Previous Workshops

               Sorry, you missed these great workshops!

The Pleasures and Practices of Essaying – Randon Billings Noble

The word “essay” comes from the French essayer: “to try.” In this day-long workshop we’ll try our hand at writing several different kinds of essays. We’ll look at some of the myriad forms an essay can take (personal, familiar and lyric), read different examples, and consider the ways form can intensify content. We’ll also write, starting with a series of generative exercises and ending with some draft-work towards an essay in the form(s) of your choice. Please come ready to read, write, think, try, dare – and play.

Randon Billings Noble is an essayist. Her collection Be with Me Always was published by the University of Nebraska Press in March 2019, and her lyric essay chapbook Devotional was published by Red Bird in 2017. Other work has appeared in the Modern Love column of The New York Times, The Georgia Review, The Rumpus, Brevity, Creative Nonfiction, Fourth Genre, and elsewhere. She has taught at American University; led writing workshops at Politics and Prose, the Writer’s Center and the Washington National Cathedral; and she has presented at conferences such as HippoCamp, NonfictioNOW, and AWP. Currently she is the founding editor of After the Art, and an occasional freelance reviewer for The A.V. Club.Thursday, May 2, 2019

Past Selves – Molly McCloskey

“There is no essential self that lies pure as a vein of gold under the chaos of experience and chemistry. Anything can be changed, and we must understand the human organism as a sequence of selves that succumb to or choose one another.” – Andrew Solomon

How do we become the people we are, and how do we write about that process – either as the explicit subject of a work or as the backdrop against which characters develop and take action? If we are writing fiction, we must construct a textured past out of which our protagonists have emerged, and that can form a plausible basis for their actions. If we are writing memoir or personal essays, we need to excavate our own past selves, to recall and inhabit them as fully as possible in order to tell evocative stories. How can we access those selves, real or imagined, so that they come as fully alive as possible on the page?

This workshop will use a mixture of writing prompts, group discussion, and short assigned readings to help students develop the tools for creating the selves, or characters, that populate our work. There may be 1 or 2 short readings circulated before the class that students will be asked to read.

Molly McCloskey is the author of four works of fiction and a memoir. Her most recent novel, Straying, was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. She has taught writing at George Washington University, University of Maryland, Boston University, Trinity College Dublin, and elsewhere. She is also an editor of both fiction and nonfiction.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Writing the Personal Essay – Lisa Gornick

In this day-long class combining analysis of exemplary personal essays, exploration of writing process, and a workshop format, participants will be guided through a template for writing the personal essay. The day will be divided into didactic segments, writing time, paired feedback, and full-group discussions with the aim that all participants exit with a piece well underway and a clear plan for completion. Participants will be asked to read in advance of the workshop a few short essays (all of which will be provided) and to arrive with a preliminary idea for a fresh essay topic (about which they have not written in the past) to work on that day.

Lisa Gornick is a fiction and essay writer as well as a graduate of the doctoral program in clinical psychology at Yale and the psychoanalytic training program at Columbia, where she is on the voluntary faculty. Hailed by NPR as “one of the most perceptive, compassionate writers of fiction in America…immensely talented and brave,” she is the author of the novels Louisa Meets Bear and Tinderbox—both published by Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and Picador—as well as A Private Sorcery, published by Algonquin. Her latest novel, The Peacock Feast, features Anna Freud as a character and will be published in February, again by Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Excerpts from her novels and links to her stories and essays, which have appeared in The New York Times, Real Simple, Prairie Schooner, Salon, and Slate.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Depth of Myth, the Freedom of Mask – Marie Howe

Poets and writers sometimes enter other stories in order to more deeply investigate their own. Some look to the old stories in the ancient books of the Torah, the Bible, or the Koran – and in characters as complex as Eve, or Cain, or Abraham, or Isaac, Lot, Mary, or Mary Magdalene. Some look to stories encountered in the Greek myths, in characters like Persephone, or Narcissus, or Echo, or to Fairy Tales, with their sleeping princesses and wolves and stepmothers and witches. These archetypes are complex and roomy. By wearing the mask of a character we feel drawn to, we are able to investigate our own bewilderments with more freedom. By imagining the plight of a persona we inhabit we might find ourselves writing into the unknown, and writing into the unknown often brings illumination, joy, and understanding.

Through a series of writing prompts, (and inspired by examples) we will choose one or two or a series of characters we know from old stories or myths and write our way into what we didn’t know. We will have a wonderful time.

Marie Howe is the author of four volumes of poetry: Magdalene: Poems (W.W. Norton, 2017); The Kingdom of Ordinary Time (W.W. Norton, 2009); What the Living Do (1997); and The Good Thief (1988). She is also the co-editor of essays, In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic (1994). She was New York State Poet Laureate from 2012-2014.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Instrument of Illumination – Dani Shapiro

Joan Didion once remarked that if she’d had the remotest access to her own mind, she never would have become a writer. That she writes in order to discover what she thinks, what she fears, what she knows. The writer poised to begin a piece of work is in a state of suspension. We have a glimmer of a thought, an image, a character, a feeling-sense, but little more. That piece of work – the blank page – becomes our teacher. The act of creative writing is our instrument of illumination. By its light — sometimes faint, sometimes blinding – we begin to see what lies in wait beneath that which we can consciously access. The unthought known starts reveals itself. In this day-long workshop, through discussion of craft and process, brief meditations designed to quiet and open the mind, and a series of writing prompts, we will cultivate and explore this tender place from which the work springs.

Dani Shapiro is the bestselling author of four memoirs: Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, Devotion, and Slow Motion; and five novels including Black & White and Family History. Shapiro’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Tin House, One Story, Elle, New York Times Book Review, Los Angeles Times, and has been broadcast on “This American Life.” Her recent essays on the lures and dangers of the internet and social media have stirred up controversy and gone viral, and are now being taught in many universities. She is co-founder of the Sirenland Writers Conference in Positano, Italy.

Thursday, January 31, 2018

Ruthlessness: A workshop on writing – Janna Malamud Smith

Writers often find themselves either unable to write or else ducking the most difficult moments in their own story telling in order not to reveal “too much,” or “the wrong thing,” about themselves or people they love. Particular pieces of one’s own “truth” cannot be related because the fantasy of their public revelation, or their impact upon others feels intolerable, either consciously or unconsciously. Or, perhaps, more concretely, the idea of making time to write – and rewrite and rewrite again – of removing oneself from intimates and responsibilities – feels too ruthless to be tenable.

This workshop will explore both these quandaries. We will focus particularly on those difficult junctures in participants’ writing where inhibition seems to spring from quandaries of ruth and ruthlessness. In the course of the day we will read aloud, talk, listen and converse; mostly we will write, and then workshop, and then rewrite a few paragraphs. Our goal will be for each participant to try to create a passage that brings up some writing dilemma related to ruthlessness, and then to try several experiments about ways to handle his/her difficult encounter. What can I let myself say? How much is about what I say, how much about how I say it? Which areas are most difficult for me? Are some things better left unsaid?

Janna Malamud Smith is a writer, a psychotherapist, and an award-winning teacher. She has lectured widely, and has published nationally and internationally – including in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, and The American Scholar. She writes opinion commentary for “Cognoscenti” the WBUR public radio blog. She is the author of four books. The first two, Private Matters. (1997) and A Potent Spell. (2003) were chosen as “Notable Books” by The New York Times Sunday Book Review. Her third, “My Father is a book.” (2006) was selected as a Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and a New York Times Editor’s Choice. Two of her essays appear in Best American Essays. Her most recent book is An Absorbing Errand: How Artists and Craftsmen Make their way to Mastery (2013). She is currently writing a book about fishermen on an island off the coast of Maine.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Memoir: The Naked Truth – Marita Golden

Writing memoir is a way to find meaning in our lives, make art of our experiences with pain, trauma, coming of age, and struggles with identity – all the “stuff” of life. But how does one dig deep, chip away at the walls of self-censorship and the rules against speaking the “unspeakable”? How does one discover the voice that is demanding release and write with beauty and – the primary requirement of memoir – courage? In this workshop, we will explore writing techniques that will allow participants to write with transformative power. Will consist of in-class writing, discussion of work in progress, and examination of published memoirists.

Marita Golden is Co-founder and President Emeritus of the Zora Neale Hurston/ Richard Wright Foundation. Marita Golden is a veteran teacher of writing and an acclaimed award-winning author of over a dozen works of fiction and nonfiction. As a teacher of writing she has served as a member of the faculties of the MFA Graduate Creative Writing Programs at George Mason University and Virginia Commonwealth University and in the MA Creative Writing Program at John Hopkins University. Her new novel is The Wide Circumference of Love.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

I Remember: The Poetry in Memoir – Jane Shore

Back in the 70s, at the Grolier Bookstore in Cambridge, I discovered one of the first Angel Hair chapbooks that make up Joe Brainard’s masterful prose-poem I Remember. Every sentence begins with the words “I remember,” followed by a specific memory from Brainard’s childhood. By the time you have finished all of I Remember, it’s as though you have read Brainard’s complete autobiography, sentence by sentence, jigsaw-piece by jigsaw-piece, memory by memory.

I’ll be leading an exercise in which we’ll explore our first childhood home, room by room, drawer by drawer, object by object. What other memories are attached to your grandmother’s china pattern, or the red and white carton of milk in the refrigerator, or your mother’s Joy perfume? Unearthing these forgotten and long-buried objects is emotionally powerful, these “things” are charged, and are the deep well to which writers return for inspiration and source material. Having done this exercise in my writing classes and on myself too, since the 1970s, I’ve never had the excuse or luxury of “writer’s block.” Further reading, though not necessary for this workshop, is Brainard’s I Remember (Granary Books, Inc) and Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space (Penguin Classics.)

Jane Shore’s six books of poems have garnered many prizes—including the Juniper Prize (1977), the Lamont Prize (1986) and the 2010 Poets Prize. She’s been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Radcliffe Institute Fellow, and a Hodder Fellow at Princeton. THAT SAID: New and Selected Poems, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2012. A Professor at the George Washington University, she lives in Washington, DC and in Vermont.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Personal Narrative Out Loud: A Storytelling Workshop –Judith Stone

Raise your hand if you think narrative is a force stronger than sex, hunger, rage, or kale. Raise your hand if you think that the three most beautiful words in the English language are then what happened? Now raise your hand if you’re prepared to stand before a group and tell a well-crafted five-to-10 minute true story without notes. If you aren’t ready now, you will be by the time this workshop ends. I’ll offer a number of prompts—possible themes for a story, and then lead the group through a series of thoroughly road-tested exercises that will allow each participant to conceive, shape, revise, and refine a story to share. We’ll alternate working as a group and working in pairs, so that everyone gets a chance to be a teller-in-progress and a deputy coach—a process that will yield wonderful stories for the Big Share. When the resounding cheers die away, we’ll do a bit of post-mortemizing; you’ll talk about how it felt to tell your story and to hear those of the others, how your story changed during the course of the workshop, and what you discovered—about your story and yourself—along the way.

Judith Stone has been a storyteller, host, curator, and workshop leader at The Moth, the international storytelling organization (themoth.org) She was the president of the Moth’s founding board, a position she earned by a coin toss.

Thursday, Nov 10, 2016

Writing Personal Essay: Everything is Connected – Suzannah Lessard

Essay is the most literary of forms. It can reach from intimate ordinary experience to the stars—and back again—without strain. It is improvisatory, drawing from the full spectrum of thought and feeling as needed. It is a chameleon, taking on the coloration of other forms—memoir, reporting, opinion, criticism—also as needed. It has no claims on our attention other than that it will delight us. And yet it can suddenly strike to the quick of human life. In the New Yorker of yore E.B. White invented a kind of essay in which he would move naturally between the details of life on his farm—picking the beans, say—to the largest political concerns—the Nazi’s, for example. The space in which these essays were published, the first piece in Talk of the Town, was called “Notes and Comments.” In it many writers, in Whites time and after, wrote their own pieces in this quiet genre. It was the place in which the journal entry that longed for development but seemed too idiosyncratic for public exposure could find its wings. That uncanny nexus between little and big things, found expression there. We will explore that nexus in this workshop through a series of writing exercises combined with discussion and readings.

Suzannah Lessard started as a writer for The Washington Monthly and went on to twenty years as a staff writer at The New Yorker, leaving in the mid-nineties to become an independent writer. She is the author of the memoir The Architect of Desire: Beauty and Danger in the Stanford White Family, and The View From a Small Mountain: Reading the American Landscape, to be published in Fall 2016. She has been the recipient of numerous awards, including a Whiting Award, a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, the Jenny McKean Moore Writer-in-Washington fellowship at George Washington University, and the Anthony Lukas Award for Works-in-Progress. She has taught creative nonfiction at George Mason University, Wesleyan University, and the Columbia School of the Arts. She is on the full-time faculty of Goucher MFA Program.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Out of Character: Populating Your Writing – Mary Kay Zuravleff

Whether you’re writing memoir, fiction, or creative nonfiction, your characters tell your tale. In this day-long workshop, you’ll learn—and practice—useful techniques for creating convincing and memorable characters.

Mary Kay Zuravleff is the author of Man Alive! named a 2013 Notable Book by the Washington Post. Her earlier books are The Bowl Is Already Broken and The Frequency of Souls, which won the American Academy’s Rosenthal Award and the James Jones First Novel Award. She is the founder of NoveltyDC, which offers master classes in novel and memoir writing, and she teaches graduate fiction writing at George Mason University. Mary Kay serves on the board of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation and is a cofounder of the D.C. Women Writers Group. She is a six-time recipient of the D.C. Commission on the Arts Artist Fellowship, most recently for 2016.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The House of Memory – Mark Doty

Although the word “memory” immediately suggests the passage of time, our sense of the past is also powerfully shaped by space; remembered spaces are containers of a sort, repositories of feeling deeply. They’re colored by emotion, and the narratives memory constructs are often organized as a series of recollected spaces. Working in a series of writing exercises, we’ll use spatial memory as a means of getting at childhood in a fresh way, trying to get beneath the familiar narratives we have constructed and see the past in some new lights.

Mark Doty is a memoirist and poet, and the winner of the National Book Award for Poetry in 2008. He has published eight books of poems, three memoirs, an essay on still life painting, objects and intimacy, and a handbook for writers. His memoirs, after “Heaven’s Coast,” a meditative account of losing a loved one, and a study in grief received the PEN Martha Albrand Award First Nonfiction and “Firebird,” an autobiography from six to sixteen, and “Dog Years,” which was a New York Times Bestseller and received the Israel Fishman Stonewall Book Award from the American Library Association.

October 22, 2015

Multiple Lenses: Re-Seeing Revision – Deirdre Callahan & Sara Taber

In this day-long, interactive workshop will broaden your revision strategies, zooming in on what’s been useful to you, zoom out to explore elements and levels you may not have considered.

Please bring any or all of these with you:

1) A work in progress you know still needs attention.

2) An incomplete piece you’ve had tucked away for quite some time.

3) Notes or an outline from a new project.

Anticipate heady, engaging conversation, both provocative & pragmatic.

Expect that one of the voices you’ll hear from is that of your own writing.

Deirdre Callanan has been part of the New Directions writing faculty since 2007. A published poet, essayist, and short story writer, she was also an educator for 30 years. Deirdre’s forthcoming Bait, Beer, and Raggedy Hearts: A People’s History of the North Jetty Fish Camp tells the story of a retired streetcar (brought to the tip of Casey Key, Florida in 1947) and the characters who frequent it. She and her husband Jack live on Cape Cod and in Nokomis, Florida.

Sara Mansfield Taber is the author of Born Under an Assumed Name: The Memoir of a Cold War Spy’s Daughter, the 2012 ForeWord Review silver medal winner for autobiography and memoir. A social worker and psychologist with a doctorate in human development from Harvard, she is also the author of two books of literary journalism, Dusk on the Campo: A Journey in Patagonia and Bread of Three Rivers: The Story of a French Loaf. Her essays and memoirs have appeared in literary journals, newspapers including The Washington Post, and been produced for public radio. Most recently, her piece, “Saigon Summer: A spy’s daughter remembers the haunting reality of embassy life in South Vietnam before the fall,” appeared in the summer 2015 issue of The American Scholar. (It may be viewed on Literary Hub.) She has taught at Johns Hopkins University and the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and currently teaches at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland and leads writing workshops at her home. A long-time editor of all forms of nonfiction, she had also worked as a coach for writers for many years.

April 23, 2015

Let us be honest: A Memoir Workshop – Beth Kephart

We’ll focus on senses—not just what we see, taste hear, smell, touch, but the power of heat and its absence, the causeways of pain, the prerequisites of balance and bodily awareness. I’ll share the works of favorite poets and memoirists, launch small exercises, listen carefully to the emergent memories, help shape them.

Each participant will move, throughout the day, toward a single, honest, well-rendered moment—a memory that lives rightly on the page. We will, together, build a community. We’ll reflect on some of the memoirs I discuss in Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir, and why they are essential to a writing life; we’ll reflect on some brand-new titles, too.

Beth Kephart is an American author of non-fiction, poetry and young adult fiction for adults and teens. She has written and published over ten books and has received several grants and awards for her writing. She was a National Book Award Finalist for her book “A Slant of the Sun: One Child’s Courage.” She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and son. She is a writing partner in the marketing communications firm, Fusion Communications, and occasionally teaches and lectures at the University of Pennsylvania.

April 3, 2014

The Writer as Expert, Cultural Citizen, and Author – David Groff

In a publishing world that values platform, persona, and the distinctive voice, you can gain readership and impact for work by establishing yourself as a recognized and broad-based contributor to your culture. This seminar will focus on how you can advance your identity as a writer by cultivating an honorable and creative calling as a cultural citizen–writing personal essays, narratives, articles, journalism, and blogs that benefit your readers, foster your career, and prepare the way for publication of a book.

David Groff has worked in New York publishing since 1982. At Crown Publishers, he edited such as bestselling authors as Dave Barry, Jim Dwyer, Patrice Gaines, and Colin Harrison. Since 1994, he has been an independent editor and publishing consultant, working directly with authors, literary agents, and publishers including Pocket, Miramax, Morrow, St. Martin’s, and Wiley. Several of his authors have become national bestsellers. He also scouts and edits for a New York literary agency. David Groff has led seminars and workshops in publishing at the New School, Poets House, the Florida Center for the Literary Arts, Ashland University, Kennesaw State University, Otis College, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Rhode Island, the Stonecoast MFA Program and other places. He has taught courses in publishing at Rutgers University and New York University, as well as at the City College of New York, where he teaches in the MFA Creative Writing Program. He is also an author and poet.

February 2, 2014

Fundamentals of Creative Writing – Jody Bolz

This workshop will explore approaches to the page and choices writers must make, including: point of view; stylistic fingerprint (diction, tone, syntax, prose rhythms); narrative strategies (“summary” vs. “scene,” back story, exposition); and the arc of the “argument.” In addition, the workshop will offer free-writing exercises designed to open up difficult subject matter.

This is a “fundamentals” class rather than an evolving writing workshop- not for repeats- and I’m going to use the same texts for discussion (Nabokov’s short story “Signs and Symbols” and a poem called “War Crimes” by Carol Muske–with maybe an additional poem by Auden or Rothenberg) because they’re beautiful and provocative, not only in literary terms but in psychological/therapeutic terms as well.

Jody Bolz’s most recent book is titled A Lesson in Narrative Time. Her poems have appeared widely in literary journals such as The American Scholar, Indiana Review, North American Review, Ploughshares, and Poetry East and in many anthologies. She taught for more than 20 years at George Washington University, serving twice as director of the creative writing program there. Her honors include a Rona Jaffe Foundation writer’s award. Her most recent poetry relates to world concerns, movingly making global events more intimate and urgent. Since 2002 she has been co-editor of Poet Lore, America’s oldest poetry journal, founded in 1889.