Summer Seminar for Writers




Nearly sixty adult writers converged on the beautiful Sarah Lawrence College campus for the annual Summer Seminar for Writers June 17 - 22, 2018. Participants came from all over the United States and beyond to experience six amazing days of workshops, craft talks, generative sessions, and readings. Students chose to study along one of the following tracks: fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, or hybrids of poetry and prose.

2018 Program Overview


The weeklong workshops are constructive, supportive environments in which students are encouraged to take risks. Workshops are capped at twelve to ensure each student has a voice as both a reader and a writer. Each workshop has its own unique atmosphere and strategies. Some will slant toward imagining the possibilities of existing work, some toward the creation of new work, while others will aim for a balance of the two. Teachers may bring in pieces of published writing to springboard into discussions of craft, structure, style, and content. In every workshop, the writing of students will be deeply considered, and participants will receive compassionate and constructive feedback.

Fiction Workshop with Téa Obreht—“Vaporizing the Other Version”

In an interview for The New York Times, novelist David Mitchell stated that “a novel contains as many versions of itself as it has readers.” Reading is an intimate and deeply individual endeavor, and a reader's emotional and psychological response to a story depends heavily on what they themselves bring to the table. So how can the writer control those aspects of the narrative that require universal interpretation? In this workshop, we will focus on optimizing information transfer by using strategic detail to ensure that almost every reader is (for lack of a better phrase) on the same page.

Téa ObrehtTéa Obreht's debut novel, The Tiger’s Wife, won the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction, and was a 2011 National Book Award Finalist and a New York Times bestseller. Her work has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Non-Required Reading, and has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s, Vogue, Esquire, and Zoetrope: All-Story. She was a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree, and was named by The New Yorker as one of the twenty best American fiction writers under forty. She lives in New York and teaches at Hunter College.

Fiction Workshop with Adelle Waldman

Fitzgerald once said, “begin with an individual, and before you know it you find that you have created a type; begin with a type, and you find that you have created nothing.” This workshop is designed around this idea. We will focus on the psychological underpinnings of character. In addition to discussing the usual elements of craft, we will think seriously about how to create and present characters that are complex but not incoherent, recognizable but not stock figures or cliches, skills that entail not only close observation of other people but the cultivation of objectivity. The workshop will involve exercises designed to sharpen both.

Adelle WaldmanAdelle Waldman is the author of the novel, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., which was named one of 2013’s best books by The New Yorker, The Economist, The New Republic, NPR, Slate, Bookforum, The Guardian, and many others. She writes frequently about fiction for The New Yorker. Her writing has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, The Village Voice, and other publications. She is currently working on a book of essays. Adelle and her husband live in the Hudson Valley with their daughter.

Mixed Genre Workshop with Jeffrey McDaniel—“Hybrids of Poetry and Prose”

One of the exciting literary developments in recent years is the plethora of work that refuses easy categorization, by authors like Maggie Nelson, Claudia Rankine, Jenny Offill, and Eula Biss. Each class will begin with a close reading of a text that blurs the lines of genre. We will consider architecture, diction, association, metaphor, and other issues of craft. For workshop, students can submit poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, or anything in between. We will aim to locate a piece’s heat—its linguistic, figurative, and musical energy—and consider how that energy might be developed, or maximized, in subsequent drafts and to what effect. Occasionally, we will do in-class writing exercises that emphasize intuition and chance and steer students towards a place of hybridity

Jeffrey McDanielJeffrey McDaniel is the author of five books of poetry, most recently Chapel of Inadvertent Joy (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013). His other books include The Endarkenment, The Splinter Factory, The Forgiveness Parade, and Alibi School. He’s received an NEA fellowship for creative writing and been published in many journals and anthologies, including Ploughshares, Field, American Poetry Review, and Best American Poetry 1994 and 2010. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.

Nonfiction Workshop with Hua Hsu—“The World in the First Person”

Together, we will consider different ways of writing about ourselves, and the larger experiences and worlds that have shaped us. To do this, we will consider a range of models and structural approaches: fragments and vignettes, the traditional essay form, memoir, cultural criticism, appropriating “found” sounds, writing about place, writing about what you ate last week. Our time together will be guided by both large, philosophical questions (What does it mean to like or hate something? What shapes our personal sensibilities and tastes? How can writing be both relatable and unique, intimate?) and smaller, practical ones (How do you start a piece? How should an essay end?)

Hua HsuHua Hsu is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of A Floating Chinaman: Fantasy and Failure Across the Pacific (Harvard University Press, 2016). Previously, his work has appeared in Artforum, The Atlantic, Grantland, Slate, and The Wire (UK). He teaches in the English Department at Vassar College, where he also directs the program in American Studies. He is on the board of the Asian American Writers' Workshop and NYU's Center for Experimental Humanities.

Poetry Workshop with Michael Dumanis & Monica Youn

Michael DumanisMichael Dumanis is the author of the poetry collection My Soviet Union, winner of the Juniper Prize for Poetry. He is also the co-editor (with poet Cate Marvin) of the anthology Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century and (with poet Kevin Prufer) of the volume Russell Atkins: On the Life & Work of an American Master. Formerly a professor at Nebraska Wesleyan University and Cleveland State University (where he served as Director of the CSU Poetry Center), he teaches literature and creative writing at Bennington College and divides his time between Vermont and Brooklyn.

Monica YounMonica Youn is the author of Blackacre (Graywolf Press 2016), which was longlisted for the 2016 National Book Award for Poetry, Ignatz (Four Way Books 2010), which was a finalist for the National Book Award, and Barter (Graywolf Press 2003). Youn received her AB from Princeton, where she completed the certificate program in creative writing. She was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University, where she took a master’s degree in English literature. After Oxford, she attended Yale Law School, and practiced law for over a decade, testifying before Congress on multiple occasions, appearing as an expert commentator on PBS and MSNBC, and publishing political commentary in Slate and The New York Times, among other publications. Her poems have been widely published in journals and anthologies, including The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Poetry, and The Best American Poetry.

Poetry Workshop with Natalie Diaz—“The Line As Touch: Physical Lexicons and Embodied Images”

This generative workshop will contain readings and exercises to help build your own context of an embodied and emotional image. We will explore an image as much more than a description or a shell of an object. Together we will locate the image beneath and from its many lenses, among them, mythology and history, verb and happening, emotionality, physicality and texture, risk and wager, violence and tenderness. We will write poems daily and hold a workshop at the end of the week. *This workshop will involve sensory shuffling exercises, that reiterate the ideas of occularcentrism and how we can free ourselves to engage numerous senses.

Natalie DiazNatalie Diaz was born and raised in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California, on the banks of the Colorado River. She is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Tribe. Her first poetry collection, When My Brother Was an Aztec, was published by Copper Canyon Press. She is a Lannan Literary Fellow and a Native Arts Council Foundation Artist Fellow. She was awarded a Bread Loaf Fellowship, the Holmes National Poetry Prize, a Hodder Fellowship, and a PEN/Civitella Ranieri Foundation Residency, as well as being awarded a US Artists Ford Fellowship. Diaz teaches at the Arizona State University Creative Writing MFA program. She splits her time between the east coast and Mohave Valley, Arizona, where she works to revitalize the Mojave language.

Screenwriting Workshop with Sarah Koskoff

Bastard child of an unlikely love triangle between play, novel, and poem, a screenwriter has to drop in and out of multiple literary forms while being respected by none of them, not even their own. In this workshop, we will attempt to carve out a dignified space for the screenwriter (however temporary) by looking closely at produced screenplays that work on the page as well as the screen. We will do some in-class writing to access unconscious images, language, and scenes, and explore ways to grow these fragments into descriptive settings, connected dialogue, fully-realized characters, and expansive narratives. Students may bring scripts of any length to work on, from features to pilots to web-length shorts. You’ll leave with a head of steam to write and make films, unconcerned with your place in the literary world.

Sarah KoskoffSarah Koskoff wrote the screenplay for Hello I Must Be Going, which was the opening night film of the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. The film was honored by the National Board of Review as one of the Ten Best Independent Films of 2012, and her screenplay won Showtime's Tony Cox Award for Screenwriting at the Nantucket Film Festival. She has worked as a script consultant on feature films such as Love, Liza, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Kathy Bates, and Macbeth, starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. She has many scripts currently in development, including a television adaptation of Elizabeth Hand’s crime novel series, Generation Loss. Koskoff was a 2009 Sundance Screenwriters Lab Fellow and is an ongoing advisor for the Sundance Screenwriting Intensive in Los Angeles. Prior to writing for the screen, she wrote plays and worked extensively as an actor in film, television, and theater. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children.

Conferences & Generative Sessions

In addition to working with a writing teacher in class, each summer seminar student will have a 30-minute one-on-one conference with their teacher, a chance to deepen their dialogue about individual writing.

On weekday afternoons, there will be space for participants to gather and engage in a multi-genre writing exercise, directed by a teacher or visiting writer. This exposes students to different approaches and will be a space to cross-pollinate genres and to roll the creative dice.

Craft Talks & Readings

Each weekday afternoon, there will be two craft talks open to all participants in the Summer Seminar. Students are encouraged to attend and hear faculty and visiting writers explore various topics. Some of these talks will be more like traditional lectures, some will be more illustrative discussions, some will be in-depth interviews. All will deepen student’s sense of the literary tradition and new ways of thinking about the art of writing.

In addition, every evening will feature a dynamic reading with two talented and acclaimed authors. To foster a dance and dialogue between genres, each reading will pair a prose writer and a poet.

Visiting Writers

Sam Lipsyte (Fiction)

Sam LipsyteSam Lipsyte is the author of five books of fiction, including The Fun Parts, Home Land, and The Ask. A Guggenheim fellow and winner of the Believer Book Award, he lives in New York City and teaches at Columbia University’s School of the Arts.

Sally Wen Mao (Poetry)

Sally Wen MaoSally Wen Mao is the author of Mad Honey Symposium (Alice James Books, 2014). Her second book, Oculus, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2019, and recent work has appeared in Tin House, A Public Space, Poetry, and others. The recipient of a Pushcart Prize, she has served as a fellow at the New York Public Library Cullman Center for Writers and Scholars and Kundiman. She is the 2017-2018 Jenny McKean Moore Writer in Washington at the George Washington University.

Danez Smith (Poetry)

Danez SmithDanez Smith is a Black, queer, poz writer & performer from St. Paul, MN. They are the author of [insert] boy (YesYes Books, 2014), winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. Selected as a 2017 National Book Award finalist, Danez recently released their 2nd full collection, Don't Call Us Dead, published by Graywolf Press in September of 2017. Danez is the recipient of fellowships from the Poetry Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, and is a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Fellow. Their work has been featured widely on platforms such as The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Buzzfeed, The New Yorker & The New York Times.

Jess Walter (Fiction)

Jess WalterJess Walter is the author of eight books, most recently the #1 New York Times bestseller Beautiful Ruins. He was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award for The Zero and won the 2005 Edgar Allan Poe award. His books have been published in 32 languages and his short fiction has won a Pushcart Prize and appeared three times in Best American Short Stories. He lives in Spokane, Washington, with his family.