2017 Faculty + Workshop Descriptions



Fiction: Ben Fountain, Hannah Tinti, Jess Walter

Memoir: Dani Shapiro, Saïd Sayrafiezadeh

Poetry: Jericho Brown

Book Editing: George Hodgman



Beginning Writing: Jane Hamilton, Chinelo Okparanta

Readers’ Retreat: Carole DeSanti


Ben Fountain

Ben Fountain’s novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk won the National Book Critics’ Circle Award, the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Award, and the L.A. Times Book Prize, and was a finalist for the National Book Award. Ang Lee directed the film adaptation of Billy Lynn, which was released in November 2016 and starts Steve Martin, Vin Diesel, Kristen Stewart, and Chris Tucker. Fountain is also the author of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara (Stories), which won the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Barnes & Noble Discover Award for Fiction, and a Whiting Writer’s Award.

Course Description

Desperate writers: those of us who write because we have to, we don’t have a choice. As opposed to “Sunday writers” (as in, Sunday painters). Each day there will be brief “lectures” on plot, character, dialogue, and other basic stuff, along with discussion on how writers might get their work done in America without going crazy (though sanity is probably overrated). Writing exercises will be on the menu, nothing too onerous, along with hikes (figurative) deep into the weeds.

Hannah Tinti

Hannah Tinti is a writer, editor and teacher. Her short story collection Animal Crackers was a runner-up for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her bestselling novel The Good Thief won the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, an American Library Association Alex Award, and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. In 2002, Tinti co- founded the award-winning literary magazine One Story, and for the past fourteen years has been its editor-in-chief. She teaches creative writing at New York University’s MFA Program and the Sirenland Writers Conference in Positano, Italy, which she co-founded with Dani Shapiro, Michael Maren, and Antonio Sersale. Her new novel, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, has been optioned for television and will be published in March 2017 by the Dial Press.

Course Description

This workshop will explore fun, creative ways to bring more to the page and deepen your writing experience. Our class will touch on the most important elements of storytelling–character, plot, structure, setting, dialogue, description, as well as beginnings and endings, with the goal of helping each author communicate more effectively with their audience. Each day will consist of mini-craft lectures, innovative writing exercises, and close-readings, giving each student a personalized experience and a list of focus points to bring their writing to the next level.

Jess Walter

Jess Walter is the author of eight books. His 2012 novel Beautiful Ruinsspent more than a year on the New York Times bestseller list, five weeks at #1. He was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award for The Zero and won the 2005 Edgar Allan Poe award for Citizen Vince. He’s been a finalist for the PEN/USA Literary Prize in fiction and nonfiction, a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize, and twice won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award. His most recent book, the short story collection, We Live in Water, was long-listed for the Story Prize and the Frank O’Connor International Story Prize and won the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award. His books have been published in 32 languages and his short fiction has appeared twice in Best American Short Stories, in Harpers, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Esquire and many others. He lives in Spokane, Washington, with his family.

Course Description

“All Happy Families: Beginning a novel or short story.” The beginning is the most important part of any piece of writing; the DNA of any piece is contained in its first pages. We’ll talk about structure and style and voice and strategies for launching a story and keeping it afloat.


Saïd Sayrafiezadeh

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh is the author of Brief Encounters with the Enemy, which was shortlisted for the 2014 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Fiction Prize, and the critically acclaimed memoir When Skateboards Will Be Free. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Granta, McSweeney’s, The New York Times and The Best American Nonrequired Reading, among other publications. He is the recipient of a 2010 Whiting Writers’ Award for nonfiction and a 2012 fiction fellowship from the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. He lives in New York City and teaches creative writing at Hunter College and New York University, where he received a 2013 Outstanding Teaching Award.

Course Description

“The real is imagined and the imagined is real.”
—Colum McCann (paraphrasing someone else)

This workshop will examine the necessary intersection between fiction and memoir. Fiction, in this instance, does not imply mendacity, but rather traditional storytelling elements. In other words, what elements can we appropriate from the art of fiction when crafting our own memoir, and what, if anything, must we discard? By reading, writing, discussing and analyzing short works of fiction, we’ll practice exercising the creative muscle that sees ourselves as characters and our lives as stories worthy of being told. We’ll also look at film, song, plays, poems, memoir, newspaper articles and anything else that employs storytelling elements. The goal is for us to become aware of the “audience” when we write, so that the experience of documenting our lives begins to resemble that of a “performance” placed on paper.

Dani Shapiro

Dani Shapiro is the bestselling author of three memoirs: Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, Devotion, and Slow Motion; and five novels including Black & White and Family History. Her latest memoir, Hourglass, will be published in April 2017. Shapiro’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Tin House, One Story, Elle, New York Times Book ReviewLos Angeles Times, and has been broadcast on “This American Life.” Her recent essays on the lures and dangers of the internet and social media have stirred up controversy and gone viral, and are now being taught in many universities. She is co-founder of the Sirenland Writers Conference in Positano, Italy and a contributing editor at Condé Nast Traveler.

Course Description

To write a memoir is to tell a story honed and chiseled from the material of your memory.  This story might center around an event, a relationship, a year, a journey, an illness, a grieving process, an addiction, or some other aspect of your life, but it’s crucial to remember that memoir is not journaling, it’s not confession, it’s not spilling the beans (in the words of Annie Dillard, you may not let it rip) but rather, it’s an attempt to make meaning, to make sense, of whatever it is that has happened.  In a safe and discerning environment, we will read one another’s work and ask questions of it.  What is the story trying to tell?  Where does it hold our interest?  Where does it seem to be hiding from itself?  Participants in this workshop will come away inspired, full of courage, and with a strong sense of how to move forward in their work.


Jericho Brown

Jericho Brown is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, and the National Endowment for the Arts.  His poems have appeared in The New York TimesThe New YorkerThe New RepublicBuzzfeed, and The Pushcart Prize Anthology.  His first book, Please (New Issues 2008), won the American Book Award, and his second book, The New Testament (Copper Canyon 2014), won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was named one of the best of the year by Library JournalColdfront, and the Academy of American Poets.  He is an associate professor of English and creative writing at Emory University.

Course Description

This workshop has as its foremost feature the writing and critiquing of poems by students.  Students will make use of poetic terms and learn more about the work of major American poets as we engender in one another new ideas about writing.  As there is a profound relationship between reading poetry and writing it, we will read, discuss, and even recite the work of several poets whose example might lead us to a further honing of our craft. We will read each other’s work, giving and receiving the kind of feedback that binds any community of poets


George Hodgman

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.

Course Description

“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 or memoir is necessary for acceptance. Applicants should submit the first 10 pages of their work, plus an author bio, book 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.


Chinelo Okparanta

Chinelo Okparanta is the author of Under the Udala Trees (2015) and Happiness, Like Water (2013). One of Granta’s six New Voices for 2012, she was a finalist for the 2014 Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative and was short-listed for the 2013 Caine Prize in African Writing. She is a 2014 O. Henry Award winner, a 2016 Jessie Redmon Fauset Fiction Book Award Winner, as well as a two-time Lambda Literary Award winner for Lesbian Fiction. Her work was nominated for the 2016 NAACP Image Awards in Fiction as well as for the 2016 Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award in Fiction. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Tin House, and The Kenyon Review, among others.

Course Description

A house has different parts–rooms, doors, closets, windows, and such. A story is like a house. What are its parts? How do we walk seamlessly from one part to another? Are we slammed in the face by a misplaced door or cupboard or window, or does the door or cupboard or window open seamlessly for us to enter? Are there empty rooms or corridors that lead nowhere? Are there rooms too big to be functional? In this course, we will map out stories much in the way that floorplans map out houses.


Jane Hamilton

Jane Hamilton’s novels have won literary prizes, been made into films, and become international bestsellers; and two of them, The Book of Ruth and A Map of the World, were selections of Oprah’s Book Club. Her nonfiction has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Allure, O: The Oprah Magazine, Elle, and various anthologies. She’s married to an apple farmer and lives in Wisconsin.

Course Description

In this workshop we’ll wrestle with various questions including: how do you get started? What do you need to know before you start typing? How do you create credible characters and settings, how do you decide what to include and leave out, and when do you clue the reader in that a bomb is ticking?   What if you have everything you need except…a plot? What if you have a plot but nothing else? What do you want out of a narrative? How do you end a story? Can the act of writing be playful and fun? In short: we’ll talk about all the essentials of good writing, do many in-class exercises (playful and fun); and, there may be some homework, with the goal to generate material that will start you on your way.


Course Description

This readers’ session will explore the Neapolitan novels* of Elena Ferrante, their enormous resonance for readers, and examine why and how this quartet of books (and their pseudonymous author) has turned reading and our current notions of “authorship” on its head.  We will look at the issues involved in the profound, complex lifelong friendship between two women that forms the spine of the novels;  along with class and social identity/struggle; the forging and blurring of boundaries that is one of  Ferrante’s themes; the construction of a writer’s voice and identity, and the job of finding and rendering truth that is the signature of her work.

Carole DeSanti is Vice President, Executive Editor at Viking Penguin, where she is known as a champion  of outstanding, original voices.  Her publishing credits include Dorothy Allison’s  contemporary classic Bastard out of Carolina, Booker Prize Finalist Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being,  Melissa Bank’s Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics, George Hodgman’s award-winning memoir Bettyville, and the  novels of Terry McMillan and Deborah Harkness.  DeSanti is the author of critically acclaimed novel of 19th century Paris, The Unruly Passions of Eugénie R, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2012.   She has been profiled in Poets & Writers’ Magazine, published in the Women’s Review of Books, the Guardian and The New York Times and received fellowships at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center and Hedgebrook.