2019 Writers Retreat Course Descriptions

Participants, please review the course descriptions below and select only one course through the registration link under the program "description" tab on the previous page.

Plot: What Makes the Story Go? - Rebecca Makkai
In narrative prose, it's plot — cause and effect, development, change, suspense — that propels us forward. In less narrative prose, we have to rely on other propulsions: lyricism, innovation, surprise, rhythm, revelation. And, as in every art form, we need to master the traditional forms before we can break the rules. Through short readings and discussions, we'll look at both the structure of traditional short narratives and also at the wildest formal experimentation being done today. Our own writing prompts will take us in both directions: writing page-turning narrative momentum on the one hand, and playing with form on the other. We'll focus on arc, on shape, on plot or the lack thereof — asking, in every case, what moves the story along, and how to make it impossible to put down."

Establishing People and Places: Upping the Ante in Prose - Eric Charles May
What happens when people and place interact? How can tension (a.k.a. story) arise organically from these two elements? Using examples from the writing of Vladimir Nabokov, Toni Morrison, Gustave Flaubert, Lee Hope, Louise Erdrich, Ann Petry, Virginia Woolf, Jill Cement, David Lida and Reginald McKnight, we'll explore effective fictional and nonfictional approaches to developing people and places to pull our readers in. Writing exercises include The Opposite Character, Story and Journal, Dream Tellings, finding the dramatic tension in passive characters, as well as how to handle time effectively in both short and long prose story writing. Come away with strategies for developing characters or nonfiction people who are similar you, as well as those who may be significantly different: men writing female characters, women writing male characters; Black writers writing White characters, and vice versa. Consider these characters or nonfiction people in place, and strengthen your skills on the page as you learn how to entice readers to spend time in these places, too.

ART-I-FACT: Shaping the Raw Material of Family History - Rebecca McClanahan
Whether you’ve inherited boxes of artifacts or only a few stories passed down to you, this multi-genre workshop will help you begin to shape the materials of family history into an artful essay, poem, story, or segment of a larger work. Specific topics include selecting significant details, fleshing out characters, providing historical or cultural context, and choosing the best structure. Participants should bring at least one photo, object, letter, postcard, document, or brief draft related to family history.

Getting Your Story On the Page: The Intersection Between Life & Art - Christine Maul Rice
Your life (or parts of it) could be a book. But should they be written as fiction or creative nonfiction? You won’t know until you start writing. A writer's primary medium is the imagination, but it often straddles fiction and nonfiction, leaving us to struggle with what to leave in or omit. We’ll examine how narrative arc is different in fiction and creative nonfiction and consider when and how to cross-pollinate genres or implement hybrid forms. This class will develop hard skills for fictionalizing lived experiences to produce a compelling narrative. We will study writers of straight creative nonfiction (Jesmyn Ward), those who toe the line between fiction and creative nonfiction (Pam Houston), writers who unabashedly fictionalize elements of their life (James Baldwin), and writers whose fictional scenes are so close to reality we see right through the author’s thin veil (Tim O’Brien). Using prompts and discussions, you’ll learn to identify your most compelling material. We'll experiment with point of view, structure and form, while pushing new work or work in progress in useful directions, with the goal of discovery and pages to take home and keep working with.

Writers-in-Residence: Fleda Brown and Anne-Marie Oomen
Fleda and Anne-Marie will serve as our writers-in-residence to the participants of the 2019 Writers Retreat, making themselves available for one-on-one tutorials and meetings. Participants may sign up at the Retreat for a limited number of spots, and should be prepared with questions pertinent to their craft, genre, specific project, or the larger topics of book publishing, blogging, touring, and publicity. While this is a chance to ask questions and work with award-winning authors, the writer-in-residence role is not designed to allow for critiques of manuscripts. Please bring questions, but not pages.