2019 Faculty + Workshop Descriptions


Fiction: Rumaan Alam, Tom Barbash, Susan Minot

Memoir: Nick Flynn, Heather Harpham

Poetry: Tina Chang

Personal Essay: Meghan Daum

Book Editing: Laura Fraser



Non-juried Fiction Writing: Samrat Upadhyay

Readers Retreat (3 days only): Peter McBride


Rumaan Alam

Rumaan Alam is the author of the novels “Rich and Pretty” and “That Kind of Mother.” His short fiction has appeared in Crazyhorse, the Gettysburg Review, StoryQuarterly, and elsewhere. Other writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Elle, Buzzfeed, and the New Yorker.

Course Description

Writers are readers. In our workshop we’ll focus on reading the writers who know what they’re doing — Laurie Colwin and Lorrie Moore, Patrick Modiano and Anita Brookner, Norman Rush and Louise Erdrich — and try to learn from them some lesson about dialogue, or character, or humor, or how to render the passage of time. But most importantly: we’ll read one another’s work, thoughtfully, respectfully, and deeply. Together, we’ll try to figure out the building blocks of fiction, but we’ll leave room for the idiosyncrasies of style and the demands of our individual projects. Whether or not writing can be taught is an open question; but it can be fostered, in a workshop environment that is rigorous but not joyless, serious but still fun. The goal is to leave this week with great work and real insight into our work and ourselves.

Tom Barbash

Tom Barbash is the author of four books as well as reviews, essays, and articles for publications such as McSweeney’s, Tin House, the Believer, Narrative Magazine, Zyzzyva, and The New York Times. His short story collection “Stay Up With Me” was nominated for the Folio Prize and picked as a Best Book of the Year by the Independent of London, NPR, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the San Jose Mercury News. His novel “The Last Good Chance” was awarded The California Book Award and was a Publishers Weekly and Anniston Star Best Book of the Year. His nonfiction book “On Top of the World,” about the horrific fate of the bond firm Cantor Fitzgerald on 9/11, was a New York Times best-seller and landed him on the Today Show and Larry King Live. A well-regarded speaker, panelist and interviewer, Barbash teaches the novel, short fiction and nonfiction at California College of the Arts. His most recent book, the novel “The Dakota Winters” came out in December 2018, and will be published next year in England, France, Canada and Germany.

Course Description

The best workshops are rigorous, supportive communities that can change everything for the better in a writer’s life. It’s where writers take risks, share ideas and help one another out of narrative ditches. In this workshop, students will put stories or novel chapters up for class discussion, and be asked to constructively and thoroughly examine one another’s efforts. In addition, we will read the work of published writers such as Teddy Wayne, Mary Gaitskill, Marlon James and A.M. Homes and will discuss the ways in which these writers move us on the page. We will also try and have a lot of fun along the way.

Susan Minot

Susan Minot is the author of the novels “Monkeys,” which was published in a dozen countries and won the 1987 Prix Femina Étranger in France;  “Folly”;  “Evening”;  “Rapture”; and “Thirty Girls.” She’s written two collections: “Lust & Other Stories” and “Poems 4 AM.”  Her work has been included in numerous anthologies, including The O. Henry Awards and “Best American Short Stories” and she’s written essays and travel stories for a wide variety of magazines and journals.  She wrote the screenplay for Bernardo Bertolucci’s “Stealing Beauty,” and her novel was made into the film “Evening.” Last summer her first play “On Island” was performed in North Haven, Maine. She also paints and makes photo collages. She grew up in Manchester-by-the Sea, Massachusetts and now lives in NYC with her daughter where she teaches in the graduate writing program at Stony Brook University.  Her last name is pronounced Mine-it.

Course Description

Focus in this workshop will be on the building blocks of fiction: the sentences themselves.  Whether the short story or the novel, the important thing in all writing is clarity of form and velocity of content.  In class discussions of student fiction, editorial feedback will assist students in learning the value of drafts in order to strengthen and focus the material of his or her concern.  We will read a few outside short stories to study the masters.  Attention to refinement of each individual style as well as to discovering the content best suited to each writer, and the best form to show it, will move toward the goal of locating and best expressing one’s own material to share with the world.

Check out Why Go to Summer Words by Townsend Walker, a past participant in several fiction workshops at Summer Words.


Nick Flynn

Nick Flynn has worked as a ship’s captain, an electrician, and as a case-worker with homeless adults. In 2019 he will publish two new books: “Stay” (Ze Books), which represents twenty-five years of collaborations & writings; as well as “I Will Destroy You” (Graywolf), a new collection of poems. Flynn’s film credits include executive producer and artistic collaborator on “Being Flynn” (Focus Features, 2012), the film version of his memoir “Another Bullshit Night in Suck City.” Currently he is a professor on the Creative Writing Faculty at the University of Houston, where he is in residence each spring. His work has been translated into fifteen languages.

Course Description

Frost would sometimes say at his readings that “poems are about what you don’t mean as well as what you do mean.” In our week together I would like to examine this idea by thinking about the concept of “bewilderment” and how it gets acted out in our writing—either through syntax, our accessing the duende, leaps into the unconscious, or simply circling around what is unsaid, unknown, unrealized. Or, as Aristotle puts it, “The mind in the act of making a mistake. . .” We will look for those moments we begin to stutter and stumble when talking about our writing, or in the writing itself, for this is the threshold beyond which is unknown, beyond which is the white space on the map. Over the course of this workshop we will look closely at the work you have brought in and find ways to push a little deeper into this shadow world.

Heather Harpham

Heather Harpham is a writer, teacher and theater artist whose fiction, essays and reviews have appeared in The Gaurdian, Slate, Parents, More Magazine, Water~Stone Review and Red Magazine in the U.K. Her debut book, a memoir titled “Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After,” came out in paperback in November, 2018. “Happiness” was a Barnes & Noble’s Discover Great New Writers Series selection, an Indie Next pick, and was chosen for the Reese Witherspoon Bookclub. Harpham’s writing for the stage includes six solo plays, the most recent of which, “Happiness” and “BURNING,” toured nationally and were produced in Kathmandu, Nepal. Harpham’s work has been recognized with the Brenda Ueland Prose Prize, a Marin Arts Council Independent Artist Grant, support from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund for Women and a New York Innovative Theater Award nomination. Harpham has taught as a guest artist at colleges and universities throughout the U.S. and in Europe. Originally from Northern California, she now lives in New York, a short walk from the Hudson River, with her family.

Course Description

All memoir is, like fiction, an act of invention and creative will. Our work together will focus on those issues most pressing for the memoir writer: how to craft a clear narrative arc out of the miasma of lived experience; how to balance points of view so that the writer’s perspective is not the sole lens through which the reader apprehends events; how to invoke the senses in service of a multidimensional reality; and finally how to make a singular story unique, detailed and “true” enough to resonate with a diverse community of readers. Our specific tasks will include looking closely at the blueprint embedded in every story’s beginning and at dialogue as a powerful narrative engine. Finally, we’ll borrow some of the conventions of writing for the stage–i.e., the ability to create immediacy, intimacy and high stakes–and redeploy them as tools for the memoirist.


Tina Chang

Tina Chang was raised in New York City. She is the first female to be named Poet Laureate of Brooklyn and is the author of the collections of poetry “Hybrida” (2019), “Of Gods & Strangers” (2011), and “Half-Lit Houses” (2004). She is also the co-editor of the W.W. Norton anthology “Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond” (2008). She is the recipient of awards from the New York Foundation for the Arts, Academy of American Poets, Poets & Writers, the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, and the Van Lier Foundation among others. She teaches poetry at Sarah Lawrence College and she is also a member of the international writing faculty at the City University of Hong Kong.

Course Description

We are each a vessel of fire; we are beings of limitless urgency, emotion, wilderness. How do we create poems from the raw material of life and apply the discipline needed to make lasting art? In this class we examine poets who embrace lyricism, incantation, song, duende, and material so compelling that we cannot turn away. Though one can certainly view poems as well oiled machines to perfect and hone, we might also view poems as living, breathing beings that require creation, motion, resuscitation, heartbeat and the unmistakable leap. In this class we will examine contemporary poems that hold a mysterious influence over the reader as they combine the necessary elements that each writer needs: risk and rigor. In these poems, we are immediately under the moments’ influence as we are asked to walk into each impassioned dwelling. Classes will be comprised of heartfelt discussion, poetic experiments, wild meanderings, and student critique in order to understand future possibilities for one’s own poems. Writing is generated each day and communal support is provided to move the artistic life forward.


Meghan Daum

Meghan Daum is the author of four books, most recently the collection of original essays “The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion, which won the 2015 PEN Center USA Award for creative nonfiction. She is also the editor of the New York Times best-seller “Selfish, Shallow & Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers  on the Decision Not To Have Kids.” The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an NEA grant, Meghan was an opinion columnist at The Los Angeles Times for more than a decade and has also written for numerous magazines, including The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, and Vogue.

Course Description

How is the personal essay different from memoir? How do we write from a personal perspective without veering into solipsism or confession? How do we incorporate techniques like reporting, criticism, and even humor and satire into the personal essay and still preserve the essay’s essential form and function? These questions and more will be addressed in this Personal Essay workshop, which will combine discussion of student manuscripts with short reading assignments, in-class writing exercises, and wide-ranging conversations about craft, the business of getting published, and the particular challenges of maintaining creative and intellectual integrity in this complicated cultural moment. Please bring a rigorous yet open mind, a generous spirit and a sense of humor.


Laura Fraser

Laura Fraser is the author of the New York Times-bestselling memoir “An Italian Affair,” as well as two other non-fiction books. She has taught writing for many years, mainly at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, but also at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, Stanford Continuing Studies, and Aspen Summer Words. She has worked with numerous writers to help edit and develop their books from idea to publication. She’s also hired outside editors to help her shape her own books. As co-founder and Editorial Director of Shebooks.net, Laura acquired and edited 75 short books by women authors. Laura is a 4th-generation Coloradan whose great-grandfather was Aspen’s town doctor; she currently lives in San Francisco.

Course Description

When you’re immersed in writing a book, it’s often hard to step back and see the stakes, structure, and story. That’s why you need an editor. In this intimate workshop with six participants, we will look at how to pare down your book to get at its essential and most compelling story. Whether the work needs line editing, narrative tweaks, or a structural overhaul, we’ll use constructive peer and expert feedback to bring out your best book.

This workshop is limited to 6 participants. For the preliminary application, writers will be asked to submit the first 10 pages of their book, plus an author bio, book synopsis, and author statement about what they hope to gain from this workshop. The total submission should be no more than 15 pages. If your manuscript is chosen as one of the top-ten submitted manuscripts by our jury, you will be asked to submit 150 which will be reviewed before making final decisions on acceptances. The additional 150 pages will be requested on March 25th. The workshop-ready full manuscripts will be collected in late April. Review the manuscript guidelines.

Check out “A Day (or Five) in the Life of a Book Editing Workshop Participant” by 2018 attendee Kristin Carlson.

Listen to a podcast featuring Laura Fraser speaking with fellow Summer Words faculty member Tom Barbash about his new novel, “The Dakota Winters,” and his other work.


Samrat Upadhyay

Samrat Upadhyay was born and raised in Nepal. His short story collection, “Mad Country,” was a finalist for the 2018 Aspen Words Literary Prize. His other books include “The City Son,” which was shortlisted for a PEN Open Book Award; “Arresting God in Kathmandu,” winner of the Whiting Award; “The Royal Ghost”; “The Guru of Love,” a New York Times Notable Book and a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year; and “Buddha’s Orphans.” He has written for The New York Times and has appeared on BBC Radio and National Public Radio. Upadhyay teaches in the creative writing program at Indiana University.

Course Description

Want to learn how to tell a good story? This course is an excellent place to start. Over the span of five days we will delve into some basic aspects of fiction–character, setting, scene, summary, and dialog–by studying them as well as writing them. We will also read and discuss samples from published writers for inspiration and to study their methods. Each day will be filled with in-class writing, sharing, conversations about craft, and plenty of good vibes. Each of us will produce a short story by the end of the week. 

To learn more about the workshop experience, check out Tales of a Non-Juried Writing Workshop Participant, by a 2018 Summer Words attendee.


Pete McBride

Pete McBride is a self-taught, award-winning photographer, writer and filmmaker. He has traveled on assignment to over 75 countries for National Geographic, Smithsonian, Outside, Esquire, Microsoft, The Nature Conservancy, among many others. After a decade working abroad and completing a Knight fellowship for journalism at Stanford University, McBride began documenting the Colorado River, culminating in an acclaimed book, “The Colorado River: Flowing Through Conflict,” and a series of short films, “Chasing Water,” “I AM RED” and “Delta Dawn.” His work as a photographer, writer and filmmaker has garnered awards from the Banff Mountain Film Festival, North American Society of Journalists and Lowell Thomas Travel Writing. McBride’s most recent book, “The Grand Canyon: Between River and Rim,” documents his experience hiking the entire 750 miles of Grand Canyon National Park. His documentary about the journey, titled “Into the Canyon,” premiered in February 2019.

Course Description

The award-winning photographer, writer and filmmaker will lead three mornings of discussion of a curated selection of great travel writing from Kevin Fedarko, Nick Paumgarten, Tim Cahill and other authors. Through lively, informative discussions, participants will explore story techniques, purpose and craft. Pete will share insights about how final products arise under often less-than-ideal scenarios and how unexpected turns in the storytelling process can create the “magic” in the end.