Maria Dahvana Headley

BFA, New York University. Author of The New York Times-bestselling, World Fantasy Award-winning Beowulf: A New Translation, a verse translation of the Old English epic, and the novel The Mere Wife, both from Farrar, Straus & Giroux, as well as Magonia and Aerie, young adult fantasy novels from HarperCollins; the horror novella The End of the Sentence, with Kat Howard; co-editor of Unnatural Creatures, with Neil Gaiman; the historical fantasy novel Queen of Kings; and the comedic memoir The Year of Yes. Her fiction and short fiction have been widely anthologized, including in multiple volumes of Best American Fantasy & Science Fiction, and shortlisted for Hugo, Locus, Shirley Jackson, and Joyce Carol Oates Awards. Recent lectures at Harvard University, Stanford University, University of Iowa, University of Pennsylvania, Oxford University, New York University, and many more. A short-story collection is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus & Giroux, as is a new novel; she’s currently at work on a 10-hour musical adaptation of Vergil’s Aeneid for Audible. SLC, 2019–


Previous Courses

MFA Writing

Speculative Fiction Craft: This Story Changes the World: Imagined Manuals, Feminist Utopias, and Furious Fantasies for Crafting New Worlds


You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit or it is nowhere.—Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed (1974)

The creation of fantastical worlds in order to address and analyze real-world problems of radical inequality—gender-, sexuality-, race-, and class-based oppression—is a tradition that can be followed easily through the history of speculative fiction. For writers, both utopian and dystopian narratives can be tools for greater analysis of our own structures and assumptions, revising our cultural mythology, and ultimately changing the world around us. In this course, we’ll look at the ways in which speculative writers have used genre to “What If?” their way out of oppression, looking at everything from excerpts and analysis of the worldbuilding and conceptual follow-through of Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland to the nonfiction and fiction of Ursula K. le Guin, Octavia Butler, Sofia Samatar, Charlie Jane Anders, Carmen Maria Machado, Brooke Bolander, and more. We'll pry apart the found materials of our world—ranging from political rhetoric to kernels of science, expedition, and exploration— to fuel our own imagined narratives. In writing exercises, we’ll learn to use our own cultural assumptions as tools to recalibrate notions of heroic POV, to rip from the headlines, to add mythic elements, and to shape the worst that the news has to offer into fantastical stories and concepts interrogating and exploring worlds brewed from the one in which we live.


Speculative Fiction Workshop


Over the centuries, storytellers of all kinds have created distinct voices for works in every genre—and those voices have regularly convinced us to believe in wonders. Grounding our speculative fiction with confident stylistic elements can allow us to create works that feel possible, no matter how fantastical, futuristic, and/or wholly imagined our written worlds. A writing style doesn’t need to be flat, or “naturalistic,” to be believable; in fact, a fully-realized storytelling voice can sometimes make the wildest plot line plausible. This workshop will focus on developing voice and style as tools for speculative world-building in every way: plotting, structure, and sentence-by-sentence. We’ll be mining multiple forms for the stylistic and rhythmic cues that can take a writer’s work from basic to brilliant, working first on breaking down our stories to the simplest elements—moving from there into layering language atop plot and, in some exercises, allowing language the liberty to cue plot developments. We’ll be working with POV, rhythm, and meter and experimenting with the ways in which a change of voice can create changes in tension, storytelling pace, and depth of description, as we read work by writers such as Victor LaValle, Gayl Jones (possibly beginning with her new novel, Palmares, which will be released in September 2021, but also excerpting the extraordinary Mosquito), Amal el Mohtar, Kelly Link, Akwaeke Emezi, Anne Carson, Ted Chiang, Danez Smith, Denis Johnson, China Mieville, Sarah Gailey, Robert Aickman and more. This class with be half remote and half in-person, likely alternating weeks. The first class will be in person. My classes are inventive environments where we take risks, turn existing stories inside out, and build our poetic muscles by testing stories in various forms and finding the gaps in them, even as we find the right voices for them. In workshop, we’ll be encouraging one another to go big and to get to the most truthful version of our stories. In our conferences, we’ll get deep into finding your voice, both as a writer overall—discussing what your core stories are and how to develop them—and on your current writing projects—discussing how to best tell the stories you need to tell. There will be extensive reading recommendations, and experiments in storytelling are encouraged. It’s my goal to help get your work to its most extraordinary version.