2020 Workshop Descriptions

Enrollment in workshops will begin when online registration opens, no later than July 2020. Workshops are available on a first-come, first-served basis, limited to 11 participants each, meeting two times on Sept. 10-13, 2020 for 2 hours each day. There is a limit of one workshop per $175 registrant. For further help in deciding among workshops, please view the workshop leaders' biographies. Also check the overall Itinerary to see what concurrent craft talks, panels, and readings you would miss during a given workshop. After a workshop is sold out, you may request placement on a waiting list by emailing kentuckywomenwriters@gmail.com.

Conference Workshops, Sept. 10-13, 2020

1. Jami Attenberg (fiction). Grand Entrances: Sometimes all it takes is a great first sentence to convince a reader to spend the next three hundred pages with your book. We’ll look at texts that have compelling beginnings, ones which instantly hook the reader with their irresistible plots, addictive voices, and instantly fascinating characters. Additionally, a talk on stake-building will be given. In critiques we’ll examine the first ten-twenty pages of students’ work, focusing on grabbing the attention of the reader, agent, or editor--and keeping them interested.

2. Bridgett M. Davis (nonfiction). SOLD OUT. Memory As an Act of Imagination: How do we craft the truth and ensure that it reads like compelling fiction, without resorting to making up things? How do we heighten reality? And how do we ensure that our true stories have resonance beyond our own lives?  By using our memories to fuel our imaginations. Memoir relies on memory, but as Toni Morrison described it, the act of imagination is bound up with “emotional memory – what the nerves and skin remember, as well as how it appeared.” In this workshop, we’ll free ourselves to conjure emotional memory, and through a series of exercises, imbue it with both drama and meaning. Please bring a paragraph describing a vivid memory and come ready for an act of imagination!

3. Amy Hempel (fiction). Why Are You Telling Me This? Asking the right questions is one way to begin and proceed in a story. We will look at questions asked in two novels, a book of war correspondence, and a collection of poems. After reading the above, you will be asked to write 10-20 questions that reflect your deep concerns and might lead to a story.

4. Evie Shockley (poetry). SOLD OUT. Poetry of Curiosity.  Poems can do many things -- comfort, announce, describe, catalogue, just for starters -- but one of their most wonderful functions, in my view, is to question.  Many magics can be wrought, for both poets and audiences, from poetry that begins with the desire to know something.  This workshop is for those interested in writing that participates in the quest for knowledge.  We will take our cues from poets who search and re-search in their creative process; our goal will be to generate new poems that lead us out of ourselves and confront us with all we do not know about the world.

5. Darcey Steinke (nonfiction). Writing the Body: In this workshop we will focus on our body as a nexus to write from. Examples from memoirs and essays that use the body will be read. Some examples may be Maggie Nelson, Vivian Gornick, Elizabeth Gilbert and Douglas A Martin. We will do exercises in class that deal with the knowledge that comes from the physical. Which is of course ALL Knowledge. Working with the senses we will try to locate meaning and story. Once the body is explicated we can then and only then, think about the greater world. We will discuss how all living things plant, animal and human have movement and change at their base and how key that movement and change is to storytelling. Please bring paper and pen to this workshop, be willing to read and to discuss and to write.


Other Planned Sessions

Roxana Robinson craft talk: “Writing Dialogue: What is Spoken Speech?” Dialogue is what gives us the quickest, most intimate connection to a character. It’s the way we learn her thoughts and her manner. Is she formal? Courteous? Bossy? Shy? It will all come out in dialogue. But in order for the reader to trust the writer, the dialogue must sound like spoken words, not written ones. And it must sound like words spoken in the appropriate era. What’s the difference between spoken and written speech, and how do you make it sound real in your era? We’ll talk about writing dialogue for today and for 100 years ago. 

Erin Hosier: First Page Critiques: Creating a World in 300 Words or Less

Erin Hosier:  The Market for Memoir vs. Autofiction: Owning Your Story, Owning Your Voice


Conference Workshops, Sept. 20-21, 2019

1. Chantel Acevedo (fiction). The Power of Place: A Writer’s Boot Camp. Sometimes, the hardest part of writing is just getting started. Sometimes, it’s getting stuck mid-project. How might setting help open up stories and reveal character? In this 2-day, generative workshop, we will discover the power of place in our work. Participants will engage in exercises designed to get the ideas flowing, whether they’re starting from scratch, or hoping to open a gill into existing work. We’ll also discuss different approaches to visualizing the path toward finishing a work-in-progress.

2. Jane Alison (nonfiction/fiction). SOLD OUT (Students formerly enrolled in Darcey Steinke's cancelled workshop have been placed here.) “The Picture in the Muck under their Skulls”: The Potent Image. A potent literary image is like a fossil or a seed: a bit of seemingly still life that’s dense with secrets of how it came to be, or what it could unfurl to become. A potent image isn’t just a piece of visual data: it means, richer than a hieroglyph. Powerful memory-images can be embedded in our characters’ (and our own) minds, and they can spawn our richest stories. In this workshop, reading brief texts and cycling through a host of exercises, we’ll explore how writers of both fiction and memoir can find or invent potent images, and how those images can in turn engender or even structure narrative. Please come ready to excavate!

3. Ifa Bayeza (playwriting). The Drama of History. This workshop will explore methods for re-imagining historical events--including quite recent history and memoir--for the stage. We'll examine contemporary examples in drama, poetry, narrative, and song, and survey various research methodologies used in Bayeza's Emmett Till saga, The Till Trilogy. Writing exercises will experiment with voice and point of view, subjective and objective truths, with the goal of sharpening observation, texturing detail, and seeing "differently." Bring an idea of an historical or personal event that you'd like to write about, and, if possible, a related artifact, i.e., a photograph, letter, news article, or object.

4. DaMaris Hill (poetry). Remix and Making Poems New—A Revision Workshop. Do you have a dead poem? A piece of poetry that seems flat and does not meet your expectations of beauty or craft? Don’t throw that poem out; remix it. In this workshop, we will talk about how to analyze and revise poems. We will open by discussing our ideas about poetry, inspiration, and constraints. Good writing is superior to ideas of genre, and hybrid writing--the literary weirdo and misfit--is some of the best writing. We will discuss how to manipulate the genre constraints of poetry in order to create new writing from old work. Please bring three copies of a poem that you think is “dead” or not working.

5. Barbara Hurd (nonfiction). Writing Nature as Subversive Attention. At its best, writing about the natural world is an increasingly urgent challenge that means investigating otherness, the evolving nature of communities, the importance of cross-pollination, communal reciprocities, and “edge species.” In this generative workshop, we will explore the pleasures and perils of writing essays about the natural world. Using Rachel Carson as a model and inspiration, we will 1) examine the language and habits of attention/inattention that often keep us from seeing our environments more clearly, 2) practice techniques to foster more precise observations, 3) discuss ways of transforming raw field notes into essays, and 4) workshop short drafts we generate in class.

6. Dorianne Laux (poetry). SOLD OUT. What makes a poem memorable? Dave Smith says it’s “a sharp, memorable, confident use of language which releases feeling, and keeps releasing it with repeated readings.” Naomi Shihab Nye says for her it is “Love and care for elemental details, for chosen words and their simple arrangement on the page... and a way of ending that leaves a new resonance or a lit spark in the reader or listener's mind….” This workshop/study group will consist of reading the work of established poets and creating new drafts. We’ll take a close look at a variety of dazzling poems written by contemporary poets and seek to understand what makes them memorable. We will practice imitation as a striving toward writing our own unforgettable poems with daily in-class free-writes and take home exercises.

7. Lydia Millet (fiction). SOLD OUT. Write the Extraordinary. Whether you’re drawn to write literary fiction, YA fiction, spec, sci-fi, or any other genre, making work that captures the best of your imagination begins with a sentence. If it’s the right one, that sentence becomes a paragraph, becomes a page, becomes a chapter, becomes a book. In this workshop we’ll work toward sentences and paragraphs that inspire us and stand out from the rest — that can launch you into a new project, or, if you choose, turn a current project that’s lagging into something new. Two things are requested: Bring a piece of your own work, even just a page, to use as raw material. Bring a paragraph, written by someone else, that you love.

[Darcey Steinke (nonfiction). CANCELLED. It’s all in the details! This workshop will use a variety of exercises to help us find details that evoke emotion and mood.  Pacing and tone are important parts of writing but it’s often by image and the smallest detail that good writing reaches a reader’s heart. “Caress the detail,” Vladimir Nabokov wrote, “the divine detail.” We will discuss the use of sensory detail in building a literary mood. Please bring a descriptive paragraph of your own as well as a copy of a paragraph from a published work that you admire.]


Franny Choi in poetry

Nicole Chung in nonfiction

Antonya Nelson in fiction


First Page Critique: How to Write the Opening that Publishing Pros Want To Read. The opening pages of a manuscript often determine whether an agent or editor will read two paragraphs, two chapters, or the full manuscript before making a decision on an author’s work. Literary Agent Alice Speilburg will offer insight to the way she and other industry professionals read sample chapters -- what they look for, what makes them cringe, and what makes them jump up with excitement--and she will review attendees' first pages for potential snags and missed opportunities. Perfect for those who are about to send out their work for the first time, and for those who would like some feedback on what they might improve, attendees will leave the session with a better understanding of common pitfalls and opening scenes to avoid, the keys to a compelling hook, and a strong start on an irresistible opening page.

Conference Workshops, September 2018

1. Ansel Elkins--(poetry)

2. Tarfia Faizullah--(poetry) Embrace Me In A Suicide Vest. What does it mean to be socially engaged artists in this particular moment? How do we write poems that are aware, craft-conscious, but not didactic? We'll take a look at and write our own poems that render and interrogate vulnerability and violence. Our discussion will include non-Western forms and poets who have been exiled.

3. Emily Fridlund--(fiction).  The Queen Died Too. What makes for a compelling plot? How do you bring a story’s elements together in a moving way? E. M. Forster famously defined plot in terms of causality: “‘The king died and then the queen died’ is a story. ‘The king died, and then the queen died of grief’ is a plot.” Forster’s classic definition, however, fails to account for the all the subtler narrative structures that allow a story to accumulate meaning through other means: simultaneity, associations, layers, and silence. In this two-day workshop, we will consider plotting in the broadest of terms, playing with a variety of models for generating momentum and meaning in our work. We will experiment with a plurality of approaches to plotting and return to our own fiction with fresh ideas for shaping our raw stories.

4. Angela Palm--(memoir) Memory, Mapping, and Memoir. This workshop is a kind of excavation of our most poignant images of our homelands. It explores the nature of episodic memory and demonstrates how research can augment or expand memory. We’ll mine experiences rooted strongly in their location in place and time—layering what we remember through generative prompts. Writers will practice building upon and deepening fleeting snapshots of experience in pursuit of greater meaning.

5. Joni Tevis--(essay) Nonfiction and the Archaeology of Memory: Discovering Your Inner Indiana Jones. This workshop will explore the art and craft of creative nonfiction. We will apprentice ourselves to published work as well as to our own lives, exploring the building blocks of nonfiction.  Armed with this knowledge, we will apply new techniques to our own essays, which may take the form of memoirs, personal essays, lyric essays, natural history, or journalism. 

Our writing exercises will help us engage in the work and play of writing.  Among other exercises, we’ll try our hands at becoming “archaeologists of memory,” using fragments of history—postcards, photographs, and other ephemera—as triggering points for our own work.  As we workshop and revise together, we will practice the habit of reading as writers, writing voraciously, being “one on whom nothing is lost,” and becoming wise and generous editors of our own and others’ work.

6. Sherry Thomas--(fiction) Chemistry, Subtext, and World-building: How to create the sizzle, the nuance, and the immersiveness that will keep your readers glued to the page. This two-day, two-session generative workshop breaks down several of the X-factors of propulsive storytelling. We will: 1) illustrate chemistry in the context of both story development and character arc and learn the specifics of creating and deepening chemistry; 2) examine how subtext creates layered narratives and nuanced interactions between characters; and 3) practice intriguing world-building, whether your characters wear corsets and ride in carriages, or wave wands and battle dragons.

Conference Workshops, September 2017

1. Natalie Diaz—Mining the Deep: Discovering Our Emotional Images. This generative workshop will explore our notion of image—image is more than a thing you can see. Images are the vessels of story, history, mythology, action, and emotion, among other things. Using previous knowledge of our images of obsession, we will do a series of exercises to help discover and mine our new, emotional images. To paraphrase painter Francis Bacon, we will return the image to our nervous systems more violently—meaning, we will build images that make us and our readers feel.

2. Camille Dungy—Nature Poetry: the Scary and the Beautiful. It would be nice to write a pretty poem about how much you loved the peonies in your grandmother's garden or how at home you felt that time you climbed a mountain out west. But, when you sit down to write that particular poem, do you find yourself  overwhelmed by the realities of radical climate change, colony collapse disorder, increasing seismic activities in middle America, mountain top removal, or the encroachment of kudzu on the southern landscape? Do you think about historical violations of the land you love, or do you worry about the viability of that landscape in the future? Are you having trouble writing about the natural world because you don't know how to balance the scary with the beautiful? If you answer yes to any of those questions, this generative workshop is for you!

3. Jessica Handler—More than Me in Memoir. A well-written memoir tells your story, but in order to capture your reader’s heart and imagination, the very best memoirs place the author’s personal story within the beauty and tragedy of the larger world. In this workshop, you will learn ways to develop your memoir so that it resonates not only with you and yours, but with readers everywhere. Open to writers of all levels.

4. Martyna Majok—Playwriting Intensive. How do you create a character with enough complexity and appetite to drive an entire play? How do you engage with the unique aspects of theater—its liveness, its relationship to time and space—to create a three-dimensional story onstage? How is a play more like music than a novel? This workshop gives you tools for writing stories for the stage, whether you have never written a play or are seeking new perspectives on your craft.

5. Elena Passarello—The Old Collage Try. A collage essay uses vivid images and quick cuts to tell stories in artfully arranged fragments, rather than in one specific narrative line. Inspired by visual art and film, collage storytelling is an inspiring way to supercharge your writing. Bring your notebooks to this very hands-on, get-out-of-your-chairs workshop, which outlines the basics of reading, responding to, and-–most importantly-–writing your own prose collages. 

6. Claire Vaye Watkins—Los Fridos Art Party: workshop in fiction. This is an experimental interdisciplinary creative writing workshop with an emphasis on process and play. This purely generative workshop is ideal for fiction writers who are game to challenge not only their writing process but the very concept of the “writing process.” Through various exercises, experiments and maybe even collaborative or performative projects, we'll try new approaches to storytelling, many of them borrowed from our comrades in poetry, art, and music. Suggested reading: The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-portrait (Introduction by Carlos Fuentes).

7. Kayla Rae Whitaker—Dialogue: Workshop in Fiction. When well-executed, dialogue can serve as your story’s best voice, as well as a tool with which to accelerate plot, provide tone, and promote a sense of place. In this workshop, we will fine-tune our sense of the spoken in order to generate character voice and story trajectory with new awareness and enthusiasm. We’ll engage in exercises and examine works that render dialogue in a way that is dynamic, readable, and true. We will also explore methods of balancing conversation with exposition to ensure our story’s dialogue provides support, and potential for depth, as opposed to noise.

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