2020 Faculty + Workshop Descriptions


Fiction: Christopher Castellani; Christina Baker Kline; Lan Samantha Chang

Memoir: Claire Bidwell Smith

Poetry: Yolanda Wisher

Personal Essay: Steve Almond

Book Editing: Aran Shetterly


*Non-juried workshops were canceled due to Covid-19


Christopher Castellani

Christopher Castellani‘s fourth novel, “Leading Men”—for which he received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the MacDowell Colony — was published in 2019. “Leading Men” was featured in Publishers Weekly, People, Entertainment Weekly, Interview, The Washington Post and was an Editors’ Choice of The New York Times. His collection of essays on point of view in fiction, “The Art of Perspective,” was published in 2016. Castellani is on the fiction faculty of the Warren Wilson MFA Program and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. He lives in Boston, where he is artistic director of GrubStreet, the country’s largest and leading independent center for creative writing.

Course Description

The Strategic Writer – In this workshop, your manuscripts will be our primary texts. Together, we will examine them through the lens of craft – character development, plot, structure, point of view – with the goal of revising them into the best versions of themselves. At the core of our conversation will be the concept of narrative strategy: the set of organizing principles that form and inform how your story is being told and who is telling it. Along the way, we will read published stories and novel excerpts that illustrate a wide range of narrative strategies. We will leave time for “shop talk” about publishing as well as some generative writing exercises. The goal is for you to leave Aspen with new words as well as new directions in which to take the words you brought.

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.

Christina Baker Kline

Christina Baker Kline is a No. 1 New York Times best-selling author of eight novels, including “Orphan Train,” “A Piece of the World” and “Tin Ticket,” and published in 40 countries. Her novels have been awarded the New England Prize for Fiction, the Maine Literary Award and a Barnes & Noble Discover Award, among other accolades, and have been chosen by hundreds of communities, universities and schools as One Book, One Read selections.

A resident of New York City and Southwest Harbor, Maine, Kline serves on the advisory boards of the Center for Fiction (NYC), the Jesup Library (Bar Harbor, ME), the Montclair Literary Festival (NJ), the Kauai Writers Festival (HI) and Roots & Wings (NJ), and on the gala committees of The Authors Guild (NYC) and Friends of Acadia (ME). She is an Artist-Mentor in the Studio Duke creative arts mentorship program at Duke University. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, LitHub, Psychology Today, Poets & Writers and Salon, among other places. Her new novel, “Tin Ticket,” which tackles the subject of Australia’s complicated convict history, will be published in September 2020.

Course Description

What are the sources of ideas? What is the role of the imagination? How does point of view determine a narrative? In what ways does fiction writing draw upon, and differ from, memoir? In this workshop we will explore these and other questions that are fundamental to fiction writing. Along the way, we’ll stop to examine various aspects of craft such as character, setting, theme, style, dialogue, plot and pacing in your own writings as well as in selected readings. While the main focus is student manuscript critiques, we will also leave time for some in-class writing and a discussion of real-world writing-life strategies. We will meet as a group as well as in one-on-one conferences.

Lan Samantha Chang

Lan Samantha Chang is the author of two novels, “All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost” and “Inheritance,” and a story collection, “Hunger.” Samantha’s short stories have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Ploughshares, and “The Best American Short Stories.” She has received fellowships from the American Library in Paris, the Radcliffe Institute, the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. She lives in Iowa City, Iowa, where she is Elizabeth M. Stanley Professor of the Arts and director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa.

Course Description

In this workshop, we will create a rigorous and positive community in which each writer’s fiction is discussed on its own terms. We’ll emphasize the unique style and subject of each project, and we’ll build a conversation that seeks to bring each project to the next level. Students will contribute a story or novel chapter for class discussion and will be asked to constructively and thoroughly examine one another’s efforts. In addition, we will explore the fiction of writers such as Alice Munro, Edward P. Jones, Stuart Dybek and Deborah Eisenberg.


Claire Bidwell Smith

Claire Bidwell Smith is the author of three books of nonfiction: “The Rules of Inheritance,” “After This: When Life Is Over Where Do We Go?” and “Anxiety: The Missing Stage of Grief.” “The Rules of Inheritance”, a coming-of-age memoir about grief, was a Books for a Better Life nominee, a Barnes & Noble Discover pick, has been published in 18 countries and is currently being adapted for film. Claire has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Salon.com, Slate, Chicago Public Radio, The Guardian, Psychology Today, Yoga Journal and BlackBook Magazine. Claire was a therapist in private practice for 10 years and now speaks and writes regularly on grief.

Course Description

Memoir is a balancing act of personal and universal, truth and memory, past and present. How do you find your voice, construct a story arc, grapple with memory, and satisfy the reader? We will explore all of this and even more, while also moving through a series of craft exercises meant to inspire your writing and tease out the most compelling personal narrative. In addition to group workshops there will be one-on-one conferences with each student. The goal of the entire workshop will be to leave you with a much clearer idea of how to move forward with your memoir.


Yolanda Wisher

Philadelphia-based poet Yolanda Wisher is the author of “Monk Eats an Afro” and the co-editor of “Peace is a Haiku Song.” Wisher was named the inaugural poet laureate of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, in 1999 and the third poet laureate of Philadelphia in 2016. A Pew and Cave Canem Fellow, she has been a writer in residence at Hedgebrook and Aspen Words. Wisher taught high school English for a decade, served as director of art education for Philadelphia Mural Arts and was the 2017-2018 CPCW Fellow in Poetics and Poetic Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. Wisher founded and directed the Germantown Poetry and Outbound Poetry festivals and currently works as the curator of Spoken Word at Philadelphia Contemporary. She regularly performs a unique blend of poetry and song with her band The Afroeaters and is part of the first cohort of artists with studios at the Cherry Street Pier on the Delaware River Waterfront.

Course Description

Room for Error: A Poetry Workshop for Makers – Mistinguette Smith writes that “making things requires us to learn about the strength of our individual capacity and also what we cannot do alone.” Each day of this course we will gather to make or consider something that is not a poem and let it lead us to writing a poem. Welcoming slip-ups and missteps, we will use other forms of art and expression to get unstuck, out of our own boxes and comfort zones, and to the root of our unique rhythms as artists. With directed journaling and freewriting, we’ll explore our individual processes of creation, deepening our awareness of the ways our minds work (or don’t work) to make poems. We will also read and discuss a selection of poems informed by interdisciplinary modes of creation. Through daily play interwoven with manuscript critiques, we’ll uncover surprising things about our approach to design and composition as poets.


Steve Almond

Steve Almond is the author of 11 books of fiction and nonfiction, including the New York Times best-sellers “Candyfreak” and “Against Football.” His most recent book, “William Stoner and the Battle for the Inner Life,” was published in 2019. His short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies, including the Best American Short Stories, the Pushcart Prize, the Best American Mysteries and Best American Erotica. His essays have appeared in The New York Times Magazine and elsewhere. Almond teaches at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism and Wesleyan University and lives outside Boston with his wife, three children and considerable anxiety.

Course Description

The personal essay begins not in assurance, but in doubt. The writer is struggling to make sense of the world—the world inside and around herself. The question is how to remain humble within that struggle, while also being fearless in pursuit of the truth. Our workshop will combine a vigorous discussion of student manuscripts with short craft talks, readings and in-class writing exercises. We’ll talk about obsession, rage, the comic impulse and other engines of creativity. And we’ll discuss how to make your writing life sustainable, especially in the face of doubt. The idea is to get real about the work and have a great time. Come ready to rock and roll and write.


Aran Shetterly

Aran Shetterly is the author of the narrative nonfiction book “The Americano: Fighting with Castro for Cuba’s Freedom,” now in development for a TV series. He’s working on a book about the 1979 Greensboro Massacre, which is under contract with Harper Collins (2021) and is supported by fellowships from Virginia Humanities and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Previously he founded an English language magazine in Mexico (with his wife, the writer Margot Lee Shetterly), and has helped numerous writers in various genres hone manuscripts for agents and publishers.

Course Description

“The writer begins in a state of chaos and works herself toward form and clarity.” -Paul Hendrickson
This workshop, for writers with completed manuscripts (fiction, narrative nonfiction, memoir) will focus on the art of storytelling. Emphasis will be less on what isn’t working than on helping each other see what can be done to make a story better, sharper and more effective for the appropriate audience. Editing is a skill. So is understanding what an editor wants and how to work with her/him. This workshop aims not only to help writers improve their submitted work, but to make the experience of being edited less opaque, more efficient, successful and even, perhaps, enjoyable.