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Writing sound-driven poems can allow us a way into writing about that which feels hard to say or express. In this session, we will consider how sound effects meaning in a few poems, attending to what Robert Pinsky calls a poem’s “audible web.” Then, we will do a writing exercise where you will have a chance to experiment with sound, letting it be your guide as you explore a subject matter that you’re struggling to tackle.
The tools of the trade remain relatively the same, but the size of the package—when it comes to writing “flash”—forces us to distill our stories into palatable, 750-word bites. Think of them as appetizers for your longer works, parts/chapters of a longer whole, or simply an exercise in brevity and lyrical concision. In this session, we’ll discuss the features of the form as well as a few recent flashes from Brevity magazine.
In this session, we will focus on selected examples from the works from Henri Michaux and Anais Nin, writers whose sense of erotic distance and aesthetic distance is instructive. We will focus upon selections from Henri Michaux, Selected Writings (New Directions, paperback) and Anais Nin, Under a Glass Bell (Swallow Press / Ohio University Press).
An in-depth look at narrative structure and how to make each section stand on its own and function in the larger story.
In this discussion-based session, learn about one author’s views and perspectives on graphic nonfiction, including recommendations for writers pursuing the genre, how releasing the first graphic novel has impacted the author’s life, and how the worlds of art director and author meld/don’t meld together as a career.
We live in a time of hybrid forms when creative writers are exploring lyric prose in striking ways. In this session, poet and memoirist Stephen Kuusisto will share examples drawn from lyric essays that not only bridge the gap between poetry and prose, but also demonstrate how the writer finds new imaginative ground. Writing prompts will also be shared.
From the absences of Sappho to the specters of Henry James, the idea of haunting presents itself in many forms throughout literature. In this session we'll explore haunting as narrative driver and resonance builder. Whether you're interested in building a traditional ghost story, a tale of unrequited love or lingering grief, or lacing your work with outside influences, this session will help anyone looking for ways of building theme and image-based collateral in a variety of genres.
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?
Learn an overview of an agent’s job and role in working with authors throughout the process—from signing to the publishing deal and beyond. This session opens for Q&A from the audience and is intended to be conversational, so bring your questions.
What is the intersection of image and text? What does it mean to be a writer in today’s graphic medium? Join Cecil Castellucci and Kristen Radkte for an intimate conversation exploring their respective journeys as graphic novelists, how writing graphic novels differs from traditional narratives in fiction and nonfiction, their different approaches to the medium—practicing the art form versus collaborating with artists—and a survey of the field and art in contemporary society.
This session will explore broad approaches and philosophies to incorporating research into fiction writing. What are the goals of research? How can research be employed in fiction writing beyond ambiguous ideas of "authenticity"? How does one mine facts and histories for rich narrative discovery? A mixture of lecture and exercises, this session will ask participants to think differently on how we research fiction, and how to better employ acquired knowledge and expertise.
What makes a character memorable? How do you design a character that drives story? Great characters are not perfect. Some great characters are not even likable. At times, it’s character’s meanness, cynicism, and wretchedness that draws a reader to them and makes the plot matter. Great characters are complex, flawed, unique human beings—just like their writers and readers.
It’s one thing to imagine a space battle; it’s quite another to write one in such a way it slips easily through the reader’s believability filter. This session will explore research and writing techniques for incorporating scientific fact in your fiction. Participants will gain practical knowledge of scientific resources for writers, as well as tips for crafting science fiction that is both compelling and believable.
Here's the "what you need to know" about publication. We will discuss the publication process—every step that goes into getting your manuscript published by a major publishing house and all of the people who would be working with you throughout the process.
This session discusses the issues that arise when authors represent foreign spaces in fiction—such as other countries, cities, states, and landscapes—they themselves have not traveled to or are not originally from. We will look to what extent a writer can “know” a place they did not grow up in; we will discuss/write how to deal with the social and factual issues innate to representing unfamiliar territories, sharing observations from our own work and experience.
How do we conceptualize the body in narrative? How does society enable or disable certain modes of being? What kinds of physical assumptions do we bring to a text? Join authors Andrea Avery, Rosemarie Dombrowski, and Stephen Kuusisto as they explore the role of ability in text: where personal narratives intersect with social constructions of health and illness, how these stories can be given power through the vehicle of memoir, and how the body can serve as a site of lyrical resistance.
In this session, we will examine four fundamental elements of narrative and how they fit together to craft a story that readers won't want to put down.
Nowadays lot of the most interesting Science Fiction and literary fiction feature ludicrous and unreal situations—everyone from George Saunders to George R.R. Martin has some wild storylines where ordinary reality goes out the window. So how do you keep your characters feeling like people the reader could meet on the subway, while putting them in surreal worlds? We will discuss some ideas about how to write characters with believable inner lives and worlds, even when everything around them is crazy.
We will focus upon the complex matters of temporal experience writers reckon with as they compose and as they revise. Participants should come prepared for an active discussion ranging over broad concepts and specific approaches.
Writing about the American West has moved well beyond literature of American Old West/Frontier narratives that were typically set from the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth century. A new understanding of contemporary western writing is emerging. Sometimes referred to as Postfrontier literature, the more recent literary output of the region tends to engage in a reinterpretation of the region, calling into question the ways in which it has been defined in the past.
How do we, as writers, make creative space and find a balance in our hectic lives? How do we manage competing attentions, desires, deadlines and responsibilities? How do we remain wholly writer and wholly human? In this panel discussion, authors Derek Palacio, Malka Older, and Jenny Johnson discuss the challenges of balancing an active writing practice with the rest of life’s demands and share insights on how writing doesn’t have to be a disconnected side project, but an integrated part of an individual’s life.
Some of the most iconic narrators in the history of literature have been nothing short of abject liars. Huckleberry Finn? Totally unreliable. Nick Carraway? Delusional. Briony Tallis? Humbert Humbert? Both Nick AND Amy Dunne? Con artists, one and all. In this session, we'll examine the art of deception, how writers can make their narrators—in any point of view—unreliable without alienating their readers in the process.
Where does poetry come from? This is an impossible question to answer, of course, and it’s different for everybody—still, it comes from somewhere. This is one person’s exploration of the journey, moving from border kid to poet laureate of the state. The markers that lead beyond poetry toward a greater poetics of understanding are complex but unmistakable, and this session will explore the makings of what matters to us as poets.
Publication is an exciting and daunting aspect of being a writer. You’ve put in an enormous amount of work in a manuscript and you’re ready for publishers to take a look. Now what? What do you need to know in the process to be prepared for a first book publication? Join Kristen Radtke, Andrea Avery, Dereck Palacio, and Kaveh Akbar in this mixed-genre session designed to help you navigate the journey of what to expect during the first book publication process.
A survey of philosophy, poetry, nature writing, climate fiction and eco-fabulism engaging the concept of the Anthropocene.
This session will examine whether there is a difference between writing for young people and writing about young people and the unique challenges of writing stories for both adolescent readers and adults. Many stories star young protagonists who live in and encounter the same mature world that adults do. Whether realistic or fantastical, it's a world filled with darkness and light. But just because a young character is front and center doesn't necessarily mean that the book is geared towards kids. What makes a book a book specifically for young people?
In this generative session, we will be exploring the notion of contested memories, and the ways in which they can be used to build scenes in memoir, creative nonfiction, and fiction.
What makes a sentence so powerful and enduring that it will stick in your mind forever? In this session, we’ll take a look at some beautiful sentences and try to figure out exactly what makes them work, what distinguishes a writer’s style at the syntax level, and where the music of prose resides. We’ll talk about the sentence as the unit of composition in fiction, and take a look at some examples of revised sentences from published writers to see how they made their words sing. You’ll be asked to respond to these examples critically and creatively.
Arts-Based Research has been gaining traction in the social sciences, specifically regarding the use of personal poetry as a means of recording the stories of the marginalized, as well as the use of ethnographic poetry as a means of inscribing the cultural record. This session will explore the ways in which poetry can simultaneously act as cultural document and vehicle for social transformation.
Ursula K. Le Guin wrote that "Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive." This session will explore how science fiction can connect to the present, reflecting current concerns through a futuristic lens.
The Dispossessed - Ursula K. Le Guin
The Yiddish Policeman's Union - Michael Chabon
An Excess Male - Maggie Shen King
You reach a crucial moment in your short story, novel, or essay; do you employ dialogue or narrative prose? When do we want the reader to eavesdrop on a scene in real time . . . and when do we want to simply "fill in the blanks" on what happened? We'll explore the nature of dialogue, its use and misuse, and its relationship to story and character.
Perhaps the hardest—and most crucial—aspect of young adult writing is nailing the voice of a teen protagonist. Young readers are nearly impossible to fool; if your protagonist is a 45-year-old woman masquerading as a teen, they'll let you know! In this session, we will discuss several tools for getting in touch with our own inner teen voice. By the end of this session, students will have several exercises in hand that they can use to bring out that voice and sharpen it into authenticity.
A talk about American regionalism, the Western, and reading and writing the American West today.
This session explores the usefulness of error in research. Often in researching, the thing that's really important isn't the thing we're looking for, but the thing right next to it. We'll discuss the use of found forms and materials in essays, poems, and stories.
Transcendent American poet Max Ritvo wrote that if the world outside a poet’s head is more interesting than the world inside their head, they might as well become a journalist. His point: it’s what’s inside the poet’s mind, what (or who) is hooting or singing or moaning or gagging inside the poet’s own totally unique psychic ecosystem that allows the poet access to a singular voice.
We will explore writing for comics, the golden age of which is currently unfolding around us. What are the advantages and disadvantages of telling your story sequentially? And how does one make full use of the medium? How do we write stories for a visual medium? What are some options for using the visual in our stories? And how do we find the quiet spaces in our narratives?
What is the current pulse of contemporary creative writing in the United States? Where is fiction right now? What predictions can we make for the literary future from the present moment? What trends, blends of genres, and literary techniques do we witness emerging from new authors and veterans of the craft? In this panel, editors Emily Bell, Ander Monson, and literary agent Rayhané Sanders share their perspectives on the landscape and trajectory of contemporary literature: what they’re excited about, what major issues are arising, current challenges for fiction writers, and more.
Of all the revising that happens when crafting a novel, perhaps the most effort goes into writing (and rewriting, and rewriting…) the beginning. Finding the right opening can be difficult, and it’s easy to become blind to your own work. In this interactive session, we’ll discuss how to find where your story really starts, and help willing participants identify the real beginnings of their stories. Bring the first page of your novel if you want to participate in this impromptu session.
Creating a character, a world, and a central conflict that can be sustained over several years is the key to writing series fiction and sequels and connected short stories. In this session, we'll examine prize-winning works of literature, genre fiction, and short fiction to learn how everyone from Richard Ford to James Lee Burke to Alice Munro, among many others, have crafted works that they can return to, time and again.
Ever wished your sentences could warp a reader's sense of time like a high-speed camera slowing motion? We will be looking at sentences in poems and prose that impact our perception of time. This session will include a rich discussion of a few examples and a writing exercise.
Have you ever set down to write about your own life and felt like you were howling maniacally about yourself, to yourself, in a locked room? Or have you felt like you were standing coolly apart from your own exciting life, clinically reporting on it? If so, consider the idea of the two-way mirror as a metaphor for memoir writing. We have all seen two-way mirrors on hardboiled cop shows—the suspect sees only him or herself, but the unseen observers on the other side see everything.
In today’s publishing industry, author promotion lies in the hands of the individual author as much as the publisher. With the increasing number of small and varied presses, a writer’s understanding of their role during and after the publication process is crucial. How do you build networks, find reviews, obtain interviews, and help get the word out about your work? Join authors Daniel José Older, Kaveh Akbar and Nina McConigley as they discuss what it means to involve yourself in publishing and the ways contemporary writers work with their publishers to shape and market their books.
In this session, we'll explore ways to generate and maintain suspense, tension, and excitement in fiction and other modes of storytelling. We'll look at some of the most common mistakes that cost scenes their chance to be truly exciting or terrifying or thrilling, as well as study successful examples of how master storytellers keep us glued to the page, extracting practical tips and techniques we can put to use in our own stories.
What are genres? Why do we have them? How do genres reflect real-life events? And most importantly, when you decide to write about zombies or spaceships, what are you committing yourself to? What do these things usually mean, and what do they mean to you personally? In this session, we will discuss how to use genres mindfully, and create stories that make good use of them.
We will explore how animals can infuse the literary imagination with dramatic and comic irony. Poets as diverse as D.H. Lawrence, Mary Oliver, W.S. Merwin, and Mark Doty (just to name some noted examples) express both the ambitions and limits of human "knowing" by acknowledging the ways that animals (both domestic and wild) often lead us away from custom.
This session will focus on the #ownvoices movement, which stresses the importance of getting diverse stories from those from who are members of marginalized groups. We will discuss the somewhat difficult topics of writing across ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity. While encouraging participants to write the stories they know, we will also discuss tools that authors can use if they choose to write across various identities, as well as some of the possible difficulties they may face.
For millennia, both fiction and nonfiction have used travel experiences as raw material. This session will focus on ways to get the most out of your time away, and on the most dangerous pitfalls to avoid along the way.
A good collection must become more than the sum of its disparate parts, which requires some thought as to architectures and resonances. Yet structures in literary collections are rarely discussed or theorized or talked about. So we'll discuss fruitful ways to use architectures in collections—of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry.
Manuscript in hand, but don’t know how to start the submission process? A strong query letter showcases your work to any agent. This session explores the DOs and DON'Ts of the query letter. Sample query letters will be explored along with a Q&A.
This hour-long poetry session will introduce you to four kinds of poetry of witness through examples. After brief discussion, participants will undertake two exercises designed to explore the act of witnessing as a creative approach (one among many) to the practice of poetry (poesis).
Revision is an ongoing part of any writer’s processes. While each draft is a huge accomplishment, how do you move your draft into the revision process? How do you elevate your writing to the next level? Authors Kevin McIlvoy, Claire Vaye Watkins and Alix Ohlin share hands-on approaches to the techniques of revision, personal strategies that work for them, how to see revision as a creative act., the habits of revision, and more.
After this panel, the conference will conclude with a few words from the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.