Now’s the time of year when I start thinking of all the summer could hold, and I start going overboard not with tropical vacation fantasies… with writing fantasies. Really. Summer workshop deadlines are coming up—and there are so many places to go, if only I could.
If money (and references) were no object, if I could be in a few places at once and spend the whole summer traveling around the country (and the idea of that many flights didn’t make me sick), here is where I’d go and what I’d do:
I’d start off the summer by going to the Wesleyan Writers Conference, on the campus of Wesleyan University, which E and I visited once, in college, to stay with our friend M, who was a member of something I think called Eclectic House? Anyway, we had a spectacular visit, mostly because we adore M, but I also remember how I loved the beautiful campus. At the Wesleyan conference, I’d kill to be in Amy Bloom’s workshop. (Please tell me you’ve read Away. If you haven’t, you must read Away! Keep tissues close by and maybe don’t read the end out in public. This novel burst open my heart.)
Or, I’d spend the entire month in Montreal, at the Summer Literary Seminars. All I have to do to explain why is give you two words: Mary. Gaitskill. (If you know me, you know my wild passion for the short stories of Mary Gaitskill.)
Or I’d work on something fantastical—and really push at the boundaries of “genre” and see where I’d go and what I’d write—by heading to the Clarion East Workshop in San Diego to absorb genius and learn world-building from none other than Holly Black and Cassandra Clare. Uh, what? Yeah. Dream workshop.
Since Tin House is one of my most favorite literary journals (isn’t it everyone’s?) I would have to start off July by returning to the Tin House Writers’ Workshop in Portland, Oregon—this one is so fantastic, just so fantastic there are no words—and I think this time I’d try to be in Dorothy Allison’s workshop for the simple fact that reading her when I was a young writer had so much to do with going after this dream. Her writing changed my life. Also, any excuse to get back to Portland, I’ll take it.
I happen to be convinced that Cheryl Strayed is utterly amazing, and so even though I don’t even write creative nonfiction, I’d want to take her workshop at the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference (I mean, wouldn’t this be a reason to start writing creative nonfiction?). I think her class could be transformative.
I might need a car for this one—and if I drank I’d probably appreciate this one more since it’s in wine country—but I would have to go to the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference to take a writing class with Tayari Jones, one of my favorite authors. I’ve heard such wonderful things about the intensity of these workshops, and that it’s less about the schmoozing and networking of other conferences, and more simply about craft and writing. I like.
Sure, if I could be in two (three? four?) places at once, I’d also hit the Sewanee Writers’ Conference in Tennessee. I’ve been to this conference, once, when I was a grad student, and it was absolutely wonderful. I’ve always wanted to go back again—as a scholar or a fellow—but the two needed references (and the fact that my book is YA) has kept me from applying again. This conference is a dream, truly. The first time I went, I was in Margot Livesey’s workshop—and she was one of the best writing teachers I’ve ever worked with in my life, and I’m including all the professors I worked with in the Columbia MFA program. This time, if I went to Sewanee, I’d want to be in Alice McDermott’s workshop. (Have you read After This? Charming Billy? Child of My Heart? Aaaaah, read read!)
Now Provincetown. Provincetown in summer is supposed to be such perfection. Even more perfect would be spending a week there for a children’s writing workshop with Jacqueline Woodson at the Fine Arts Work Center Summer Program. Her class is focused on realistic fiction, and I’m already imagining what I’d bring if I could go… a YA novel? A middle-grade novel? It would be a dream to work with Jacqueline Woodson… I devoured all of her novels recently in one fell swoop when I was away at a colony, and her writing is so beautiful and brilliant it makes me want to cry. (Also: actually literally cry. Some are sad.)
I keep peeking at this conference. I don’t know too much about it except that it’s at VCFA (and my VCFA MFA envy has reached the rafters by now). It’s called the Postgraduate Writers’ Conference, so it’s for people who already have MFAs, and even better… there’s a young adult workshop (which, I must say, is sorely lacking at these other conferences). I could take a workshop with Cynthia Leitich Smith or Tim Wynne-Jones! And I could pretend I was a VCFA MFA student for a week…
Of course we know where else I’d go in August. I’ve always wanted to go to Bread Loaf, and I got waitlisted once when I was a grad student for that coveted waitership, but never did get a shot to go. Such sadness when they didn’t call. I’ve heard that this is the summer conference, so every summer I look longingly northward toward Vermont, imagining. Besides… oh, to be in Lan Samantha Chang’s workshop… Her novella Hunger slayed me.
And obviously, obviously, I’d return again this summer to the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles. Not because it’s a workshop—it’s not—but because I had such an amazing time last year and met so many amazing people. I can’t afford to go again this year, but I can dream!
So there we have it. My whirlwind fantasy summer. I think you can never focus enough on craft, so there is always room for a new writing workshop in my life.
Though… I mean, really… let’s be serious here. If I could afford to do any one thing in the world? I know what it would be, and it wouldn’t be a workshop: I’d rent an apartment in Paris for a couple weeks—ideally a month!—and go there to write. That’s it. In fact, this is an actual goal of mine and E’s, and I want to make it happen in the next few years. So. Instead of shelling out money for a workshop, I’ll keep it close and whisper to myself whenever I get envious of other writers’ summer extravaganzas: Paris… Paris… Paris… Paris… Paris… One day, you will have Paris. (Or Buenos Aires… considering there, too.)