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Each year, the Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writers Conference features numerous talks, workshops, panels, presentations, interviews and other sessions related to literary craft, the writing life, the business of publishing, and more.
To view past schedules, use the menu below to select a year and click apply. You can also search by faculty name, day, genre, and type. To learn more about this year's schedule, click here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“Style and structure are the essence of a book; great ideas are hogwash.” –Nabokov.
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.
Starting a novel is hard. Finishing a novel seems nearly impossible. And the middle, well, the middle is a thousand years long. But! But! There are things you can do to turn walls into doorways and keep you moving forward. Join award winning novelist, Ramona Ausubel, in a course on discussing strategies for survival in writing your novel and for keeping the process fun, inventive and full of life. This workshop consists of both moments of lecture and exercises, so be prepared to learn, talk, engage, and put your thoughts and ideas on the page!
How do you approach creative writing in a multilingual landscape? Join critically acclaimed author, translator, and educator, Achy Obejas, to explore how authors use codeswitching, bilingualism and multiple languages in the same text to highlight culture, the necessity of home languages, and to demonstrate new creative paths for their writing. When and how do we codeswitch? To what to end do we use codeswitching in our art? What does it mean for our single language readers when these techniques are employed?
How do we summon creative power in the face of our personal and/or global demons? How can we speak of beauty when our world seems full of loss, grief, climate change, and political turmoil? Thich Nhat Hanh says that the work of meditation is to transform “compost into flowers”; that is also the work of poetry. This generative workshop will help you to re-see your demons as a form of poetic compost.
We too often rely on a “good/bad” binary to shape our characters and considerations in our stories. How do our complexities as human beings find their way to the page? In this generative workshop, join poet, essayist, and cultural critic, Hanif Abdurraqib, on an exploration on empathy and the dynamics of character in popular culture. The group will use an empathy tree in which participants figure out which characters in popular culture they find empathetic or non-empathetic.
Every single poet has complex roots – whether his/her/their family has lived in the States for generations or arrived here recently. This session provides poets the space and freedom to generate material that examines their cultural and linguistic identities in a safe environment. This workshop gives us permission to write about our roots, to learn more about how to use code-switching, and to become mindful of the musical friction and affinities between our English accents and Standard American English.
Aimed at nonfiction writers, this workshop deals with publication opportunities that have emerged in recent years on the border between journalism and literary nonfiction. Arguably hybrid, these columns differ both from news-focused op-ed pieces and the work found in literary journals and magazines, often calling for different skills in the submission and editing processes. Please note: while this session will take place in person, the fellow will be presenting through Zoom.
Throughout the world people are trying to figure out how to connect, how to talk about things that matter without having those conversations devolve into chaos. Many are turning to the written word. But, how do we write about provocative topics without sounding like we're standing on a soapbox or shouting through a bullhorn? This session will provide a framework for how to write about controversial issues in ways that open the hearts and minds of your readers and that may even lead to true healing and change.
Maya Angelou rented a motel room and took down all the wall art. Truman Capote wrote in bed and never started or finished something on a Friday. Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, Henry David Thoreau, and many others took long, rambling walks. Writers have been trying to hack creativity since quill and parchment existed, but for most people the act of sitting down to write a story or novel feels like an act shrouded in mystery.
Many of us come to writing through a love of reading: the strike of literary lightning, a certain line or phrase that stays with us for years. As we continue to grow as writers and participate in the community, our creative process evolves, being shaped and informed by the relationships we have with the works of others.
If you open a book to find the word “groovy,” you are instantly transported to the 1960s and 1970s. If all the characters are “mad” for life and calling each other “Daddy-O,” they are probably straight out of the 1950s. But what vernacular belongs to today’s teens? In this session, we will explore how modern technology has impacted our lingo and how to capture the voice of contemporary teens, when there is no slang to define their generation. Attendees should come prepared to write.
Using sound and explorations of sound to better define the shapes of our poems. For example, what can the use of sampling tell a writer about the different modes their familiar language can be in? Or, what can percussive sounds tell a writer about their word selections, and how the language they select fills out the poem, and gives it a wave of sonic delights.
Have a great idea for a novel but don't know how to start it? Stuck in the middle of novel-drafting and stalling out? Much of writing a novel through to its end is about what is set up by its premise. A novel, a great writer once said, is a structural machine. That structure begins at the beginning. Agents and editors want to see the first 50 pages of the novel for a reason--a lot has to happen in those 50 pages to sustain a book-length work of fiction. What exactly makes an inciting incident, though? Exploring that question will help the writer set the groundwork for a novel.
In this fully embodied, experiential session, we will study, inhabit, and practice the art of Compositional Improvisation – composing (individually and collaboratively) (with movement, text, sound, and space) in the moment to create dynamic, rigorous, complex, and fully realized “pieces” without rehearsal or planning. This session will allow writers a chance to work from and with their bodies and unique subject positions while demanding acute attention to choice-making and the elements of composition on and off the page.
The current atmosphere of sensational opinion and clickbait headlines obsessed with a chaos-driven president has created a national eruption of misinformed dissent. In Arizona, artists and activists have seen a microcosm of present dangerous policies, electoral/resistance strategies. After the passing of SB1070, we gathered our truths to culturally and historically inform the present rhetoric of problem-solving. In this session, we will discuss how storytelling can and should function in the political sphere.
Writers are always talking about revision, but what exactly do they mean? I will offer eight of my favorite exercises and strategies for taking a story into bigger, wilder realms. Each draft will open your work up and and reignite your imagination.
Do you need to re-energize your writing? Looking for a fun and generative way to get your artistic momentum flowing? In this session, we’ll discuss how short, timed writing prompts can stimulate creativity, and demonstrate how individuals may express themselves through creative writing in ways they never believed possible. Many people are drawn to using this technique and find that they are able to move pen to paper with ease, even after gaps and breaks within their writing. We will put this technique into action to rediscover, wonder, and harness our creativity together.
Join the Piper Center for short readings of poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction from graduate students in the Creative Writing Program at Arizona State University.
Free and open to the public.
What does it mean to explore the actual lives of others? What do we know of disability and how do we write about it? How do we preform disability? Join writer, director, and performer, Terry Galloway in exploring disability in creative writing and performance. In this session participants will spend fifteen minutes writing as frankly as they can about the subject, using as prompts either their experiences with disability or their impressions of disability.
This session will explore the basics of an electrical circuit as the foundation for creating tercets and other stanzas comprised of multiples of three. Participants will compose a poem using the methodology and building codes for a residential service panel. The group will examine poems that speak to, or are written by, poets with working class backgrounds in skilled trades and factory work.
The diverse world of literary publishing is changing more rapidly than ever. We will examine several top markets, identifying trends in design, editorial preferences, leadership, and technology. We will also discuss methods for managing submissions in a fast-paced publishing environment.
Science fiction, climate fiction and more all represent molds into which we pour our stories. However, genre alone is not what make stories memorable. The heavyweights of genre fiction all know this one secret: You must create characters worth following. In this workshop we will discuss what makes a character story worthy. We will peel back the layers of genre convention and uncover how to place your character in a situation compelling enough to keep the reader turning pages until the end.
This session explores the role of history in contemporary novels—of colonialism, war, and diaspora—as events and periods become catalysts for narrative and character movement through time. It will provide an overview of the “family saga” as a narrative structure: its merits and challenges from both a reading and writing perspective. What gaps are irreconcilable or inevitable in a novel’s spanning across time and through generations of characters?
What is the language of your body? What are the ways the language distances or connects you to your body? How do we write challenging physical experiences creatively and lyrically? This session will explore the ways in which language can shape our experiences of our bodies and our health outcomes.
We often think about mass media and journalism in the context of social responsibility: what and how news is covered, as well as accuracy and objectivity. What about literature? Do writers have a responsibility to engage with critical societal issues or movements? What brings a writer to feel compelled to use their art as social commentary or activism? How do race, class, and other social categories affect our lives and lead us toward certain subject matter or genre? Can creativity even be obligated at all?
Martin Amis said that all writing is a war on cliche -- not only cliches of expression, but cliches of setting, character, even narrative style. Tim O'Brien wrote that what he finds lacking in so much of today's writing is simple imagination. We'll talk about rejecting the first streams of what comes to mind, about digging deeper: seeing, visualizing, recreating.
Do you have stories to unravel and unpack? Process-focused writing is a powerful tool for healing. This interactive session will focus on creative writing as an accessible tool for healing, self-care, and wellness, particularly in community settings. Participants will engage in a supportive, creative truth-sharing process and learn how to implement such activities in other settings. This session is ideal for writers on their own healing journeys, as well as educators, activists, and justice oriented artists aiming to better support their communities.
Join career journalist, Mike Conklin, on his approach to writing creative nonfiction with a focus on the basics: establish the narrative, match it with an intended audience and medium, collect facts, and, depending on length, construct your storytelling with an organized, clear pathway. The structure of sentences, paragraphs and relative details carry the reader. Sounds simple and journalistic, but nonfiction writing is about facts---their use and non-use. Let them tell the story, and the writer provides segues.
In this session, we will examine poems by people of color that directly speak back to/are in conversation with previous poets of the dominant culture. By exploring poems by Robert Frost and Thylias Moss, Allen Ginsberg and Craig Santos Perez, Maggie Smith and Natalie Scenters-Zapico, we will seek to discover why poets of color often feel the impulse to remix/revise/clap back at older canonized poems.
In fairy tales, there are royalty and dragons, wolves and goblins, knights and millers—but think of the world they occupy. Who are the characters on the margins of society and where are they during the events of the narrative? In this collaborative writing session, we’ll pry open a single fairy tale to discover those hidden characters. After sharing our work, we’ll pry open our own free-writes to spot our characters’ tangly relationships and use these discoveries to further our narratives.
What are the realities of publishing in today’s creative writing market? Do you have a work or a manuscript ready for the world to see? What is your plan for submitting your work to publishers and publications? Is your query letter ready to go? Have you inquired about an agent? Are you looking to learn the details of starting the publication process? How does a writer prepare for the next step in the journey of professional writing?
In this workshop, we will have a laser-like focus on one thing: conflict. Without conflict, stories are flat or meandering. Conflict is the engine, the heart, ground zero of a story, whether it’s a blaster or a 900 page novel. But what is conflict, exactly? How do we set it up? How do we set it up so it’s not terribly obvious or cliché? And how do we use conflict to advance our story? Participants will be guided through a quick checklist approach to building conflict in stories.
This session will examine how seemingly dry facts and figures can be transformed into the stuff of fiction. How can raw data - historical, scientific, or technical information - create drama, inspire metaphor, drive character? And how, from a practical craft perspective, can and should we use such information in the service of story?
What is it like to be a poet of color in a literary world dominated by white men? What does it mean to be a writer of color without an MFA walking the hallways of the academy’s ivory tower that continue to colonize spaces of color? Writers of color will engage in a discussion exploring questions that are common while existing in a white man’s literary world. Participants will look at two poems and one essay that showcases how writers of color historically have nurtured their authentic voice and given a voice for the silenced.
In the U.S., upwards of 40% of the population is currently classified as overweight and there is a growing cultural awareness of the body positive and fat positive movements. It is becoming increasingly important for fiction writers to fill their worlds with people of a variety of body types. This session will discuss how and why to incorporate people of all sizes into fiction as well as how to deal with and/or eliminate fat stereotypes.
Sex is one of the basest of human driving behaviors and yet remains one of the most challenging topics to write. Whether we are describing love, intimacy, the act of sex, sexual violence, or simply describing the body, how do we navigate sex in our work without slipping into cliché, detached language, or tonal discord? In this session, we will look at examples of writers in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry who have written sex fearlessly and we will discuss how these authors’ approaches are effective.
Gloria Anzaldua referred to her groundbreaking book Borderlands as an autohistoria-teoria, an epistemological autobiography. She conceived of the liminal space, El Mundo Zurdo, where becoming and thinking converge for radical acts of decolonization, and posited the possibility that writing is the praxis where activism, aesthetics, and scholarship converge.
“Truth is stranger than fiction,” says the old adage, but how do we write successfully in the area between “write what you know” and work that requires suspension of disbelief? In this workshop, participants will learn to use techniques that will allow them to tell the emotional truth without losing their readers to side-eye. Drawing on years of experience editing and writing fiction, author and editor, Yi Shun Lai, will share with participants the techniques she's learned, as well as examples of work that pass the test of verisimilitude, and make for compelling fiction.
In an article for Lambda Literary, writer Marcie Bianco ask the following question to authors who identified as being queer about the nature of queer writing in its relation to identity politics: “What makes writing ‘queer’?” How does queer writing move counter to heteronormative literary traditions and forms? How does this disruption reshape current trajectories? This panel will explore queer writing in this country and how it may be impacted by gender fluid politics and the intersectional influences of other identities like disability, race and/or class.
One could argue that the first few paragraphs of any work of short fiction establish a contract with the reader: they telegraph tone, character, and even—when exceptionally on point—the trajectory of the story's action.
"You're not going to believe what happened at the party!" Who hasn't said that (or some version of it)? The truth is, we're all storytellers, but it's when we put our writer's hat on that telling stories gets complicated. In this interactive session, we'll use live storytelling to identify the key elements of narrative, decode the process we all engage in to tell everyday stories, and explore strategies to help us incorporate such process into our writing.
When we think of narrative, we typically think of a series of events that chain together and ultimately lead to a conclusion: A leads to B which finally concludes at C. But how much time should we spend on points A, B, and C? How do we determine where (and when!) to invest our narrative attention? In this session, we will examine how various authors use time to give their story elements emotional and narrative weight. Through our exploration, we will begin to develop a philosophy of time that helps us make these kinds of choices in our own stories.
Setting is an often untapped source of power in narrative writing. In this session, we'll discuss ways to build a setting that calls on the five senses and helps propel narrative momentum by influencing character action. Generative prompts will include: writing from the perspective of place, writing across the five senses to generate description, writing object lists that can fuel character thought and action.
In this session, we will dive into a deeper understanding of the poetic and imagined body by looking deeper into our own definitions of exploitation and exploration. Part of the session will press on language often used in connection to the body to explore the presence of emotion internally and how that may manifest externally. We will try to focus on the visualization of the poetic body and discuss its formation in poems from the perspectives of different writers.
A book is more than just an end of one journey, it’s the beginning of another. A book is an artistic expression, but also a product, and putting a book together is a production. Before it ever hits the hands of readers, a book has already lived a life all its own. In this panel, novelists Ramona Ausubel, Matt Bell, and Natashia Deón share their publication journeys, advice on what to anticipate in the publication process, author platforms, and author commitments once the book hits the shelves. How do you find a publisher?
This session will demonstrate ways to create richly layered memoir via multiple genres and visual storytelling. Our lives and those of our ancestors leave traces in the human archive that include much more than photographs. Documents like immigration records, religious institutions, letters, newspaper clippings, government forms, song lyrics, even fingerprints, prison records, school assignments, local histories or ethnographic notes—can all be “mined” for creative inspiration, expanding and enriching the narrative of your family.
How does privilege affect authors’ renderings of the masks they employ? What exactly, for example, makes Anders Carlson-Wee’s “How To” poem, which recently appeared in The Nation, minstrelsy instead of persona? How does one avoid falling into stereotypical and indolent writing practices while engaging with persona?
In this writing workshop, we’ll discuss SanTana's Fairy Tales and blend Mexican folklore and folktales with themes such as gentrification & xenophobia to present stories with Mexican, Chicanx & white characters. Get ready to incorporate a historical character profile and social justice topic with the structure of a contemporary fairy tale.
How do we write about love in new ways? What new is there to say about the world’s oldest subject? In this session, we will talk about how to create a riveting relationship and a novel readers can’t put down—because if they do, their hearts will explode. What are some the pitfalls of writing in the romance genre—instalove, clichés, writing sex scenes, and how can we empower ourselves to push the boundaries of the romance genre?
More information about this session is coming soon.
Join four poets/ writers as they discuss the merits and shortcomings of the concept of empathy. These poets will focus on empathy as it functions in creative writing, pedagogy, performance, and currency to interrogate how these aspects affect othered bodies. How does the idea of empathy create a market for trauma? How are the performances of traumas used to placate the white gaze? Can there be new possibilities to describe and employ an empathy that is active and engaged in works, rather than the passive "feeling" of empathy that often functions only to benefit the empathizer?
In a world where the boundaries between fact and fiction are constantly blurred, where does creative nonfiction fit in at this moment in history? How do writers bring the story of the individual to life? What are the intricacies of writing characters who are real people? How does writing the factual impact the creative process? Spanning journalism, memoir, research, and essays, Fernanda Santos, Yvette Johnson, and Mike Conklin will discuss the unique challenges, complexities, and ultimate rewards of writing the real.
In The Poet’s Companion, Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux argue that images should “produce a bit of magic, a reality so real it is ‘like being alive twice.’” As we know, images are closely linked to memory. As poets, after mining our respective memories, how do we deepen a reader’s experience with the poem via the image? How does one draft a lasting image—an image readers will remember? This craft talk will explore the image, its implications, as more than mere scenery.
What does working with an agent look like? Join agent, Kirby Kim, as he pulls back the curtain from the agent-writer journey, starting with at the moment a writer gets an agent. He'll speak to the important processes of: pre-submission editing, how the agent puts together an editor list, how they sell, then post sale and what to expect in the deal, how writers work with an editor, marketing and publicity, getting blurbs, selling your book, book signings, writing pieces in support of your book, and how you get friends to help.
Is there such a thing as a genderless narrator? Why is it so instinctive to place and categorize each other by sex (female/ male) and gender roles (masculine or feminine attributes)? How do we read fiction when these socially constructed markers are missing? And why should we? To be inclusive? To allow gender-nonconforming readers to be represented in literature? To focus on the common experiences without the social constraints of gender roles?
In this generative session, we’ll look at amazing examples in animal and plant life that exhibit unique biological, sexual, and familial structures. We’ll discuss how these creatures might subvert traditionally heterosexual and cisgender conceptions of biology, sex, and family, using these examples as a mirror to write about our own relationships to these topics.
This session explores how writers can strategically use details from their lives to craft vivid fictional characters and to tell resonant stories. Beginning—and even more experienced—writers sometimes feel the need to hide that parts of their fiction are rooted in reality. But the use of autobiography is a fictional strategy like any other, such as choosing a particular point-of-view or a particular structure.
The current trends in contemporary literature reflect a deep sense of using personal narrative and/or cultural history as both text and sites of investigating some of the following questions: How do I heal what's been forced upon my body, my cultural and social communities? How do I use myself as an archive to resolve personal and social conflict? This workshop will ask participants to sift through cultural memories, stories and personal histories to generate poetic text as a form of self-healing.
Music and other forms of art have impacted poetry through historical, social and cultural intersections. In this intimate discussion between poet, essayist, and cultural critic, Hanif Abdurraqib, and poet and editor, Douglas Manuel, the authors will explore how hip-hop sensibilities and aesthetics have influenced contemporary poetry, and how both art forms continue to shape and reshape the futures of social, racial, and gender representation.
Public art at its best moves us from where we’re standing to what we’re feeling, from communal showiness and placement to personal, abiding sentiment. In this session, I’ll discuss some successful public art projects of mine in the Valley, with lean toward their secret sense of underlying story, their context from the artist’s point of view. In contemporary life, art in public is out of context and, therefore, surprising: a mural making us feel something about an otherwise plain wall, a few words in stone around a lake helping us, in that moment, to see water differently.
The challenge and wonder of writing freely—of not allowing oneself to be defined by or confined by any notions of genre, but of letting the imagination roam freely. The most popular song in the U.S. on novelist, musician, poet, editor, James Sallis’ birth year was "Don't Fence Me In." He’s lived his writing life by that. Science fiction? Poetry? Literary fiction? Translation? Crime novels? Yes please! Learn how your writing is limitless in all directions.
An epistolary form offers intimacy and a sense of composure: the reader as voyeur, and the writer in charge, addressing a potential interlocutor, but one who will not, we all know, talk back—at least for now. There’s a sub-genre of the direct-address poem, one that might be both safer and stranger as a forum in which to work out a difficult idea: poems that talk to objects, poems that talk to some non-sentience. Why do we do it? To be freer of our own consciousness? To honor the ‘otherness’ we know must exist?
Why is it so hard to write about happiness? Are happy characters boring? Where is the conflict in joy? In this session we’ll explore the pitfalls of writing joyful stories and characters, and discuss why as writers we often shy away from writing the happy. With an eye toward the craft of character development and narrative structure, as well as lenses from ancient and modern philosophy, we’ll dissect diverse examples of “happy” stories and figure out what makes them work.
How do our identities intersect with our writing? How do the concepts of identity manifest themselves in poetry? How does the page represent both the art, itself, and the artist? How does the writing of identity intersect with the political and cultural? What are the interconnections between the technical elements of poetry in consideration with identity?
Backstories help to create the world of your story. It tells us what’s driving your protagonist (and antagonist) to take the action, to attain a goal, and what your protagonist feels about passionately. Layering the characterization with these histories show us who they are today and will help you avoid writing stereotypes. The aim of this workshop is to address backstory and to get your creative juices flowing in writing scenes (the past affecting the present) and relevant history details.
How does the global village tell stories? How does the digital age change our thinking and our writing? Thanks to the internet, we are now used to events being broadcast instantly and simultaneously. Plural voices report on every issue, and text is always accompanied by video, sound and image. As we delve further into the digital age, we are increasingly comfortable with hyperlinks and hybrid forms and multiple narrators infiltrating our narration. But do we forsake a certain intimacy in our literature? Are we growing accustomed to the isolation of constant connectivity?
This session explores the ethics, challenges, and diverse approaches to writing about the dead. Wisland will discuss the ways in which several writers (essayists, memoirists, journalists) have tackled narratives that require new and alternative approaches to their writing. Based on his own work and that of Adriana E. Ramirez, Tommy, and Maggie Messitt, Kirk Wisland will explore difficult questions: What do we do with the unanswerable and what does it mean to crowdsource the narrative of a life?
In this session, we'll explore some of the storytelling tactics used by writers such as Ursula K. Le Guin, Jeff Vandermeer, Paolo Bacigalupi, China Mieville, and N.K. Jemison to depict and confront climate change and its attendant ecological, economic, and political challenges, as well as the often uncanny nature of life in the twenty-first century.