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Classy Talk: The Fiction Workshop at Richard Hugo House

18 Sep

Over on the Hugo House blog, my Classy Talk interview sheds a bit more light on my upcoming  fiction workshop. Take a look, sign up, and help me spread the word about it! Class meets Wednesday nights, 7-9 pm, starting October 29. I’m already excited about the story we’ll read on the first day,  a short-short by Angela Carter, which will be atmospheric and  fairy tale-ish and spooky.

Abstract Sculpture as Shrine

17 Apr

My student Jenelle Birnbaum’s lovely story “The Bodhisattva of the Sea,” inspired by Katinka Bock’s abstract sculptures, is up on the Henry Art Gallery’s blog. The exhibit runs until May 4, and I think I need to squeeze in another visit before then, as there was a “Profane Fireplace” that surely had a fairy tale in it.

The Magic of Objects

3 Apr

My fourth set of writing prompts for the Ploughshares blog takes inspiration from objects, with wisdom from Italo Calvino, Elizabeth Kostova, Cynthia Ozick, Charles Baxter, Kate Bernheimer, RT Smith, and more.

In other news, an excerpt from my student Amber Murray’s intriguing essay “Thoughts on Abstract Thought and the Practice of Moving Things Around Until They Sit Just Right,” from this winter’s Visual Inspiration class, is up on the Henry Art Gallery’s blog! Exciting!

Intro to the Fiction Workshop

3 Feb

In the spring, I’m teaching a new class at Richard Hugo House, Intro to the Fiction Workshop. Exciting! This 10-week class will lay out a solid foundation for students interested in workshopping their stories but who have never taken a workshop or who want to brush up on giving constructive criticism. Workshops can be intimidating at any level; this one will be both welcoming and rigorous.  And fun! The class runs Thursday nights, 7:10-9:10 from 3/20-5-22. Registration opens 2/11 for Hugo House Members, and 2/18 for the general public. Scholarship applications are due 2/18.

Visual Inspiration: Hugo at the Henry

25 Nov

I’m pleased to offer a third iteration of my writing with visual art class for Richard Hugo House at the Henry Art Gallery, now snappily-titled Visual Inspiration. Here’s the course description:

This class, which meets at the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington, will use visual art as a springboard for diving into prose writing. We’ll mine the inspiration of images to unearth new prose or add unexpected meaning and direction to works in progress. Students can search the Henry’s digital archive and request works from the permanent collection not currently on view. For even more creative percolation, we’ll read published works inspired by visual art. Exercises, readings, and discussions will cover the writing process, character, story, landscape (internal and external), and style. Students will have the option to workshop one short-short story or essay. Co-Presented with the Henry Art Gallery.

Class meets Thursday evenings 6-8 pm, January 30-March 13 (with no class on February 27 due to the AWP conference). General registration begins December 10, and the scholarship deadline is December 24. I’m excited to see what students do with “Sanctum,” the interactive installation now outside the Henry that draws on social media and surveillance technology, and I’m curious as always to see what gets pulled from the permanent collection and what new creative works spiral out from that.

Tale: A Two Day Moveable (Writing) Feast

5 Nov

ImageI’m excited to be teaching a class on fairy tales at Corinne Manning’s Living Room Workshops. Mid-December is wonderful time for contemplating magic, especially fairy tale magic. Here’s the course description, with nitty gritty info below:

Explore magical realism and fairy tales with 3 teachers over the course of one weekend in this moveable feast of a writing workshop. Participants will move from house to house gaining craft skills, knowledge, and writing some “marvelous” fiction and exploring the memoir as fairy tale. Readings will include Brothers Grimm, Angela Carter, and Alyssa Nutting.

Each class will last 1.5 hours and will take place in Capitol Hill and the Central District on Saturday, ending in Greenwood on Sunday. Carpooling is encouraged. Course must be taken as a whole. No single class drop ins. To enroll please email corinne.manning@gmail.com.

Tale: A Two-day Moveable (Writing) Feast

December 14- 15, Saturday and Sunday
Instructors: Corinne Manning, Anca Szilagyi, Anne Bean
Saturday: 1-2:30, 3-4:30 (Capitol Hill, Central District)
Sunday: 1-2:30 (Greenwood)
Cost: $100

Refilling the well

26 Oct
A fresh green chestnut

A fresh green chestnut

I’m retraining myself to write novels. My first novel is floating in the ether, I wrote a quick, rough draft of my second novel some time ago, I focused on finishing my short story collection, and now, with the leaves falling off the trees outside, I’m in my dark office x-raying that second novel to get at an outline.  I already had a couple outlines in hesitant pencil, one very bare bones, one a bit more detailed. But I’m hesitant to launch into a rewrite yet as I seem to still be in a fallow period. I’d have loved to take a suitcase full of books into the woods and just read for 10 days. Alas.  A decent second option was to bolt to Vancouver with M. for the weekend, where two writer friends were visiting from New York. We gorged ourselves on dim sum, wandered around Coal Harbor and the West End, had cocktails at Cloud 9, a bar that rotates on top of the Empire Landmark hotel and that has some very 1995 cocktails (we stuck to a gin martini and an old-fashioned), and went on a short, mild hike where we spotted purple and orange mushrooms and black slugs and a seal. We waved at the seal, and the seal seemed to give us a little nod before disappearing in the water, probably grumbling that we took his lunch spot, Cod Rock. All this to say, there are different ways to refill the well. Reading and travel (and with travel, eating) are some of my favorite ways. So is looking at art.

I feel a little out of shape, novel-writing-wise, because I’m at the difficult step where I’ve decided to rewrite entirely. The first draft was quick fun, throwing details on the page and seeing what sticks.  I want to be a lot more strategic about the second draft.  I decided to try using novel writing software, to help me feel less scattered, and a few friends recommended Scrivener. This morning I finally started to get the hang of it, and now I have a more detailed outline with fancy arrows and nesting files and everything. Soon (hopefully!) I can go deeper into the writing cave to write those scenes.

Outlining at this point feels helpful, but sometimes I outline when I’m stuck in writing because I don’t know what else to do. I might already have the outline in my head. I might have gone over that outline obsessively already. But I still write it down, maybe more than once, as if I’m in a holding pattern, and then it just feels like treading water.  In a way, it is like a writing exercise I used to do, coming up with arbitrary lists of specific things. But it is also very different from those lists. Rather than racing from plot point to plot point., those lists try to get me to think about very specific details or to think about words I don’t often use. Red things; things that start with the letter V. More particularly (while still being quite broad), Ray Bradbury recommended making lists of nouns as a way to jog creativity. He wrote, “Make  a list of 10 things you hate and tear them down in a short story. Make a list of 10 things you love and celebrate them. When I wrote Fahrenheit 451 I hated book burners and I loved libraries. So there you are.” Such sound advice, for not only finding ways into writing, but writing with passion.

Back in September, as Rosh Hoshanah approached and I thought about all the oncoming holidays (hello, Thanksgiving-Hanukkah merger), I thought it would be fun to just write a list of all the dishes my grandparents, great aunts, etc. were known for. I invited M. to add to that list.  This got me thinking about how many stories might be in each these specific dishes as well, and how revisiting memories is another way to refill the well.

Here’s that dish list:

Bubby’s mandelbrot

Grandma’s chopped liver

Aunt Shirley’s jello molds

Aunt Ellen’s meatballs in a sweet tomato sauce

Aunt Myra’s chicken schnitzel

Grandpa’s sarmale (large and loose and juicy)

Eva’s matzo balls (dense as bricks)

Aunt Shirley’s brisket

Mom’s meatloaf

Grandpa’s meat pies

Bubby’s Swedish meatballs

Grandpa’s cheese pies

Bubby’s matzo balls (large and fluffy)

Aunt Myra’s walnut cake

Mami’s salade de boef

Grandma’s apples and rice

Grandma’s salade de boef

Eva’s fish soup

Eva’s salade de boef

Aunt Myra’s trifle

Eva’s sarmale (small and tight and smoky)

Grandpa’s fried kippers and onions

Grandma’s upside down cakes  (fruity and light)

Eva’s plum dumplings

Grandma’s plum dumplings

Mr. C’s plum dumplings

Everybody’s plum dumplings

What do you do in your fallow periods? How do you get yourself ready for big creative projects?

Related posts:

1. Background Reading for a Novel-in-Progress

2. Parking Signs to Power Lines

3. Writing from Art

Found Stories

5 Sep

I’m looking forward to teaching Found Stories, a one-day class at Hugo House this October 27 aimed at generating new fiction using found objects. There will be some very essential and very fun pre-class homework: I’m asking students to bring in objects that they find – post-it notes, mittens, music boxes – anything that will be helpful in generating stories, which, really, could be anything. I’ll be bringing in a few of my own artifacts, and until class, I’m also keeping an eye out for goodies left on sidewalks, yard sales, and the like. But I’m really curious about what else people will bring. What stories catch your eye when you see something left behind – discarded or forgotten?

In the meantime, here’s a great story Andrei Codrescu told on NPR today about two items he found while moving: a box of chocolates wrapped in miniature covers of one of his poetry books and a bag of petrified pretzels. And here’s a bit about Joseph Cornell, an artist I’ve been slowly reading up on who used found objects in his dreamy work .

Titles of Novels I’ll Probably Never Write

8 Jun

I used to strong-arm my undergraduate students into thinking more about titles – not because I’m one for strong-arming, but because sometimes titles are a last minute concern, whereas I believe they’re essential to the writing process. It was important for expository writing students to focus their essays through thinking of apt titles, and it was important for fiction students to think about how a title can add sharpness and/or layers of meaning to a story. Donald Murray, a big teaching-of-writing guy, used to generate about 150 titles per piece. He allowed himself to be clumsy and awkward in order to find what was precise and just right. Whenever I told my students this, they would grip their notebooks in apprehension until I’d say, “we’re not going to generate 150 titles today, but we are going to generate 20.” They’d sigh with relief, then get antsy by the tenth prompt. Some were eager to share new titles at the end and others said, with arms crossed over their chests or with a twinkle in their eye, “My original title is still better.” In any case, keeping a list of titles to potentially write to, even if I never write the piece, is something I enjoy doing and find quite useful. That said, lately I’ve been collecting imaginary titles for novels that, in all likelihood, I won’t write. (I’m keeping titles of actual works-in-progress close to my chest for now.) Here are the imaginary titles:

The Sex Lives of Traffic Engineers

Young Jewish Men Arguing in Diners

The Sweat Pickle

The Fishmonger’s Uncle’s Tax Accountant

Hard Drinking Elsewhere

The Ghost of Obligation

The Ineffectual Perfectionist

People Alone in Cars Reading E-mail

Now you try!

Writing From Art

14 Feb

I had a lovely time at Richard Hugo House this Saturday leading my workshop “Looking & Seeing: Generating Prose with Paintings.” Back in December, I did a mini-lesson at Write-O-Rama, where I talked a bit about this concept of using visual art as inspiration and introduced the idea of deciding whether you would work “inside” the painting or “outside” of it – meaning whether the writing refers to the fact that there’s a painting or only focuses on the story within.

In December, we did one exercise focused on stories outside of paintings. This is the prompt I gave: What if a particular painting somehow changed the course of a story? The Picture of Dorian Gray, My Name is Red, and The Idiot are a few examples of novels in which art plays a crucial role in the unfolding of story.

This past Saturday,we focused mainly on working within a painting. We looked at a range of paintings, examining possibilities for the stories behind what was immediately visible through details such as posture, gaze, movement, color, mood, and light. This was the prompt: If we widened our imaginative lens beyond the frame, what might we find?  What came before? What comes next? One textual example we discussed briefly was Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea, which uses Titian’s painting “Perseus and Andromeda” but is set in England in the 1970s.

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In honor of Valentine’s Day, here’s an old favorite short-short of mine: http://cafeirreal.alicewhittenburg.com/szilagyi.htm

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