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Yale Writers' Workshop 2020 Course Descriptions

Session I

In Session I writers will participate in workshops, lectures, individual conferences and readings intended to broaden their understanding of the craft of writing. Visiting faculty will deliver craft talks to all workshop participants. And because we write to be read, in Session I we will have panels of agents and editors to provide insight into the publishing process and the realities of the writer’s life.

Session II

Session II is intended for writers concentrating in a specific genre. Over four days, participants will meet in a seminar with fellow writers, led by a faculty member established in the field. The seminar will include exercises and readings as well as discussion of student work. During the session, faculty will hold half-hour, one-to-one meetings with participants.

Alumni Workshop: Work-in-Progress Intensive

Offered for YWW alumni only, this 10-day workshop allows alumni to work with an instructor on a work in progress.


Sybil Baker

In addition to workshopping each participant’s story or novel excerpt, we will also have mini-craft sessions, where we work on and discuss issues such as reading like a writer, dialogue, scene building, as well as short story and novel structure and development. We’ll also work on writing exercises and revision strategies to take with you after you leave YWW. Short stories and novel excerpts are welcome.

Kirsten Bakis

Work-In-Progress Intensive. This unique ten-day workshop is designed for writers working on book-length material. The fiction workshop will be taught by YWW faculty member Kirsten Bakis. This cohort of just eight writers will meet and write for ten days next June. (You are in New Haven for both sessions.) This program is open to YWW alumni only. In Session I writers will critique 7000 words from their fellow writers’ manuscripts. Exercises and readings will be assigned prior to arrival. Session II will be generative, a mini-retreat if you will, with writers developing new material. The cohort will meet to discuss progress, and strategies to completing confident first drafts.

Julie Buntin

This intensive workshop will help writers discover and refine their literary voice. When crafting prose, writers have a wildly broad spectrum of stylistic possibilities. But whether your style is traditional, experimental, or somewhere in between, prose must engage and surprise the reader on a narrative level. In addition to daily workshops, we will look at a range of published stories that showcase the twin prose engines of narrative and style. We'll discuss how to make each participant's own distinct style shine through while simultaneously considering how to integrate that style with the narrative. Writers will leave with concrete revision and self-editing strategies, a more developed sense of what makes their writing unique, and—thanks to our in-class writing exercises and workshop discussions—a stronger foundation for their future work.

Jotham Burrello

Read, Workshop, Revise, Repeat. The classroom is our lab to experiment and take risks on the page. In this seminar writers will complete assigned reading prior to conference. In New Haven we’ll establish a supportive environment, and together we’ll workshop stories in the first three sessions and then dedicate time to revision exercises, reading work, journaling and discussion of craft. Expect to write during the conference. Writers will leave with a revision strategy for their manuscript or novel excerpt, and a full toolbox of ideas and techniques to help write the next story.

Trey Ellis

This intensive fiction workshop takes place in five, three-hour sessions over six days. The workshop days consist of a mix of craft talks on a variety of subjects: character, dialogue, plot, etc., along with daily group critiquing of the student work. In the days in-between, students will write and have scheduled office hours with the professor.

Lisa Page

“Everything comes from language. Plot is a juvenile idea.” Colum McCann.  
Language is the engine that drives the literary train. This fiction workshop will emphasize voice, persona, style, dialogue, tone and setting. It will also focus on narrative arc because, while plot may be a “juvenile idea,” it’s also a necessary one. This workshop will embrace novels-in-progress, short stories and flash fiction. It will also incorporate writing exercises designed to generate new work.

Rebecca Schiff

This workshop will emphasize the role of language in crafting compelling fiction. We’ll ask questions about word choice, sentence rhythm, and sonic properties, and discuss whether those elements are doing the work they need to do to make a piece come alive. From there, we’ll investigate tone, character, momentum, and story. Students will come away from this workshop with a deeper understanding of how much their sentences matter and new ways of thinking about revision.

Non Fiction

Mary Collins

How do you write about people you know? How do you mine your own personal life for stories and insights that will engage the average reader? This seminar will explore the challenges unique to the personal essay and memoir with a special focus on voice, creative angles, emotional depth, experimental structures, and good storytelling. Writers will complete assigned readings prior to the conference that showcase a range of forms and styles from the personal essay to the lyric essay. The workshop itself will be a blend of rigorous discussions of students’ submissions and interactive craft exercises designed to challenge writers to move out of their comfort zones and experience the joy of discovery as they try new things and encourage others to do the same. Students will leave the workshop with a clear strategy for their next best steps as writers.

Mishka Shubaly

We understand fiction to be made-up and nonfiction to be true. But any linear narrative is a human construction, as life explodes constantly in all directions. Any first person narrative is a distorted, imperfect retelling from one limited perspective. To make it more confusing, Grace Paley's fiction and Lucia Berlin's autofiction overflow with truth while Mary Karr's and Harry Crews' memoirs seem too wild or too evocative to be true. Where's the line? How much can we get away with? How can anyone tell “true” stories? This workshop will locate the emotional heart of your narrative, then identify and amplify the truth that spills from it. We’ll be aided in our quest by readings across genre, songs, jokes, and other real-life texts.

Sergio Troncoso

Work-In-Progress Intensive. This unique ten-day workshop is designed for writers working on book-length material.  The nonfiction workshop is being taught by YWW faculty member Sergio Troncoso. This cohort of just eight writers will meet and write for ten days next June. (You are in New Haven for both sessions.) This program is open to YWW alumni only. In Session I writers will critique 7000 words from their fellow writers’ manuscripts. Exercises and readings will be assigned prior to arrival. Session II will be generative, a mini-retreat if you will, with writers developing new material. The cohort will meet to discuss progress, and strategies to completing confident first drafts.

Children and Young Adult

Sarah Darer-Littman

In this workshop, you will mine the inner truths of the childhood and teen experience to find an authentic voice. We’ll talk about both the challenges and opportunities young people face and what is similar and different from our own experiences at that age. The workshop will include exercises to help you create compelling characters, develop your plot through motivation and conflict, and choose the point of view that works best for your story. Since revision is where the magic happens, we’ll explore techniques that real-life authors in the field employ. Your submitted work will be rigorously critiqued in a constructive and supportive environment. You will leave the workshop with a plan and more tools in your writer’s toolbox to help you achieve it. 

First Ten Pages: Fiction and Memoir

Nahid Rachlin

The first five to ten pages of a novel or memoir often determine whether an agent, editor, or reader wants to see more of your work. Whether you are just beginning a project or revising the manuscript for the fifth time, chances are your first ten pages could still use revision and feedback at the sentence and content level. In addition to getting feedback on your own work, we will look at openings of published novels and memoirs, and discuss what makes those openings work. Both genres share many successful craft fundamentals. We will also spend time in class sessions discussing and applying revision strategies for the beginning of your work.

Historical Fiction

Louis Bayard

"The historical novel is, for me, condemned. You may multiply the little facts that can be got from pictures and documents, relics and prints, as much as you like—the real thing is almost impossible to do, and in its essence the whole effect is as nought.” That’s Henry James’ throwdown.  It’s up to the historical novelist to refute it … but how do we make the dead souls live again? What responsibilities do we have to fact? To ancient ways of speaking and doing? Does research enhance our task or get in the way? This course will explore both the challenges and promises of the historical-fiction genre as students work toward James’ impossible dream: “the invention, the representation of the old consciousness.”

Mystery and Thriller

Hallie Ephron

One of the most popular categories of fiction, year after year, is crime: mystery, thriller, and suspense. Ask acquiring editors what they're looking for and you’re likely to hear some version of “the same but different." We’ll explore what that means why it matters. Each student will submit an excerpt from a work-in-progress and together we’ll examine these. We’ll spend time on craft--creating a web of characters; story construction and plotting a page turner; and using tools like suspense, secrets, and viewpoint. The goal is to fully address the craft of writing a crime novel that is imbued with your own unique twist.

Personal Essay/Memoir

Lary Bloom

How do you bring yourself onto the page with skill, authenticity, and a singular voice? How do you attract publishers and readers to your story? These are challenges of the personal essay and memoir. This course focuses on the art of the first-person narrative, and what makes it inevitable for the writer and irresistible to the reader. Each student will submit a work-in-progress for a peer workshop, and together we will examine these “I”-driven narratives, and discuss techniques and principles that empower us as storytellers. Among these are many tools of novelists–rich dialogue, story arc, imagination, scene setting, articulation of high stakes, and other ways that can lift personal truth and self-discovery to the literary high ground.

Sonya Huber

When we write true stories about our lives, we have so much material to choose from in order to craft scenes and narratives. In this workshop we will look at the range of options an author may use to reveal associations and tangents, scenes, narrative arcs, and entry points for essays and memoir. We will look at examples of nonfiction and craft essays to examine how the author's choices--including where the story begins and ends, structure, voice and tone, other characters, back story and context, and many other issues--in order to see new options for our own work. How do we use these tools to convey the complexity of lived experience? When we write stories, how do we convey not only the events but our central questions and concerns?

Short Stories

Marian Thurm

This is a traditional fiction workshop, led by the author of eleven books of fiction. As we critique your manuscripts (both short stories and novel excerpts), we will be discussing, among other topics, how to shape a strong narrative that will sustain a reader’s interest; how to create vivid characters that spring to life; voice and point of view; methods of revision; how to end your narrative on the perfect, resonant note. In addition, the instructor has many stories to share about her long history with numerous agents and editors over the years.

Write Here, Write Now

Patricia Ann McNair

Perhaps you are new to the writing workshop experience or coming back to it after time away; in any case, the process-based activities in this course will help you identify and discover the stories you have to tell and to write. Whether you are eager to create new work or reinvigorate on-going or left-behind projects, this workshop is for you. Drawing from memory, imagination, and observation, writers will discover their own unique material and a variety of ways of telling, structure, and form. And we will write! Whether a writer is creating imagined new worlds or writing autobiographical pieces these explorations will feed the muse. Workshop members will receive an assignment to complete ahead of the workshop that they will email to the instructor before the workshop begins. There will be NO critique of peers' work prior to arrival. Time will be spent creating instead. Once in New Haven, writers will complete exercises and read aloud work in progress for group discussion. You'll leave with new pages written and strategies to keep going.