2016 JURIED WORKSHOPS
Maria Semple is the author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2012) and This One is Mine (2008). She wrote for television before turning to fiction. Her credits include Arrested Development, Ellen, and Mad About You, for which she received a Primetime Emmy nomination. She regularly teaches fiction workshops at the Richard Hugo House, a literary center in Seattle where she lives. Semple grew up in Aspen.
Literary fiction, commercial fiction: a great book is one you can’t put down. How do you make sure your reader is grabbed from the first pages of your novel to the last? It’s all about story. In this class I’ll talk story craft. We’ll read and discuss the opening pages of select novels. We’ll workshop the first ten pages of your novel. It will be an intense and laugh-filled five days that will leave you energized.
Dean Bakopoulos’ first novel, Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon, was a New York Times Notable Book; his second novel, My American Unhappiness was named one of the year’s best novels by The Chicago Tribune, and his latest novel, Summerlong was published to critical acclaim and made the independent bookstore bestseller list. His fiction and essays have appeared in many publications including Zoetrope, Tin House, Virginia Quarterly Review, Real Simple, and the New York Times, and his screenplay of Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon is currently in film production with James Franco/Rabbit Bandini studios. The winner of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Bakopoulos teaches in the Warren Wilson MFA Program and is writer-in-residence at Grinnell College in Iowa, where he lives with his wife and their three children. He is at work on a fourth novel, In the Pines, and a collection of essays, Undoings.
This workshop focuses on expansion and amplification in revision: What are the missed opportunities in your prose (i.e. the turning point you glossed over, the lazy minor character, the scenes left sadly off stage)? On the flipside, I also try to pinpoint drums you beat too loudly and neon lights you might not need. We will focus on credibility and clarity, on movement and momentum, urging each other to find what is truly mythic, magical, and suspenseful about our stories. Each day, I’ll offer brief craft lectures and “digressive” exercises meant to add texture to your existing pages.
Antonya Nelson is the author of four novels, including Bound and seven short story collections, including Funny Once. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker, Esquire, Harper’s, Redbook, and many other magazines, as well as in anthologies such as Prize Stories: the O. Henry Awardsand Best American Short Stories. She is the recipient of the 2009 USA Artists Award, the 2003 Rea Award for Short Fiction, as well as National Endowment for the Arts and Guggenheim Fellowships. She teaches in the Warren Wilson MFA Program, as well as in the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program and lives in Telluride, Colorado and Houston, Texas.
This workshop will be about revision: how to push harder at your premise, your characters, your shape, and the hidden depths your story or novel chapter has not yet quite plumbed. I have a series of revisional paces to put your material through, all in the quest for organic unity (form following function) and bulletproofness. We will read a few published exemplars for inspiration.
A recipient of a National Book Critics Circle Award, the Guggenheim Fellowship, the American Library Association Award, and numerous other prizes, Darin Strauss is a nationally and internationally bestselling author. His books have been New York Times, Newsweek, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly, and NPR Best Books of the Year. He has appeared on Good Morning America, CBS’s The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and NBC News, among many other programs. Strauss recently began a stint as a recurring columnist on faith at Salon, has written screenplays for Disney, Gary Oldman, and Julie Taylor, and currently has a production deal with Sony Pictures Television. He is the Clinical Professor of Fiction at NYU’s creative writing program. His work has been translated into fourteen languages and published in nineteen countries.
Writing is not really I grabbed a snack. Writing is more I pinched in my fingers the hot squish of a french fry. That’s not the whole secret, of course—but it’s a crucial one.
Why would you write The moon is shining when you can describe the glint of light on broken glass? For this example, you can thank Anton Chekhov. (Thank Chekhov for the moonlight, that is; the fried-potato I offer you, gratis.) Chekhov—master of that thoroughbred breed, the short story—once wrote: “Seize on small details… For instance, you’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill-dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star.”
And it’s not just that old, medically-minded Russian who knows this. Jorge Luis Borges believed that modern, realist fiction began on the desk of Geoffrey Chaucer. In fact, Borges tracked this birth to a specific moment: When Chaucer translated an old Italian sentence—“The cardinal with a knife”—as: “The smiler with the knife under his cloak.” Specifics!
Our class will emphasize this kind of shoptalk: how to begin a story, say; how to introduce a character. We’ll take up such impossible questions as, “What is the relationship of plot to sub-plot? How does one hold the reader’s attention?” Of course, in Art, rules must be flexible—but I ask my students to think of writing in strategic terms; each story-telling decision needs to make tactical sense. With that in mind, we’ll examine—with esprit de corps, with lots of panache —the tenets of the craft of fiction.
David Lipsky is a contributing editor at Rolling Stonemagazine. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s magazine, The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Magazine Writing, The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, and many other publications. He contributes as an essayist to NPR’s All Things Considered, he’s taught at Deerfield and Johns Hopkins, and is the recipient of a Lambert Fellowship, a Media Award from GLAAD, and a National Magazine Award. He’s the author of the novel The Art Fair, a collection of stories, Three Thousand Dollars, and the best-selling nonfiction book, Absolutely American, which was a Time magazine Best Book of the Year, and most recently Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace, which was a New York Times bestseller, an NPR Best Book of the Year, and was the basis for the 2015 film The End of the Tour.
We’ll spend the week training ourselves to make our impulses, memories, actions and notions alive for people we’ve never met or seen. We’ll mull advice from people like Lorrie Moore, Nabokov, David Foster Wallace, Joan Didion. (Moore: Writing is not attached to the Chamber of Commerce. . . You need to be prepared to have four friends instead of six. Wallace: [Real-life writing] is honesty with a motive.) We’ll spend a great deal of time in workshop—paragraph by paragraph, line by line, since that’s how the stuff is read, too. And we’ll read some stuff very hard, because every good piece of work is also a behind-the-scene showing how it got written. Zadie Smith said in lecture, “The only absolutely gold-plated 24 karat advice I have to give you: You need to become your work’s reader as well as its writer.” We’ll spend this week doing both.
Rowan Ricardo Phillips
Rowan Ricardo Phillips is the author of Heaven, which was longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award, and The Ground—both published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He is the winner of a 2015 Guggenheim Fellowship, the 2013 Pen/Osterweil Prize for Poetry, a 2013 Whiting Writers’ Award, and the 2013 GLCA New Writers Award for Poetry. His work has appeared in magazines such as the New Yorker, the Paris Review, Poetry, and has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered. An avid soccer fan, he covered the 2014 World Cup for the Paris Review, for which he also writes on basketball and music. He has taught at Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, and Stony Brook University. He divides his time between New York City and Barcelona.
The goal of this workshop is to study how the imagination and sound work together to enhance the subject of their poems. A poem is always about the relationship between its sonic and imaginative parts—this is what convinces the ear that the subject is not only real but important. We will study techniques used by poets across various eras, as well as workshop your own poems extensively, in search of the keenest balance in your work between these three pillars of the art of poetry: sound, subject, and the imagination.
George Hodgman is the author of the memoir, Bettyville, and a veteran editor in books and magazines. He has worked at Simon and Schuster, Henry Holt, Houghton Mifflin, Vanity Fair, and the start-ups of Talk and Details. He has recently been a guest professor in Creative Nonfiction at the University of Missouri.
“Too many conflicting emotional interests are involved for life ever to be wholly acceptable, and possibly it is the work of the storyteller to rearrange things so that they conform to this end,” wrote the late, great William Maxwell.
This distinctive workshop will cover the fundamentals of rearranging things to create a compelling narrative. Pairing peer-to-peer feedback with guidance from a book industry perspective, our intimate group of six participants will share and discuss each manuscript. A complete novel/memoir is necessary for acceptance. Applicants should submit the first 10 pages of their work, plus an author bio, novel/memoir synopsis, and a brief description of what they hope to gain from this session. The total submission should be no more than 15 pages. Aspen Words will be in touch with all applicants via email in early March to request full manuscripts, which will be reviewed before making final decisions on acceptances. The workshop-ready manuscripts will be collected in late April.
BEGINNING WRITING (non-juried)
Alissa Nutting is the author of the short story collection Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls, selected by judge Ben Marcus as winner of the 6th Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction, and the novel, Tampa, (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2013). A new novel is forthcoming from Ecco in early 2017. Her writing has appeared in Tin House, Fence, BOMB, Elle, The New York Times, Conduit, and O: The Oprah Magazine, as well as the fairy tale anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me. She holds and MFA from the University of Alabama, and a PhD from the University of Nevada Las Vegas. She is currently at work on two television pilots and teaches in UNLV’s MFA Program in Creative Writing, housed at the Black Mountain Institute, and is currently a visiting writer at Grinnell College in Iowa.
Ann Hood is the author of fifteen books, including the best-selling novels, The Knitting Circle and The Obituary Writer, and most recently, An Italian Wife. Her acclaimed memoir, Comfort: A Journey Through Grief, explores her path toward healing after the loss of her five-year-old daughter Grace. Comfort was named one of the top ten non-fiction books of 2008 by Entertainment Weekly. Her essays and short stories have been published in the Paris Review, Ploughshares, Tin House, and on the New York Times Op-Ed page, and have been anthologized in Best American Food Writing, Best American Travel Writing, and Best American Spiritual Writing Awards. The winner of two Pushcart Prizes and the Paul Bowles Prize for Short Fiction, Hood is also the editor of Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting and teaches in the MFA in Creative Writing program at The New School in New York City.
Denis Johnson said: “Write naked. Write in exile. Write in blood.” What did he mean? Should we be doing this too? We will explore this idea as it relates to your writing. I hope you’re willing to go there.
Leigh Haber is Books Editor for O, the Oprah Magazine, where she curates books coverage, overseeing the Reading Room section and working with Ms.Winfrey on the Oprah Book Club. She was for many years a book editor, working with such authors as Al Gore, Candace Bushnell, Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor, Steve Martin, Jacqueline Novogratz, Laurie Garrett, and many others. Prior to becoming an editor, she was a publicity director in book publishing, managing PR campaigns for Umberto Eco, Charles Simic, Mark Helprin, Micky Mantle, Helen Hayes, and Bette Davis. Immediately prior to coming to work at O in 2012, she worked on a variety of startup projects and as a consultant for Blurb and for Chronicle Books. She is the mother of two grown sons and lives in Maplewood, New Jersey.
Leigh will guide participants through 3 mornings of lively discussion around fiction and nonfiction work by strong women writers taking on highly charged, hot-button issues. The women at the center of her selections are united in their attempts to navigate a host of fresh-off-your-Twitter-feed issues including but not limited to sexism, sizeism, public exhibitionism, boring boyfriends, violent boyfriends, cocaine, the internet, date rape, family secrets, judicial corruption, writer’s block, hookup culture, and Eastern European sex slavery. In genres ranging from memoir to crime thriller to short fiction, the scenes—even those that, on the face of it, seem far-fetched—are achingly familiar and all too real.