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Event Descriptions 2014

Here is a closer look at some of our conference offerings. Check back regularly as new events are added, or follow us on Facebook, where you will find more information about the programs, presenters, writing events in the Northeast, and resources for writers.


Attendees enrolling in a Three-Day Workshop may choose to study fiction, creative nonfiction, screenwriting, or poetry. The workshops meet Thursday afternoon, Friday morning, and Saturday morning. Workshops are led by our highly accomplished conference faculty members. Spend several hours in a small, intimate setting practicing writing and learning from one another. Workshops are a great place to get feedback from fellow students as well as a faculty member in a comfortable and supportive environment.

Each workshop meets Thursday, 1:30 - 3:30 p.m.; Friday, 9:00 - 11:00 a.m.; and Saturday, 9:00 - 11:00 a.m.

  • Fiction Workshop (Beginner)
    Instructor: Jody Lisberger

    In this workshop, we will spend time examining and practicing techniques for developing character, creating conflict and dramatic tension, and using to advantage seen/scene and the unseen, details, setting, and body language. We will also consider effective and strategic beginnings, endings, and use of back-story. The workshop will generate material for participants to develop later into stories. There will be a short writing assignment and reading given in workshop on Thursday, due for Friday, and a short exercise on Friday due for Saturday.

  • Fiction Workshop (Intermediate and Advanced)
    Instructor: Edward Delaney

    This workshop will focus on writing fiction from the inside out. We'll start with such important craft aspects as description, dialogue, voice and diction, the "ground-level" writing skills from which the story must rise. We'll move on Day II to scene-building, beats and reversals, and examine the many stories within stories such as metaphorical language, subscenes and chronological shifts. On Day III, we'll move into larger aspects of plot, theme and intention. All through this, we'll try to weave these aspects together, always mindful of where the stories go. We'll discuss literary markets and the publishing business as an aspect of that.

  • Young Adult Fiction Workshop (All levels)
    Instructor: Padma Venkatraman

    Hearing Voices: Marcel Proust referred to adolescence as "an age which for all its alleged awkwardness, is prodigiously rich." Focusing on voice - one of the most elusive and important aspects of timeless writing - we'll take a brief look at classic and contemporary novelists who've created timeless voices that express the awkwardness and richness of adolescence. We'll discuss how voice informs other aspects of craft, such as character, dialogue and even pacing. Through hands-on exercises, you'll learn how to engage with emotions and use voice to convey strong emotion without resorting to sentimentality. You'll be encouraged to explore voices that you're comfortable with and pushed to experiment with voices that make you uncomfortable. Your objective will be to craft a short scene with an authentic adolescent central character (to read on Saturday afternoon, if you wish). If time allows, we'll also touch on aspects of pacing in coming-of-age novels, or other aspects of craft, in the context of creating Young Adult literature.

  • Memoir Workshop (All levels)
    Instructor: Amy Hoffman

    What's the story of your life? Experience is inherently chaotic, and we humans create meaning by shaping narratives: choosing to focus on some details and experiences while leaving others in the background. In this workshop, we will practice this kind of meaning-making using writing prompts (so please bring writing materials); discussing one another's work; and engaging with assigned readings. We'll also think about how to make the emotional, creative, and physical space for writing in our daily lives.

  • Creative Nonfiction (All levels)
    Instructor: Nicole Walker

    This creative nonfiction workshop will center on character/narrator/writer. How does a writer put his body in a place as a character? When does a writer need to use narration to situate her personal story in a larger story context? And when does the writer need to write so close to the bone that the writer's very thoughts become embedded in the grammar of the essay? We will read and write several brief essays.

  • Poetry Workshop (Beginner and Intermediate)
    Instructor: Wendy S. Walters

    Deciphering Emotion: In this workshop you will be asked to write about experiences that have emotional resonance. You will need to be brave and willing to hear critiques of how well you have conveyed emotion. Our goal will not be to protect our feelings but to observe them from all angles, take them apart, and hold them up to the light. We will engage in exercises to better understand how emotion functions in strong poems. We will develop techniques to translate our feelings into substantive language. We will consider the function of images, timing, and action we will become more aware of what our audience needs from us in order to connect with the experiences we want to share.

  • Poetry Workshop (Advanced)
    Instructor: Stephen Burt

    Complex Words: When you look at a poem—whether you wrote it or someone else did—how do you find, and how do you handle, key words? How do you handle loaded words, words that have so much history baked into them, words like "world," "love," "woman," "man"? what about rare words, words from technical disciplines such as particle physics or shoe design? what about words that would not fit a family newspaper? How can a poem repeat a word, or take a word apart? Can poetic forms help? We will look at how words recur, how words come together, and how they come apart: we will see how those words can animate, or enliven, or explode, poems old and new, and how those poems can speak to the language we use elsewhere in our lives.

  • Screenwriting Workshop (All levels)
    Instructor: Rob Cohen

    We want to write (and sell) a great movie: This workshop is for writers who want their work on screen. There are dozens of books about how to construct the classic Hollywood script, and this class will start there, with the classic 3 act screenplay structure as outlined in The Writer’s Journey. There are so may with screenplays under their arms, who have read Syd Field, Robert McKee etc. And, there is a population of writers in Hollywood who work on creations for the standard menu. So how will you be noticed? By using your voice without completely upending the classic structures. This class will work toward a singular goal: how to be inventive without re-inventing the wheel. By looking at the basics, and engaging in exercises that strengthen those muscles, the class will then move to challenge of originality. Because it is originality that sells.

MASTER CLASSES (Friday and Saturday)

Our master class allows you to study with our featured keynote speaker. This class has limited enrollment to ensure that you have a chance to engage with the instructor and fellow classmates.

  • Friday, 1:45 - 2:45 pm
    Playwriting with Ayad Akhtar

    Story Workshop - We will discuss a few major paradigms of story structure: the hero's journey; classical three act structure; eleven-point story analysis. The goal will be to provide useful ways of thinking about story for the writer planning a full-length narrative in either screenplay or long-form fiction or stage play.

  • Friday, 3:00 - 4:15 pm
    Fiction with Amity Gaige

    The Unreliable Narrator - We will start by defining the notion of "reliability" as it applies to both literary characters and to ourselves as creators. We will then discuss how perceiving the interplay between narrator and story can add energy to any work of fiction. Students will be asked to consider their own characters within these terms.

  • Friday, 3:00 - 4:15 pm
    Poetry with Charles Bernstein

    We may begin with a few group collaborations and writing experiments and then engage the participants in their approach to poetry. Individual works presented will be "deformed" and "reformed" in the spirit of inquiry and new possibilities. Focus will be on poetics not craft. Aim to avert mastery in pursuit of linguistic sensation.

  • Saturday, 11:15 - 12:30 pm
    Fiction with Percival Everett

    We will discuss the possibility of avoiding all discussions of craft. Fiction is a rule-less endeavor and can be approached as such. We will talk about the myth of convention and what it means to experiment in fiction.

  • Saturday, 2:45 - 4:00 pm
    Poetry with Stephen Burt

    Poems and Places. What do the poems you write have to do with where you live, with where you have lived, with where you have been, with where you would like to live? We will consider ways that you can put a place into your poems; make your poems speak to, from, or about a place; where "place" can mean anything from a nation or state to a subculture.


  • Saturday, 11:15 - 12:30 pm
    Artist's Books with Susan Bee and Charles Bernstein

    Poet Charles Bernstein and visual artist Susan Bee will discuss their decades-long collaboration and the art of reading the artist's book. Bee will also discuss her collaborations with other poets including: Susan Howe, Jerome Rothenberg, Johanna Drucker, Regis Bonvicino, and Jerome McGann.


DISCUSSION GROUPS (Saturday 9:00 - 11:00 am)

We believe that there's no such thing as a writer who isn't also a reader, and that writers have the most to gain in conversation with literary critical experts and historians. Discussion groups are faculty led conversations based on one or more literary texts written by this year's Keynote Presenters or other masters. You'll have the opportunity to investigate a work with your fellow classmates and a faculty expert from URI's Department of English. Please make every effort to have read the book under discussion before attending this seminar.

  • Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
    Instructor: Jean Walton

    Alison Bechdel describes her graphic memoir Fun Home as a labyrinth, "going over the same material, but starting from the outside and spiraling in to the center of the story." But as a writer setting out, how do you know what the "center" of your story is? What instances of the "outside" will help you find it? And how do you compose a text in which inside and outside will seem to form one coherent whole? As an ardent fan of Bechdel's graphic masterpiece, I look forward to sharing with others in a lively discussion of her deft manipulation of time, her complex treatment of memory, and her coursing of our attention through literary, mythical, and popular references as she leads back to the heart of her family's particular "tragicomic." Ultimately, I hope we will come away with some strategies for enriching our own memoir-writing, whether it be about family, sexual identity, coming-of-age, or coming to terms with a traumatic event.

  • I Am Not Sidney Poitier
    Instructor: Valerie Karno

    Comedy, Irony, Race, Identity! These are some of the strategies and ideas we will explore as we delve into Percival Everett's I Am Not Sidney Poitier. How do we understand the self out of negation and othering? How do we know the world and ourselves through the ridiculous, the absurd, the nonsensical? We will also consider the weighty topics of how or if to recognize ourselves through racial, gendered, and projected identifications. We will think about the roles of performance and naming in representation, as we move in and out of places like Peckerwood County. And, if time allows, we will explore the serious questions of "Who is not Percival Everett?," and "Who is Sidney Poitier?"

  • Jane Eyre
    Instructor: Carolyn Betensky

    Charlotte Brontë's most famous novel has long been a favorite among readers young and old. The tale of the misunderstood, homely orphan with acute powers of observation still resonates with peculiar intensity today. Few novels are better than Jane Eyre at harnessing our indignation over injustice, abuse, and neglect; few can rival Bronte's masterpiece, moreover, in its ability to capture states of self-doubt and self-hatred that ultimately give way to a triumphant self-confidence.

    In our discussion of Jane Eyre, we will focus on Brontë's strategies for staging, modeling, and managing readerly indignation over the insults her character must endure and the internal battles her character must wage in order to grasp her own self-worth. How does Brontë succeed in pulling her readers into struggles that are not, after all, their own? What techniques does she use to make her readers bristle at the injustices faced by a character she deliberately sets up as a poor, unloved, physically unattractive outsider? How does Brontë get us to cheer Jane on? We will consider Brontë's not-so-gentle genius at riling her readers with a view toward contemporary techniques authors use to engage their readership. What can writers of the twenty-first century learn from this formidably successful Victorian novel about getting their own readers to care passionately about the fate of their characters?

  • Special Intensive: Putting Together a Poetry Manuscript
    Instructor: Peter Covino

    This seminar is geared for established and emerging poets who want and want to share practical advice about putting together a poetry manuscript and trying to find an appropriate publisher. The bulk of the discussion will focus on crafting a full-length collection, and when appropriate, smaller chapbook-size projects too. Our main goals will be to demystify the often baffling editorial process of small press publishing. Using two or three samples of anonymous work, this seminar will focus on specific issues of how editors (often quickly) consider issues of manuscript readiness, ordering poems, manuscript structure, and innovative poetic tensions and related techniques.

CONVERSATIONS (Friday and Saturday)

"The real writer is one who really writes," wrote Marge Piercy. Writers make writing a priority in their lives. And to feed their writing selves, they also read and attend readings, enroll in classes, join groups, enter contests, apply for grants/fellowships, explore markets, and learn new technologies to enhance their success once they're ready to publish. Throughout the conference, we offer moderated conversations with writers about the work of writing.

  • Friday, 11:15 - 12:00 pm: "Turning Point"
    with Ayad Akhtar and Mary Cappello

    2013 Pulitzer Prize Winning Dramatist, Ayad Akhtar, and 2011 Guggenheim Fellow in Nonfiction, Mary Cappello, discuss the formulation of turning points in the course of a life, the course of a career, and the course of a piece of writing; the spiritual (as distinct from religious) underpinnings of artistic practice; the place where a writing project begins and where it arrives; the literary traditions their work is in conversation with; the interplay of mastery and humility in the work of making art; and the pleasures and challenges involved in imagining audience.

  • Friday, 3:00 - 4:15 pm: Difficult Subjects/Uncommon Ways: Literary Nonfiction as Cross-Over Art
    with Mary Cappello, Maria Mutch, Christine Montross, and Nicole Walker

    What sort of research might one be called to do in writing about one's own life? How does a writer of creative nonfiction treat both the ethical and artistic challenges of telling another person's story? How and why might one write athwart convention when dealing with such pervasive and urgent matters as cancer, HIV, mental illness, and autism? What governs a writer's decision to work in the mode of literary nonfiction; memoir; or the essay? How does one "find" one's subject? Four accomplished writers of literary nonfiction, memoir, and essay discuss their distinct and varied approaches to researched-based literary nonfiction in which science, the body, health, and truth-telling meet.

  • Saturday, 11:15 - 12:30 pm: Changing Genres
    with Paul Di Filippo and Russell Potter

    As writers of fiction and non-fiction, Paul Di Filippo and Russell Potter have varying views on the vast realm of non-fiction writing. Their conversation will map out the differences and overlaps between the two types of discourse each writer practices, and bring to bear the novel-writing experiences of both authors to explore whether more fantastical tactics can ever be applied to non-fiction writing.

  • Saturday, 2:45 - 4:00 pm: Conversation on Young Adult Literature and the Publishing Industry
    with Malaga Baldi, Sara LaFleur, Shauna Rossano and Padma Venkatraman

    Two editors from Penguin Random House and Literary Agent Malaga Baldi (of Baldi Books) will answer attendees questions about publishing, the state of the book business today and where they see the industry headed in the future. Author Padma Venkatraman will moderate the discussion.

  • Saturday, 4:15 - 5:30 pm: Pursuing Poetry
    with Kristin Prevallet and Elaine Sexton

    Kristin Prevallet and Elain Sexton will share and field questions on poetry and professionalization. Kristin Prevallet, after receiving an MA in literature and teaching at several universities, decided to pursue a private poetics practice: she is a certified hypnotherapist whose poetics entwines with trance, self-knowledge, and healing. Elaine Sexton teaches at the Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence College, is an editor of ARTnews, and curates exhibits in New York. For poets deciding what step is next, What does one do after being energized at a conference? What avenues are available to poets? What are effective means to share one's work with larger audiences? And how does one build a community locally and professionally?

  • Saturday, 4:15 - 5:30 pm: Alternative Comics
    with Paul Lyons, Walker Mettling and Mickey Zacchilli

    The creators of alternative comics, like all independent artists, wear many hats. They are artists, writers, printmakers and DIY publishers. From anthologies to zines, comic strips to large format, comics take many forms. Three independent and local comics artists will share their experiences on publishing, craft, building community, and why they are drawn to comics.

CRAFT SESSIONS (Friday and Saturday)

Our 60-minute craft sessions are designed around a particular aspect of, or approach to, writing and are often genre-specific. Participants will read and discuss examples of writing, then get a chance to complete a short in-class writing assignment. Craft sessions are a chance for you to consider a particular aspect of writing, respond to a prompt on-site, and see how other attendees respond to your work.

  • Friday, 1:45 - 2:45 pm: Creative Nonfiction - Minding the Eye
    Instructor: Lisa Lebduska

    "Where do I begin?" Our craft session explores how personal essay writers have approached this question of un-ending. We'll start by reading several excerpts, discussing what we see, and what interests us before tackling our own beginnings. Participants should bring a topic and a willingness to share their writing.

  • Friday, 1:45 - 2:45 pm: Potential and Perils of First Person
    Instructor: Russell Potter

    From Melville's Ishmael to Brontë's Jane to Beckett's Molloy, fiction in the first person has proven to be a compelling one for readers. For writers, it solves a problem, merging narrative and character into the same stream, consciousness and plot advancing in unison. Yet it also can blur the line between eye and I, between author and narrator, the hallmark of the all-too- semi-autobiographical first novel that, like a burnt batch of Jiffy-Pop, was surely more fun to make than was to eat. It's also common within many emerging genres, from creative nonfiction to Young Adult fantasy. In this craft session, we'll explore the potential as well as the perils of the first-person narrative through brief readings, in-class exercises, and discussion.

  • Friday, 1:45 - 2:45 pm: Embodied Narratives: Revising Your Cellular Stories
    Instructor: Kristin Prevallet

    For centuries, trance narratives have led people into wild dream and trance states where neurochemical and biological healing processes are activated. For writers and artists, following these narrative threads might awaken characters and plots, or unlock elliptical poetic processes useful for the generation of new work. If out of this workshop you write a few amazing poems or stories, that's terrific; if you (among other things) learn how to overcome emotional blocks, deal with pain in a new way, and take action to change the catastrophic future, that's the learning of an embodied poetics that can last a lifetime.

  • Friday, 3:00 - 4:15 pm: Maximalism in Science Fiction
    Instructor: Paul Di Filippo

    The school of literature known as maximalism is typified by the work of such mainstream writers as John Barth, Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace. But the approach of stuffing a work of fiction with as much content, character and contexts as possible also applies to science fiction, the literature of ideas. In this session, author Paul Di Filippo, whose own work often exemplifies this approach, will offer a brief but concise survey of past landmarks of "maximalist science fiction" that can serve as inspirations for the writer who wishes to adopt this approach. Distilling the essence of these works into a set of techniques that can be employed consciously by the writer to craft new maximalist SF, the session will offer a roadmap to the construction of such "information overload" science fiction.

  • Friday, 3:00 - 4:15 pm: The Micro-book
    Instructor: Elaine Sexton

    In this class we will consider the visual, sonic, and structural devices used by contemporary poets to create rhythm, tension, and surprise in their work. As the words, lines, stanzas, poems, and the page, itself, are all containers, the micro-book is the perfect space to experiment with new shapes and forms. Students will learn to make the simplest of handmade books in class and experiment with classic and hybrid devices such as erasures and altered text as a way to revise and fine-tune poems in progress. Participants are asked to bring multiple copies of their poems to class. No previous experience in book arts required.

  • Saturday, 11:15 - 12:30 pm: Dialogue
    Instructor: Robert Leuci

    You will have the opportunity to spend an hour learning how to write good dialogue along with candid subtext. If you want to write both skillful and accurate dialogue you must do two things, read a lot and listen a lot. There is no shortcut, no way around it. Every conversation you over-hear or participate in, has its own lesson or lessons. We will study how you can learn to know your characters inside and out and, in doing so you learn to write dialogue and subtext. Recording conversations where and with whom; whenever you can, you should record as many conversations as possible. We will also discuss the various ways to accomplish that tricky little feat without losing friends.

  • Saturday, 2:45 - 4:00 pm: Television Writing
    Instructor: Rob Cohen

    "What can you write in 30 seconds? 30 minutes? 1 hour?" Movies, Novels and Theater don't have a clock. Only Television is the writer's medium with a time limit. Sitcoms, episodic dramas, reality television and non-fiction programming all have their meters that tick, tick, tick as their stories unfold (around the commercial breaks, of course). This seminar will examine the writing disciplines that television demands. The pace and brevity of television is just the kind of muscle that writers from other mediums can learn to exercise. Examples from across the television landscape will be coupled with in-seminar writing exercises.

  • Saturday, 4:15 - 5:30 pm: Writing or Wanting to Write a Novel or Book-length Memoir—Strategies for Success
    Instructor: Jody Lisberger

    This craft session will involve a series of exercises to help writers who are in the midst of writing of novel or keen to write a novel and want think about and put on paper some key elements that will help them check the current path they have or the one they've been thinking about. It will also be helpful for those writing book-length memoir and creative nonfiction. This craft session will emphasize key elements like: creating sympathetic and interesting characters, developing and maximizing the potential of/for antagonists, structuring for dramatic tension, and connecting to deep yearning and interiority.

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