Craft Sessions

Morning craft sessions and Q&As offer participants a chance to join in conversations with guest writers about process, style, revision, audience, reading, books, publication and more. Below are the descriptions of 2019 craft sessions.

What’s the Point of a Point of View?

(with Noy Holland)

Ideas of audience and point of view can often feel mechanical and limiting. How can we enlarge our sense of the possibilities of point of view? Are there implicit and explicit variations? Might there be  a listener as well as an audience, different from a reader, and perhaps more intimately known? What nuanced forms might a listener inhabit? To whom are we speaking, and why?

The Tools of Voice

(with Mitchell S. Jackson)

One of the most effective ways in prose to, as Susan Sontag says, “preserve the works of the mind against oblivion,” is to craft an eloquent voice. Voice is composed of elements that include diction, syntactical usage, acoustical resonance, and even visual logic. This craft lecture will present philosophies on voice and some of the rhetorical tools used to compose an eloquent one. We will use published excerpts to foster a critical discussion of the tools.

Plot and Structure in Memoir and Personal Essay

(with Jaquira Díaz )

What is plot? How do you decide what happens in a story or novel? How do you shape a memoir? We will examine how plot functions in stories and novels, how characters determine what happens in a work of fiction, and how to use our understanding of plot in order to shape a work of nonfiction. Finally, during a guided writing exercise, we will generate the plot for an original short story, novel, memoir, or personal essay.

[M]y Hand Was Sealed Off/ In a Tin Box: The Body/Mind Dichotomy

(with Bianca Stone)

Is there an element of the divine, the mystical in writing of the body, that can supersede the Self? Beyond objectifying the body of another in poetry, how do we write about the body as a strange organic matter we are stuck within? And however poems come to us, however they take shape, when the human form enters into the work, how does it interact with the shifted and unsettled narrative within the lyrical? Is it possible to write a contemporary dialogue between the “self and the soul, the body and mind?” We will look at some great poems, continue this ancient debate, and, finally, do an in-class writing exercise of dialogue between the mind and some limb or aspect of the body.

You’re the Boss of You: Doing What You’re Told You Shouldn’t Do

(with Dara Wier)

Why and when should clichés, stereotypes, melodrama, hyperbole, generalization, didacticism, anachronism, and other so-called cautions be faced or perhaps stared down? How does a writer know when to send caution to the wind? How does a writer know when to break some rules, take some chances, defy convention? When does any of this matter? How does a writer overcome timidity or good sense? And since judging one’s own or someone else’s writing typically comes couched in reason or rational discourse, how can a writer recognize reason’s failures and rationality’s limitations? How can we improve our conversations about these things and make use of them in our writing while taking good care of our minds? If you arrive to our gathering with a good example of a rule well broken, that would be welcome and helpful.

Talking with Purpose

(with Gabriel Bump)

In this craft session, we will study how effective dialogue can improve characters, plot, momentum, and rhythm. We’ll read examples from published fiction and watch short clips from film and television. We will also prepare written conversations in class. Dialogue is often underutilized in prose. As visual and audio mediums continue to dominate the storytelling landscape, it is our responsibility to provide readers with well-crafted talking. Come prepared to read aloud!

Reparative Revision

(with Cameron Awkward-Rich)

In this session — part lecture, part generative experiment — we will play with the idea that revision is a skill best honed through tactically killing other people’s darlings, especially when those darlings are inimical to our flourishing. Put another way, we will ask: How can we revise and repair the stuff of the world so that it works toward different aesthetic and/or political aims? What new things can we make using established revisionary forms (the cento, erasure, strategic citation) and other unnamed methods? And, how might doing so help us to clarify the voice and vision of our own work?

Verbs as Images/Images as Verbs

(with LeAnne Howe)

One of the craft tools that a writer must deploy in writing fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry is using verbs as images of movement.  What a reader “sees” in a story’s movement, pacing, and plot, are determined by verbs choices the author makes. My craft lecture and writing exercises are meant to build on a writers’ instincts of shifting the camera-eye by choosing verbs that enhance the narrative.  I’ll discuss dead white male writers, and living Native women writers and my approaches to using verbs as images. In addition, the workshop will offer writing exercises to improve verb usage.

(Soma)tic Poetry Rituals: Resurrect Extinct Vibration

(with CAConrad)

For the last couple of years CAConrad has been writing through a poetry ritual called “Resurrect Extinct Vibration.”  The main ingredient involves lying on the ground while traveling across the USA and flooding the body with recordings of recently extinct animals.  There are 9 ingredients to the ritual, and in 2019 the final phase will include writing in destroyed ecosystems and in man made mega-structures to find a new appreciation of the transmuting planet.  Poetry for a new kind of love for a changing world.

Disorientation: A Guide

(with Jordy Rosenberg)

This craft session will focus on how to use techniques that are traditionally associated with genre fiction (science fiction, fantasy, thriller, noir, horror, etc.) to enliven a broad range of prose forms. Beginning with generative ways to use disorientation to hold the reader’s attention, we will conduct a series of experiments in loosening the hold of realism in order to push the boundaries of our work. The session will consist of a short lecture on genre, group discussion/brainstorm/reading exercises in how to break down the conventions of genre into a collection of translatable techniques, and then some writing exercises where we put these techniques to use. Our goal will be to impart genre conventions into a wide range of writing as possible (memoir, creative nonfiction, “realist” fiction, etc.), so writers of all inclinations are most welcome.

The Practice of Looking

(with Ross Gay)

The Book of Delights is a book made of the daily practice, or discipline, of attending to one’s life. This talk will wonder about how such looking might open windows.

Herself Behind Herself Concealed: Forging the Erotic Power of the Feminine

(with Safiya Sinclair)

“The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane,” writes Audre Lorde in Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power. There, Lorde expresses the realm of the feminine as an incredible source of knowledge, a site of erotic power that women are often discouraged from using in their lives or expressing on the page. But what happens when women tap into this source of erotic power as a mode of divining the creative? What happens when a woman unpeels her selves, then lays her body, and all its unbridled erotic power, bare? What spell is summoned, if she dares us to look, and not look away? Something startling disrupts the observer. By approaching womanhood as a text that can be deciphered through mapping the link between brain and body, we will examine different approaches to forging womanhood as a source of erotic power. We will read Audre Lorde, Natalie Diaz, Erika L. Sánchez, Sylvia Plath, and Sharon Olds, observe paintings from Frida Kahlo and Wangechi Mutu, and explore clips from Beyoncé’s Lemonade. By tracing the uncanny locus of womb, wound, and woman, we will explore the different uses of erotic power in the work of fearless women, to denude the canon, to create a coven.