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Northwestern University Summer Writers' Conference

Workshop and Panel Descriptions

Workshop and Panel Descriptions

Go to workshop and panel descriptions for:

Thursday, August 15Friday, August 16Saturday, August 17

Register today! 

THURSDAY, AUGUST 15

Morning Workshops 9:30–11:00 a.m.
Workshop A
Thrills & Gasps: Writing a Standout Ghost Story

with Sara Connell

In this interactive workshop, we will explore the ghost story from old urban legends, to the Victorian era up through contemporary literary fiction. We’ll identify the best techniques, most thrilling tricks and greatest literary moves writers can employ to create excellent creepy tales. We’ll also talk about what not to do, clichés to avoid and ideal places to submit ghost stories for publication. In the second part of the workshop, we’ll generate the start of a story or a full draft of a flash ghost story.

Genre: Fiction

Workshop B - CLOSED
A River Runs Beneath It: the Internal Plot in Fiction
with Fred Shafer

When the Italian novelist Elena Ferrante sent advice by email to the director who was crafting a television series from her book, My Brilliant Friend, she urged him to teach the actresses that hidden under everything they do and say, there is a river, “whose roar is muted,” and they must always stay in touch with this river. Some fiction writers prefer to call the river, which consists of a character’s deepest thoughts and feelings, the internal plot. The notion that novels and short stories have two plots, running closely together, can help writers to avoid believing that they have found all they need to know about their characters’ inner lives in the physical actions, details, and dialogue that make up the external plot. In this workshop we will study the interplay that often takes place between the two plots, with an emphasis on the process of finding the internal plot. Using examples taken from contemporary fiction, we’ll look at ways of recognizing the presence of this underground current, of asking the questions that can carry you down inside it, and of deciding when to bring it to the surface in words and sentences, or to keep it hidden but still felt, by your readers as well as the characters themselves.

Genre: Fiction

Workshop C
Sounds Funny: The Basics of Humor Writing
with Sophie Lucido Johnson

Since the dawn of the written word, humor has been a tool to tell the truth and target our humanity with brevity and a masterful air of ease. In fact, writing humor is no joke: there are a lot of complex principles and ideas that can make or break a potentially comedic piece of writing. This workshop will focus on the nuts and bolts of the ever-expanding genre of humor writing, while allowing participants to practice inside the form. We'll differentiate between satirical writing, deadpan or dry humor, situational comedy, and short-form humor writing for publication. Sophie Lucido Johnson is the former editor-in-chief of a humor literary magazine, has toured her stand-up nationally, and has had her work published in the New Yorker's Shouts and Murmurs and McSweeney's Internet Tendency. She really doesn't mean to brag, but she does want you to know that she has a few proven tricks up her sleeves.

Genres: Fiction, Nonfiction

Workshop D
Your Story, Your Story’s World
with Susanna Calkins

No matter your genre, creating a world that draws readers in is essential to effective storytelling. In this interactive session, writers will explore key aspects of world-building and scene-setting, reflecting on how sensory details, language, dialogue and history (real or imagined) help authors create their own unique worlds. Through excerpts of published novels and short writing exercises, writers at any level will develop their skills to create authentic and imaginative worlds of their own.

Genres: All

Workshop E
Submission Strategies
with Eileen Favorite

In this workshop, we'll look at listservs and websites that will help you to organize your work to help you strategize submissions. We'll review Duotrope, Submittable, and other submissions-organizing sites that make the regular, organized sending out of your fiction, nonfiction, or poetry 100 times easier. Some time will also be devoted to agent searches, and the best practices for targeting your market.

Genres: All

Workshop F
Short and Sweet Nonfiction: The Art of The Essay
with Michele Weldon

Whether you intend to write personal essays, opinion, commentary or even reviews, this dive into the mechanics of highly effective literary nonfiction essays can help you reach diverse audiences as there is a strong appetite for this content. Michele Weldon is the award-winning author of five nonfiction books, emerita faculty at Northwestern University , senior leader with The OpEd Project and a regular contributor to scores of sites including Narratively, Slate, The Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Pacific Standard Magazine, Los Angeles Review of Books and many more with her narrative essays and opeds. Learn how to brainstorm for story ideas and discover a toolbox of ways to make your writing fresh and engaging in 1,000 to 2,000 words.

Genre: Nonfiction

Workshop G
Beyond First and Third: Mastering Point of View in Any Genre
with Kathleen Rooney

Although it is often overlooked or taken for granted, point of view is perhaps the single most important technique that an author can master in order to excel in writing of any kind. This workshop will explore the various techniques of perspective and the creation of a narrative voice, as well as the influence that these decisions have on all literary forms, including fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Through brief in-class readings from such authors as John Gardner, Raymond Chandler, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Marguerite Duras, attendees will survey the wide range of choices each genre offers in establishing a narrator, including first, second, and third persons, as well as omniscient versus limited, distant versus close, singular versus plural, and reliable versus unreliable. After discussing the implications that these choices have on style, voice, and form, students will also receive in-class prompts in which they will get to explore assorted points of view, walking out with strategies for how to continue to explore those possibilities further on their own.

Genres: All

Morning Panel Discussion 11:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m.
Punch the Keys: Why Criticism and Commentary Matter More than Ever
with Tony AdlerPaula Carter, Charles Finch, and Jarrett Neal (moderator)

In an age of comment boards and Twitter, it seems like everyone is a critic. Considering this, we'll discuss what makes critics' opinions valuable and estimable. We'll also discuss the critic's role in our time: to endorse a subject (book, play, film, etc.), tear it down, or help readers see it from multiple perspectives. Critics and opinion writers of all genres can sometimes carry a reputation of being elitist and esoteric snobs. Since it seems the general public forms its own opinion of a subject even before it is released, how can modern critics scale the walls of readers' biases and gain more respect? 

Lunch and Keynote 12:15–1:45 p.m.

Keynote Reading and Discussion
Writing Chicago: Never a Lovely So Real
with Miles Harvey, Natalie Moore, Renee Rosen, and Gerald Brennan (moderator)

“Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.” Nelson Algren’s famous words about Chicago speak to the city’s beauty, and its flaws—of which it has both in ample measure. A beautiful city, laid-out incredibly well, with miles of beaches, beautiful bridges, and an excellent public transit system, Chicago is a city that works. But it doesn’t always work as well as it should—racially divided, with more crime than other large cities, and ample measures of political dysfunction and corruption.

How can we, as writers, do justice to this great city and its massive contradictions? How have other writers gotten it wrong, and right? Do the city's flaws hurt or help its artists? Or is it neutral, artistically--just another fact of life that must be dealt with and explored honestly? What more can we say about Chicago—and what can Chicago tell us about the human condition?

Afternoon Workshops 2:00–3:30 p.m.
Workshop A
Good Enough
with Juan Martinez

Here’s a terrible truth: Not everything you write will be great. Not everything that you publish will be great either. We all aim for greatness. We shouldn’t. Greatness is not a useful metric for what we do, so it’s a bit of a puzzle why we obsess over it. What we’ll do, in this talk and generative workshop, is to try to understand how to get over our own greatness meter, and how doing so can let us enjoy what we’re doing, how we can truly dive into a state of play, how to relax into work that is good enough. Good enough for the time being, at least. Good enough to let us move into the next bit of our project or our writing life. Because that’s the other, more mysterious truth about the writing life: we stumble and play through good to arrive at great.

Genres: All

Workshop B - CLOSED
Do They Need to Know What Time It Is?: How to Know What Details to Give the Reader
with Alex Higley

Whether writing a first draft or editing a piece you've worked on for years, being able to balance giving the reader striking details and specificities while maintaining a well-paced narrative can be difficult. Understanding when to focus on information delivery, action, characterization, setting, exposition, and most importantly, how to stop thinking of these components as distinct and cordoned off from one another will be discussed in this class. We will be looking at a variety of openings and character introductions from novels and short stories, as well as student examples.

Genre: Fiction

Workshop C
Writing the Absurd
with Vincent Francone

Realism is great, but there’s no law that says you have to stick to it. This workshop will consider the ways authors have long represented their experiences or ideas in unreal, odd, and downright absurd ways that blend humor and pathos. We’ll read a few short examples and then move into workshop mode and pen a few absurdist sketches. Ideally, participants will leave with ideas for future development that are a bit more unusual than the average story.

Genres: All

Workshop D
Prompts that Emphasize Play in Writing: A Generative Workshop
with Christine Sneed

If you ever find yourself dragging your feet before you sit down at your writing desk, unsure of yourself and what the page will yield up on that particular day, this workshop is for you.  We'll focus on writing prompts and other tips designed to help you rediscover the sense of play in your writing. The prompts are formulated with both poets and prose writers in mind. Bring your notebooks and get ready to write!

Genres: All  

Workshop E
“Are You My Mother?” Is the Only Plot Structure You Need
with Jeremy T. Wilson

In P.D. Eastman’s classic children’s book “Are You My Mother?” a young bird goes on a quest to find his mother. One problem: he has no idea what his mother looks like. Simple, right? If you feel like your plots get muddled because you’re trying to keep too many balls in the air, maybe it’s time to go back to basics. Participants will focus on this classic book along with more contemporary short stories as a model of basic plot structure and will use in-class activities to generate their own plot-driven pieces of flash fiction.

Genre: Fiction

Workshop F
The Truth Can Be a Great Story: Turning Nonfiction into Narrative
with Mary Wisniewski

The requirements for nonfiction journalism and historical writing are the same as those for fiction -- good dialogue, strong objects and well-crafted descriptions. So why is so much historical writing so dull? This workshop will give tips on bringing the elements of good storytelling to nonfiction works. We'll talk about the search for strong objects and good quotes, and how to make a story lively while still telling the absolute truth.

Genre: Nonfiction

Workshop G
Density of the Poem: Heavy or Porous
with Angela Jackson

In this workshop, we will examine the ways in which a poem's form and content can be answered by line spacing and line length. We will discuss this relationship in the works of Gwendolyn Brooks, Lucille Clifton, Robert Hayden, Anne Sexton, Theodore Roethke, Mary Oliver, Carolyn Rodgers, and Angela Jackson. Students are welcome to bring one or two of their own poems to work with in the session.

Genre: Poetry

Afternoon Panel Discussion 3:45–4:45 p.m.
Navigating the World of Creative Writing Residencies
with Kathryn Kruse, Amy SinclairSimone Muench, and Ignatius Aloysius (moderator)

What is a creative residency and is it right for you? This panel discussion will discuss the benefits of the residency experience, as well as focus on the how-tos of applying for creative writing, art, music, and related residency programs. Learn about the applications process, costs (if applicable), resident activities and expectations, and ways to better your chances with an effective application letter, artist statement, purpose, samples, and recommendation letters. Panelists will include Amy Sinclair, admissions director from Ragdale, Kathryn Kruse (of Residency on the Farm), Simone Muench of Lewis University, and Ignatius Valentine Aloysius, an interdisciplinary resident of Ragdale, who will also act as moderator.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 16

Morning Workshops 9:30–11:00 a.m.
Workshop A
Beasts of Our Own Making: Exploring Origin and Lineage
with Marty McConnell

Whether the mythical truth of the way(s) we were made and raised matches or clashes with the fact(s) of the matter, origin stories are fodder for much great poetry. We will look at brilliant examples of poets revisiting, revising, and often reinventing their births and becomings to unpack entry points, techniques, and tools we can use in our own work. We will experiment with generative ways to define our lineages, reclaim our creation, and write into the truth of our making. We will focus on poems as examples and launching points, but those working in prose and hybrid forms are welcome!

Genres: All

Workshop B
Life as Story: Crafting the ​Autobiographical Novel
with Christine Maul Rice

Have you ever said, "My life could be a novel." If that's true, it should be easy to write an autobiographical novel, right? But what scenes are important? What scenes might need to be shelved? From James Baldwin to Zora Neale Hurston to Tim O'Brien (& many authors in between), writers craft fiction using elements from their lives. Some authors, like Nora Ephron, write scenes so close to reality that readers can see through the author's thin veil. Others, like Zora Neale Hurston, cherry-pick elements from their experience and fictionalize scenes to fit their novel's narrative arc. This workshop will guide each participant to identify the most compelling material from what often seems like an overwhelming abundance of experiences. Digging? Excavating? Yes. We'll prod beneath the surface of your life to lift and draw out. We'll experiment with point of view, structure, and form to get each participant's most compelling material on the page. We will try new things to push brand new work or work in progress in useful directions. Hopefully, this poking and prodding will lead to new discoveries. And since the autobiographical short stories share elements with the novel chapter, this workshop will be helpful to those writers developing short stories too.

Genre: Fiction

Workshop C
Seductive Openings
with Garnett Kilberg Cohen

Why do you decide to buy a book in a store after just reading the first paragraph?  Why do you put other books back on the shelves? This workshop will focus on writing opening sentences/paragraphs/scenes to short stories and novels that hook readers. We will examine some of the best—and worst—openings in fiction, and discuss why they do or don’t work. We’ll discuss the writer’s “contract” with the reader, how writers help readers connect to characters right from the first page?  Participants should either submit first pages (100-250 words) of stories or novels they are writing a day prior to the workshop or, if not possible, bring them to the workshop.

Genre: Fiction

Workshop D
Move Me: Strategies for Getting Unstuck and Energizing Your Prose
with Rachel Swearingen

Do you have a backlog of abandoned stories and essays? Have you revised the life out a piece, trying to make it perfect? In this course, we’ll discuss some less common ways of waking up your prose and unlocking narrative energy. Toward this end, we’ll examine thrilling turns in several stories and essays. Some of the strategies we’ll cover include: finding and fanning hotspots; using transitions as transport; modulating register, diction, and rhythm; and making space for rough edges and mischief. 

Optional: Bring a few "unworkable" pages from a work-in-progress.  

Genres: Prose (Fiction and Nonfiction)

Workshop E
Discovering the Vivid Landscape
with Laurie Lawlor

This craft workshop focuses on how to vividly create the world and atmosphere around our characters in a variety of genres, from historical fiction and fantasy to realistic fiction and science fiction.  Designed for beginning and advanced fiction writers, this session explores challenging questions for works in-progress and first-draft fiction in deep revision stage. How do we make sure the setting we’ve created is fully helping the story and deepening characters?   We will examine sensory details and tight, lyrical language in published works. Research tips will be explored. Participants will complete and share a writing exercise that explores the landscape through their characters’ eyes.

Genre: Fiction

Workshop F
The Habit of Art: How to Transform Your Writing Life Through Daily Practice
with Kelcey Parker Ervick

In 2018 I committed to creating a painting or comic each day. Through daily practice, I wanted to stretch myself artistically and to develop what the writer and visual artist Flannery O’Connor calls “the habit of art.” Not only was I successful, I was transformed personally. My writing and storytelling were transformed. I wanted to explore new ways of storytelling that included images, and through daily practice, I found new techniques, new metaphors, and new visual language. Daily painting became a time of meditation, and the contemplation of my subject was something akin to developing a character in a story. My career was also transformed through new opportunities and new connections. I’ll tell you how I did it, and why I think everyone should do it! I’ll share tips for success, examples, and inspiring anecdotes.

Genres: All

Workshop G
Lightning Bolts: Escalation and Pattern Building
with Jac Jemc

Having an idea for a story is one thing, but how do you establish patterns of action while building suspense and allowing room for surprise? In this workshop we’ll look at examples of these elements of structure and put them into practice. If you’re struggling to get a story off the ground, this workshop will give you a way to begin. If you have a draft, but it feels flat, these tactics will help add dimension. If you are feeling uninspired, you’ll come away with new possibilities for exploration.

Genres: Fiction, Nonfiction

Morning Panel 11:15 a.m.–12:15 p.m.
Brand Matters
with Gint ArasAmina GautierMare Swallow, and Ben Tanzer (moderator)

In this this panel, we'll discuss the hows and whys of branding for writers. Specifically, panelists will share tips and their experiences with staying "on brand" by knowing--and trusting--their points of view, and considering what their audiences wants to see and hear.

Lunch and Keynote 12:15–1:45 p.m.
Keynote Reading and Discussion
It's a Family Affair: Taking the Heart's Dictation
with Gina Frangello, Krista Franklin, Mark Turcotte, and Christine Sneed (moderator)

In this keynote, three celebrated writers read from and discuss work that addresses the complicated crucible of family--the ways our lives are defined in no small part by our relationships with the people with whom we share blood or intimate ties.

Afternoon Workshops 2:00–3:30 p.m.
Workshop A - CLOSED
What a Character Wants, What a Character Needs
with Betsy Finesilver Haberl

To create compelling fiction, writers need to know their characters inside and out. It's critical that fictional have a well developed voice and personality that comes across on the page. Yet, it's not enough. Characters need to have a deep sense of desire--a "yearning," as author Robert Olen Buter says--that motivates everything they do, and thus can help drive your plot forward. In this session, we'll explore characterization through the lens of inner desire and how to wield this as a tool in your stories. The session will include readings, discussion, and writing exercises.

Genre: Fiction

Workshop B
The The Body in Question
with Riva Lehrer

This workshop addresses the pitfalls that arise when writing disabled characters (in fiction and memoir). There are numerous issues in writing from that perspective, even for writers with impairments. Attendees are required to bring one to six pages of text or a series of questions for discussion.

Genres: Fiction, Memoir

Workshop C
Flash Nonfiction: Your Life in 750 Words or Less
with Paula Carter

When writing about your own life, sometimes it can be hard to know where to start. What to include and what to leave out. In this workshop, we will look at the flash nonfiction form as an entryway into personal writing. Distilling things down into a few hundred words can help clarify what is important and this short form is something of a pressure cooker: insisting that the moment, language and imagery all intensify within the small space.

We’ll read masters of creating a moment, discuss what events in life lend themselves to the flash form, identify key craft elements in powerful flash pieces, and discuss magazines and publications where you can read and publish flash nonfiction. Students will leave the workshop with the beginnings of 2 flash nonfiction pieces.

Texts: Selections from Brevity, Field Guide to Writing Flash Nonfiction by Dinty W. Moore, and Heating and Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly.

Genre: Nonfiction

Workshop D
Will You Please, Please, Please Stop Talking: Knowing When to Speak and When to Shut Up in Your Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry
with Billy Lombardo

I don’t know how you all feel about dialogue, but I can promise you this: you won’t be able to write very long—at least not well—without getting good at it when you need it, and without putting your hand over your characters’ mouths when you don’t.

This workshop will address all kinds of dialogue in fiction and creative nonfiction, but Billy knows a thing or two about poetry as well, and if your speakers can’t keep their mouths shut in your poems, we’ll take a look at that, as well.

We’ll tackle speaker tags, realistic vs. great dialogue, swearing in fiction, when to summarize and when to present it directly. And why you’re never, never, almost never going to find a great opening line of a story that starts with dialogue.

We’ll be looking closely at the short story, Silver Water, in which Amy Bloom puts on a dialogue clinic that you’ll want to have at your side the next time you sit at the table. It’s stupid good.

Participants should bring an example of a few lines of their original dialogue, preferably one they’re struggling with. The workshop will include close reading, writing exercises, discussions, and Q & A.

Genres: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry

Workshop E
Greater than the Sum of Its Parts: Crafting a Novel-in-Stories
with Karen Schreck

It’s a slippery fiction, hard to pin down, replete with contradictions, and it goes by many names, including, but not limited to:  a novel-in-stories, a composite novel, linked stories, a short story cycle, and a short story sequence. At its finest, a book crafted in this manner offers readers not one, or the other, but the best pleasures of both the short story and the novel. In this workshop, we will consider a few successful examples of novels-in-short stories, such as Improvement, by Joan Silber, The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, and There, There, by Tommy Orange, to better understand how and why the form works, and ways we might harness the structure for our own fiction.

Genre: Fiction

Workshop F
Getting from Abstract to Concrete in Fiction (or, How to Make the Political Personal)
with Jennifer Solheim

In this time of ongoing domestic political crises, many of us feel a tension between creating fictional work and engaging directly with the problems we face. Ideally, we find ways of bringing these concerns into our fiction. But even if the issue effects us directly, how should we approach writing fiction about large social and political concepts: immigration, LGBTQ rights, #metoo, #blacklivesmatter? How do we make the political particular to our characters and their time and place? And how do we balance our righteous indignation with the curiosity and humility necessary to writing good fiction? In this generative workshop, we begin by looking at examples of politically and socially engaged fiction by Lucia Berlin, Edward P. Jones, and Leila Slimani before we turn our attention to the concerns most pressing to each of us. Through prompted freewriting and exercises, we will each develop a bank of socially- and politically-related objects and images to draw from in our fiction, as well as develop a character, setting, and situation specific to a social or political issue. 

Genre: Fiction

Workshop G
Private Pages, Public Spaces: The Power of Journaling
with Jarrett Neal

Maintaining a private journal (or diary) can provide catharsis, self-discovery, and historical documentation for any individual. Though conceived for an audience of one, a journal can also be vaunted into the public sphere through publication. For creative writers, particularly those who write memoir or creative nonfiction, the journal can be a potent resource that can form the core of any publishable work of prose. This workshop provides writers a chance to read and discuss excerpts from famous diarists such as Virginia Woolf, Christopher Isherwood, and Joe Orton, as well as a discussion of candor, secrecy, risk, and the various ways journaling can be integrated into a writer’s daily life. The workshop also allows those new to the craft of journaling—or skittish about it—an opportunity to try their hand at the craft.

Genre: All

Afternoon Panel Discussion 3:45–4:45 p.m.
Publishing Your Book: Many Roads to One Goal
with Deb RobertsonMary Bisbee-Beek, Marcy Posner, Doug Seibold, and Emily Victorson (moderator)
With so many options out there for placing one’s book, it can be tough to know which path makes the most sense for your work. Join us for this special panel as a number of publishing experts
provide information on the different routes one may take, whether self-publishing, landing an agent, using a hybrid press, or pursuing a small/medium sized press. Panelists include book publishers Deb Robertson (Gibson House Press), Doug Siebold (of Agate), and Emily Victorson (of Allium Press); literary agent Marcy Posner; and publishing sherpa Mary Bisbee-Beek.

 

SATURDAY, AUGUST 17

Morning Workshops 9:30–11:00 a.m.
Workshop A - CLOSED
How to Write a Gut Wrenching Story
with Nami Mun
Workshop B
Strange Animals: Prose Poems
with Valerie Wallace

The prose poem is a hybrid creature, adept in traversing emotional and situational terrain, and often inhabiting interstitial spaces, such as the season in the seam of autumn to winter. This generative writing workshop will focus on the prose poem as a source of inspiration, and gift to each of us as readers and writers. We’ll talk about the differences between prose and prose poetry, and give a close read of stellar published examples, and we will write. Expect to create at least one prose poem in class, plus something surprising in an in-class exercise.

Genres: Poetry, Fiction, Hybrid Writing

Workshop C
Rules for Breaking
with James Tadd Adcox

It’s not true that there are no rules to writing fiction. There are a ton of rules, and plenty of people (editors, writing teachers, other writers) who are happy to add their own rule or three to the pile. What’s also true, though, is that in writing as in any art rules are meant to be broken, and often the best writers are those who—creatively, audaciously—break the rules. In this workshop we’ll focus on a number of specific “rules” for writing fiction, thinking through why the rule exists, discussing what possibilities the rule offers, and experimenting with breaking it.

Genre: Fiction

Workshop D
Diving Into Possibility
with Faisal Mohyuddin 

To write about ourselves with insight and fidelity—whether in poetry or in prose—can be quite difficult given how fuzzy, fluid, and fleeting memory can be. This task becomes even more challenging when writing about others as we cannot truly know their inner worlds, life experiences, and memories. For those of us who write about family members we never knew, so much of what we do relies on invention, on cobbling together fragments of information to form impressionistic renderings of others’ lives, of diving into the world of possibility. In this workshop, we will examine a variety of short texts (poetry and prose) and investigate imaginative strategies writers use to invent memories—their own as well as those of others. Then we will explore effective ways to present these inventions on the page.

Genres: All

Workshop E
How to Read a Photograph: A Workshop for Writers
with Lynn Sloan

Writers collect and use photographs as records of facts and as inspiration. Getting it at a glance—that’s what we like about photographs. They are simple; they yield their information without a struggle; their language is universal; seeing is natural: Each of these statements is false. Photographs are deceptive and they are filled with information beyond what is available at a glance. Learning how to see what photographs describe can deepen and enrich our writing. In this workshop we will explore ways to read photographs to discover what is within or beyond the surface representation. We will examine several iconic images from America’s past, look at how writers have used photographs as springboards for creative work, and offer tools to unpack your own pictures. This workshop will be valuable for fiction writers, memories, and essayists. Participants are invited to bring a few photographs to use in the exercises.

Genres: All

Workshop F
“We Have Ignition, We Have Liftoff!”:  How to Get Your Stories Up and Going in Effective Ways
with Eric Charles May

Every writer, be they many times published or beginning a career, are faced with the same initial storytelling issue: “How do I begin this thing? How can I give my readers a story opening that will grab them from the first sentence and make them want to do that most basic reader requirement—turn the page!”

Using examples of published fiction and nonfiction writers, novelist and essayist Eric Charles May will present effective writing forms and strategies you can employ to get your stories—be they fiction or nonfiction—off and running in ways that will engage and enchant your readers.

Genres: Fiction, Nonfiction

Workshop G
The Blended Voice: Mixing Research and Experience in Creative Nonfiction
with Deborah Siegel

The voice of the Memoirist and the voice of the Researcher or Reporter are often at odds. Yet in creative nonfiction, the two voices can powerfully merge. This session focuses on the craft of bringing personal story into research/reportage, and research/reportage into personal narrative. Whether you’re working in memoir, essay, or journalistic nonfiction, we’ll explore the use of 1st person in the service of a larger idea. We’ll learn from three writers who blend voices well (op-ed, essayist or memoirist, and journalist), studying their technique. Then we’ll generate some writing of our own.

Genre: Nonfiction

Morning Panel 11:15 a.m.–12:15 p.m.
Good Writing is Revising
with Randall AlbersEric Charles May, Donna Seaman, and Sarah Kokernot (moderator)

Revision is all about expanding the possibilities in your writing. It's not just copy editing; the process should open your writing, rather than simply zooming in on fine details and focusing on the sentence level. The panelists will discuss what the revision process actually looks like and share techniques you can apply to your own work.

Lunch and Keynote 12:15–1:45 p.m.
Keynote Presentation
Researching Into the Void
with Rebecca Makkai

Unless every character you write is exactly like you, fiction involves writing across difference. Those differences might be ones of identity and demographics, or they might be ones of knowledge, experience, setting, and historical era. With so much valid concern and debate around the touchy issue of appropriation, writers can find themselves crippled by fears: Do I have permission to write this? What if I get it horribly wrong? Even if I do it well, will people be upset that I wrote outside my own life?

Rebecca Makkai’s The Great Believers is a novel that took the author far outside her own lived experience and her own identity, and in this talk she will share not only the essential questions she asked herself as she wrote, but the strategies—of research, of craft, and of publishing—she arrived at by the end. We’ll discuss techniques for researching lives unlike our own, for approaching filter readers, and for making sure we’ve approached our characters with the respect they deserve.

Afternoon workshops 2:00–3:30 p.m.
Workshop A
Speaking the Unspeakable: Pushing Past Silence, Stigma, and Taboo in Creative Nonfiction
with Kim Brooks

The stories we avoid are often as important as the ones we embrace. This idea can pose one of the most difficult hurdles for writers as they find and develop a distinctive voice and style. When we tell a story, whether through personal narrative, research, reportage, or criticism, we are implicitly asking for our readers empathy and acknowledgment. But how does one do this when the subject at hand is taboo? In this reading and writing workshop, we will discuss strategies for approaching difficult and controversial subjects through a personal lease. We’ll look at examples from writers who have written about subjects often avoided in public discourse: childbirth, death and dying, sex, perversion, violence, and other uncomfortable topic. Through close reading and discussion, we’ll explore how writers can earn a reader’s trust before approaching a difficult subject, and how they can use voice, tone, and narrative structure to their advantage. Students will choose a single “difficult" topic to explore in class and will brainstorm and receive feedback on different ways to approach and craft the material.

Genre: Nonfiction

Workshop B
Writing Myth and Magic into Short Stories
with Dipika Mukherjee

Using two examples of short literary texts set in Asia and America, this workshop will examine ways in which myth and magic can be used to focus on indigenous geographies as well as marginalization. By exploring the power of words in a gendered, ageist, and urbanized world, participants will be encouraged to explore the role of myths in their own communities to write their own short story. This session is especially appropriate for writers looking for new inspiration for short stories and writers of all levels are encouraged to attend.

Genre: Fiction

Workshop C
Write Where You Are: Placing the Reader in Your Poems
with Rebecca Morgan Frank

Where do you write from? Are you an insider or an outsider? What is the soundtrack of this place? What has happened here?  These are some of the questions we’ll explore as you consider the role of place in your poems, both as the place you write from and as the place into which you invite your reader. Through a series of generative writing exercises, this workshop will guide you toward writing vivid poems rooted in the past, present, or imagined landscapes you inhabit. Discussions of the in-class activities will provide you with strategies for using concrete details to help “place” your reader in the physical and emotional world of your poems.

Genre: Poetry

Workshop D
Big Ideas, Big Stories: Genre Writing 101
with Michael Moreci

Big action, big thrills, big worlds--how do you write a larger-than-life tale that is still remarkably human? Whether it's sci-fi, fantasy, or horror, genre fiction relies on otherworldly elements: a deep space adventure, a haunted house, a quest across a landscape inhabited by trolls and orcs. Yet the very best of these stories, despite how fantastical they are, tell human stories at their core. The question is how to strike a balance between the two--how to tell a story of a world not our own yet make it feel familiar? We'll look at some of the best works across many genres and examine how the find that human element.

Genre: Fiction

Workshop E
Method in Narrative Craft
with Bayo Ojikutu

Bayo Ojikutu's workshop offers students the opportunity to consider potential applications of method-acting theory in narrative construction within fiction. The workshop will engage the fundamental elements of prose fiction within this framework, with particular focus on character, narration and scene, with the objective of articulating strategiers by which the writer brings those elements to life off of the page.

Genre: Fiction

Workshop F
Troubleshooting Negative Thinking, Keeping Up Confidence
with Ross Ritchell

Do the uninitiated, writing seems like a fantastical mental-vacation, but in reality the craft is often laborious, disheartening, and just plain hard. This open forum will discuss common pitfalls of the writing craft and strategies for coping with them, as well as guidance for maintaining confidence and avoiding negative thinking that blocks the creative process. Writing is a labor of love, and without a proper balance and understanding of the two, discouragement wins out and projects fail. Let’s discuss ways to finish our work and get closer to the goal of publication.

Genre: All

Workshop G
Getting Your Memoir Off the Ground
with Beth Finke

Attendees of this 90-minute workshop will take away something useful to help them start, continue, and finish their memoir project. We'll talk about the benefits of getting personal stories down on paper, do a short in-class assignment, and discuss techniques to get past whatever it is that is stopping us from getting our work done--from finding time to write to facing issues that come with writing about people we love...and those we don't! The overall emphasis will be on craft and on overcoming the barriers that keep us from writing and assembling our stories. The session will end with a Q&A session focusing on what to do when we feel ready to publish--everything from agents to marketing and the merits of Self-publishing vs. finding a traditional publisher.

Genre: Memoir

Panel Discussions 3:45–4:45 p.m.
The Restrained and Rousing: Writing on the Page, Reading from the Stage
with Dana Norris, Jeremy OwensKenyatta Rogers, and Ian Belknap (moderator)

An increasingly important part of the writers' life is sharing  work out loud at literary readings, open mics, live lit events, etc. How can you as a writer support the obligations and opportunities of both writing on the page and sharing your work in public? This panel will discuss techniques and tips for translating your work from the page to the stage, or vice versa, how to put forward a strong public writerly performance, and why you should get yourself out there!

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