

Figuring Out Freelance

Kevin Davis, Julianne Hill, Gretchen Kawlinski, Betsy Haberl (moderator)

Established freelance writers share their advice for starting out--and sustaining--freelance writing life. Topics will include finding leads, securing payment, and gaining exposure for your writing and your talent.

 

Panel B

Writing from the Intersection of the Personal and the Political

Beth Finke, Nnedi Okorafor, Jarrett Neal, Erika T. Wurth (moderator)

This panel will explore the implicit and explicit political response and/or motivation behind fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

 

SATURDAY, JULY 30


Morning sessions 9:30–11am

Workshop A

Your Voice in the Dark

Suzanne Clores

Most writers, at some point, will encounter periods or entire projects where they just can’t lift up the dark blanket. Sometimes this cloak emerges as a character who just doesn’t seem authentic, or the memoirists voice gets stilted, or the mind goes blank on what should happen next. In short, the writer loses her voice.

Whether writing about trauma, emotion, memory, or fictional events that don’t yet make sense in the writer’s mind, this class offers methods to support the writer as she rediscovers her voice, moves through and engages with the material in a truthful way. Class discussion about literary methods, short readings and writing exercises will help to guide writers through the dark and hold this rocky part of the writing process up to the light.


Workshop B

This Happens, Which Causes This to Happen, Which Causes This to Happen, and So On: Cohesive Plot and Story

Eric Charles May

In fiction, ideally, by the time we get to the final drafts of a manuscript, with every scene there should be a direct cause and effect between the scene and what it causes to happen (or not happen) in the story. Eric Charles May presents strategies for the effective use of causality in fiction.


Workshop C

Characterization for Novelists

James Tadd Adcox

Characters in novels are different from characters in short stories in one incredibly important way: you have to keep writing about them over a much, much longer period of time. In this class we’ll explore what makes a good novel character and how that differs from a good short-story character, and experiment with ways of defining our characters and getting to know them better. We’ll cover questions such as: How and when do you reveal information about a character? How do you make each character meaningfully distinct from the others? And can you stand to spend a year (or more!) with the characters in your novel?


Workshop D

Getting Your Memoir Off the Ground

Beth Finke

Lots of people have interesting life stories to tell. The hard part? Getting those stories down on paper. In this session we'll discuss some techniques to get past whatever it is that's stopping writers from getting their work done, whether it be worries about writing as a victim,  facing issues that come with writing about people we love, or figuring out strategies for organizing the raw material of our lives into book form. A short in-class exercise will emphasize craft and overcoming the barriers that keep us from writing our personal stories.


Workshop E

Author Platform: How to Raise a Book

Deborah Siegel

Writers of works published or in progress will explore social media techniques, print options, and other best practices to influence, educate, and inspire an ever-growing audience—including editors and agents seeking “proof” that a writer will be read. Deborah Siegel, PhD, an author, blogger, journalist, and TEDx speaker who has tested the waters of platform-building firsthand, will guide participants to change the way they think about platform by showing how a writer’s public platform can organically and authentically unfold.


Workshop F

The Subtle Craft of the Pitch

Jacob Knabb

From freelance journalism to post-modern poetry, nothing gets to the page without getting past the slush pile. This session will outline tactics designed to maximize the chance of getting your work accepted and enticing editors to say yes. The goal will be to teach you how to find the right market for your work, craft a pitch letter with great hooks, know when to "ask for help" and who to ask, build off of recent successes, take advantage of networking opportunities without burning bridges, and be persistent without pestering. 


Workshop G

The Top 10 Things I Learned at a Prestigious MFA Program (and how you can use them right now from the comfort of your living room)

Adrienne Gunn

Curious about what goes on in behind closed doors at fancy MFA programs? Adrienne Gunn thought she’d won the lottery when she was selected out of six hundred applicants for a spot at the University of Oregon’s highly-ranked MFA program. And she sort of did. But the experience also shook her confidence and left her writing irrevocably changed. This workshop will give you insight into succinct strategies MFA programs use to improve your writing right now (order of occurrence versus order of narration; precision; “the wedge”) and shed light into the big MFA lessons (how to find your voice; handling criticism and rejection; networking and developing your brand).       


Lunch and Keynote 11:15am–1pm

Keynote Speaker

Story Club: Live Lit Performance


Afternoon workshops 1:15–3:15pm

Workshop A

Shaping Up Scenes

James Tadd Adcox

A good scene, like a good story or a good novel, has a shape of its own. In this class we’ll talk about the difference between scene and exposition, and look at a number of forms a scene might take, from the reversal and the revelation to “juggling” and “layering”—and of course we’ll try our hands at these forms in class. We’ll also discuss a few things to keep in mind while building a good scene, such as avoiding “talking heads” and how to set up scenes to come.


Workshop B

Beyond Navel Gazing: Approaches for Getting to Meaningful Memoir

Eric Charles May

The strongest memoir writing is as much about the people in a memoirist’s life as it is about the memoirist, the author drawing from family, school, work, cultural, and other meaningful life experiences. This workshop will present approaches and writing exercises for getting writers of all ages to the widest possibilities for strong memoir story and voice.


Workshop C

Point of View in Fiction: Breaking the Rules

Fred Shafer

“Rules are made to be broken”—that might very well be the motto of a number of contemporary novelists and short story writers who are setting aside traditional assumptions about the use of point of view. They have taken steps that were once considered to be against the rules, such as using multiple points of view in a single scene, employing an omniscient narrator, collapsing the distinctions between first- and third-person points of view, and trying out other unique angles for presenting reality. In this workshop, we will assume that any approach is worth taking, as long as it brings life and depth to a work of fiction. Using examples selected from contemporary stories and novels, we’ll begin by discussing the basic assumptions and the problems that writers may encounter in using them; then, in the belief that a writer must know the rules in order to break them intelligently, we’ll look at examples that depart from those assumptions.


Workshop D

From Page to Stage: Writing Personal Narrative for Performance

Bobby Biedrzycki

The workshop will explore how writing and performance intersect, inform and inspire each other. And how our own life experiences can be used to craft performance pieces. Using techniques from literary, theatrical and storytelling traditions, this workshop will explore how to get a well-crafted story first on—and then off—the page. The workshop will focus on personal narrative performance storytelling, taking participants through the process of exploring/finding personal material, writing it, and culminating in a brief storytelling performance. The course will also explore Chicago's burgeoning “Live-Lit” scene and the variety of performance storytelling forms being produced throughout the city. 


Workshop E

Writing Short: Nonfiction and Fiction

Garnett Kilberg Cohen

This workshop will focus on writing flash fiction or nonfiction. The first forty-five minutes to an hour will be spent discussing effective pieces of published flash fiction and nonfiction by established writers--what makes it suitable for flash (besides its length)--and talking about how to determine what material is more suitable for fiction and which for nonfiction. Students will be given 20-25 minutes to write in response to a prompt proved by the instructor. The last forty-five minutes to an hour will be spent workshopping what participants wrote in the workshop OR a piece of flash that the student brought to class (his or her choice).


Workshop F

Write to Finish

S.L. Wisenberg

Writing is hard. Writing without deadlines is harder. This session is designed to make the process easier. There will be exercises to help you figure out priorities, and discussions about what stands in your way. You'll go home with deadlines, a plan, and tricks to help you keep on track.


Workshop G

Writing Parenthood, Parenting Writerhood

Deborah Siegel

In the spirit of investigative provocation, we’ll explore the tensions inherent in the writing/parenting life. Is there an expiration date after which our children’s lives become off limits to us as writers, or is it a writer’s duty to convey life as it is, no matter what? When and how do our responsibility to our children and our responsibility to readers collide? How do we find the time? We’ll generate some on-the-spot writing around these conundrums, discuss the differences between writing for self and for publication, and address ways of writing that break through in a crowded writing marketplace.


Workshop H

Beginnings and Endings in Poetry (description forthcoming)

Angela Jackson


Saturday Faculty Panels

Panel A

Editor’s Panel

Garnett Kilberg Cohen, Jacob Knabb, Colleen O’Connor, Ignatius Valentine Aloysius (moderator)

Literary journal editors offer insight into the process of selecting and publishing work within their respected journals.


Panel B

Finding Inspiration: Getting Out of Ruts

Suzanne Clores, Angela Jackson, Eric Charles May, Pascale Bishop (moderator)

This panel will explore traditional and nontraditional ways of generating new work and destroying the dreaded writer’s block. Whether it be through crossing genre boundaries or cultivating previous experiences to produce, you’ll learn some new tricks.