Craft Sessions

Afternoon craft sessions offer participants a chance to join in conversations with guest writers about process, style, revision, audience, reading, books, publication and more. Participants have the opportunity to sign up for these sessions at the time of enrollment.

The sessions below will be offered at the 2024 Institute.

Chaos, Movement, and Perplexity

(with Noor Hindi)

In this craft session, we’re going to embrace nonsense. We’re going to break language. We’re going to slice open our hearts and enter with curiosity. We’re going to look at the mundane and call it spectacular. How can we infuse play into our everyday writing practices? Who are you when you enter the page with joy rather than seriousness? What type of moves do you make when you’re grounded in your body? This session will focus on helping you plunge into the page with movement rather than hesitancy, embrace the unknown with excitement, and access strangeness in your writing and your life.

How to Order Poems in a Manuscript

(with Cynthia Arrieu-King)

Is there some magic formula for putting poetry into an order? No, but there are definitely ways to shape your manuscript to showcase your work most effectively. Participants will do an exercise in ordering out-of-order poems taken from a published book and then compare what they had imagined for the poems as a sequence compared with the author’s final choices. We will discuss ideas for the longer paths poems spell out for the reader and participants will take notes on best practices.

Image and Text, Text as Image, and Image as Text

(with Diana Khoi Nguyen)

What is an image, and what can text entail? As an exploratory and interactive group, we will pay close attention to the nuances of these two words before excavating how they have been employed and evolved on the page over time. We will expand our original notions of these two crucial media, and how they can engage with each other. What happens at the intersection of image and text in creative work?

Mapping the Field: Geopoetics and the Page

(with Jake Skeets)

In this talk, we will look at how various poets have risen to the particular challenge of place in their work and how these poets are providing orientation to a geopoetics on the page and elsewhere as resistance, as survival, and as a way through, especially in the context of the possible end of the world.

The Play-by-Play in Fiction

(with Renee Gladman)

How do we move a character across space, describe what they’re doing or seeing, in such a way that the reader remains engaged and the narrated space energized? How do we describe a character’s morning, their preparations for bed, them stopping for a coffee? Do we really want to hold witness while Shirley makes a sandwich? This session will focus on the problems and delights of writing the mundane; we’ll use close reading, discussion of possible strategies, and one or two quick writing prompts to round out our studies.

Refusal and the space of possibility 

(with Ari Banias)

“Poets have famously enstatuated themselves among hermits and saints as an expert class of refusers,” Anne Boyer writes in her short essay, “No.” In this session we’ll encounter poems that reject, oppose, block the way, and just won’t, in order to open up structures for meaning-making. Boyer offers the notion that a no enacts a poetics of what isn’t yet, but might be. If refusal isn’t an end point but a possible beginning, if saying no can also be a devotional act, what might a poem’s objection then allow us to imagine? Discussion of poems will engage these and other questions, and participants will write from their own space of refusal.

Talk and Q&A

(with Lisa Olstein & Leni Zumas)

Lisa Olstein and Leni Zumas, former directors of the Juniper Summer Writing Institute and Juniper Institute for Young Writers, respectively, and alumni of the MFA Program for Poets and Writers at UMass Amherst, will talk about the ebbs and flows, peaks and troughs, and other vagaries of a writing life. Reflecting on their journeys from “emerging” to “mid-career” writers, they’ll consider what has varied book by book vs. what has remained the same and how they’ve sustained their writing practices. Exploring questions such as how to endure inevitable lulls and doubts, how to carve out space for and even nourish their work, where to find community and other forms of sustenance, this candid conversation will leave plenty of room to answer your questions about process, publishing, and the writing life.

Tell-Tale Awareness

(with ‘Pemi Aguda)

In Matthew Salesses’ Craft in the Real World, he asks, “What is your protagonist aware of? What forces shape their awareness?” In this craft class, we will discuss the overlap between description, character, and plot – How does what the character notices contribute to the reader’s understanding of their state of mind, desires, background, and where they are positioned in the world of the story? How does a character’s specific history influence their gaze? And how can this observational lens lay the ground for the story’s direction? We will read excerpts across genres and do writing exercises to demonstrate what we learn.

Top Ten Tips for Writing a Novel

(with Deb Olin Unferth)

Novels, that chameleon of form and style, are extremely difficult to write. In this talk I’ll give you my very best hard-won techniques, insights, and tools. We will have time to do a couple of quick exercises, have some discussion—and I’ll tell you one thing not to worry about, too. Of course, many of these tips can apply to other forms as well.

Unexpected Intimacies: Creating Surprising Moments of Connection

(with Alina Grabowski)

In this session, we’ll focus on moments of transformative and unforeseen intimacy between characters. A shared cigarette on a dive bar porch; a run-in at an empty bus station; a confession in the frozen foods aisle. How can we bring our characters together in ways that redefine their relationships and surprise the reader? We’ll look at authors who are masters of these moments and use prompts to create them ourselves.

Violence and Language

(with Noy Holland)

We practice and participate in a linguistic field that suggests and, by the norms of usage, condones acts of violence. The contemporary American idiom is militaristic; our daily spoken and written utterances enact harm by implication. Time is monetized, forwardness is applauded, the separation of species and cultures in which our vernacular participates fortifies a voracious and destructive appetite. More often than not, we cannot hear ourselves, are not listening to what we say. This session is about being better listeners.

Writer as Activist, Literature as Revolution

(with Cleyvis Natera)

This session will provide an overview of how writing can be a tool for social transformation and offer a framework to have fulfilling, inspiring and meaningful writing careers. We’ll work through a series of writing exercises that will illuminate and ignite your artistic purpose. We’ll become fortified by the lessons our literary ancestors left for us to pick up, carry forth.

Writing as Art, as Work, as Labor

(with Hilary Plum)

In this session, we’ll think together about time, work, and money. Probably also: publication, day jobs, “the industry” and “the market,” freedom, and the possibilities and struggles of the writing life. Few creative writers publishing today make a full-time living from their writing. We’ll consider together what kind of situation that is, and we’ll share and maybe discover strategies for how to “steal time” to write; how writers navigate economic considerations; how writing responds to the body, to illness, to parenting, to stages of life; and how to sustain the practice of writing alongside/against/within the demands of the working world. A talk will introduce points for consideration, and then we’ll explore our subjects through collective activities and discussion.