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SpaldingCon Workshops Go Virtual November 18-20

By Kathleen Driskell, Chair, Spalding’s School of Creative & Professional Writing

The School of Creative and Professional Writing faculty at Spalding University is delighted to offer more than 20 three-day generative workshops in a virtual format to alumni through SpaldingCon, our post-graduate writers’ conference. Offering the workshops virtually allows our writers to generate new work from home during the Covid-19 crisis.

The workshops offer superb advanced instruction by our master teachers and provides participants with opportunities to begin new projects, refocus on works in progress, or gain new professional development.

Choose from Douglas Manuel’s “Poetry of Witness in the Time of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter,” Fenton Johnson’s “Reading and Writing as Spiritual Practice,” John Pipkin’s “10 Prompts for 10 Stories: A Fast-paced Generative Writing Workshop,” Lesléa Newman’s “Read It Again: The Art of Writing Picture Books,” Jeremy Paden’s “Translation as a Generative Practice Workshop,” or one of the other fabulous offerings you’ll see below.

Each workshop meets remotely for two hours a day in small groups to ensure optimal internet connectivity and meaningful group discussion. SpaldingCon attendees also have the opportunity to attend streamed or recorded lectures, readings, plenary events, and social events in addition to their special-topic workshops. The cost for SpaldingCon is $475.

No workshop calls for submission of a worksheet before meeting, but some ask participants to complete pre-reading assignments before attending. Each description below will offer specific details.

Erin Keane, Editor-in-Chief of

Alumni and MFA grads from other institutions may also be interested in a longer professional writing workshop that meets Saturday to Saturday, November 14-22, during residency, and offers opportunities to add skills needed in the professional writing workplace, including content development, grant-writing, document design, social media and press relations. Alternatively, alums and grads from other MFA programs may attend a full-residency (Saturday to Saturday) interactive editing and publishing workshop led by Erin Keane, Editor-in-Chief of Erin’s workshop provides a terrific and unique opportunity to learn about the world of publishing and editing for commercial and literary presses from the inside. Email us for costs and more information about these professional writing workshops at

Read on for special-topic workshop descriptions.

Special-Topic Workshops for Fall 2020 Residency & SpaldingCon (Nov. 18 – 20)

Workshops are open to School of Writing students and post-master’s participants (from any university). Workshops need five students to make. Registration will be first-come, first-served. Spalding students and alumni have been informed of registration and deadline dates. Post-graduate students from other universities should email us for registration and deadline information at

Poetry of Witness in the Time of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter

Workshop leader: Douglas Manuel Area(s): Poetry Open to students in any area. Pre-reading: None Carolyn Forché’s bold and empathetic 1993 anthology, Against Forgetting: Twentieth-century Poetry of Witness, utilizes Bertolt Brecht’s “Motto” for an epigram: “In the dark times, will there also be singing? / Yes, there will also be singing. / About the dark times.” Using this poem as our motto, in this workshop, we will begin by defining what poetry of witness is exactly and how it looks in our current context by examining classic and contemporary poems that bear witness to pandemics, racism, police brutality, systemic economic inequality, war, genocide, corporate greed, dictatorial tyranny, global warming, climate change, and other modes of injustice. After discussing each of these example poems, workshop participants will then have the opportunity to write their own poems mimicking the styles of our source materials or following their own paths of inspiration. The main purpose of this workshop is for participants to gain a better understanding of poetry of witness and to generate new poems and/or new material for future poems.

Playing with Story Structure

Workshop leader: Nancy McCabe Area(s): Prose: Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, W4C&YA Open to students in any area. Pre-reading: None There are as many ways to tell stories as there are stories to tell. Some writers choose straightforward, traditional approaches while others experiment with alternative structures inspired by recipes, liner notes, instruction manuals, and quizzes. We’ll look at examples of nonfiction and fiction that borrow from different forms and do exercises and experiments, trying a variety of approaches while discussing what makes a story’s structure effective.

Deep Character Workshop

Workshop leader: Leslie Daniels Area(s): All Areas Pre-reading: None Fascinating characters drive the story. Deep characters hook the reader. Come out of the workshop with unique and well-defined characters, both deepening characters from your work in progress and building new ones. The work will be both individual and group oriented. Through writing exercises and brainstorming, each writer will build specific and memorable characters. Let yourself be surprised.

10 Prompts for 10 Stories: A Fast-paced Generative Writing Workshop

Workshop leader: John Pipkin Area(s): Fiction Open to students in any area. Pre-reading: There is no pre-reading for the class, but there are some pre-activities that I would like students to complete before class. To prepare, bring the items listed below to the workshop.

1) Find an interesting or unusual physical object in your home. A piece of art is good. An old object works well. Or an object with an obscure purpose/function will work really well. Small industrial objects are also very good choices. Bring this to class. 2) Gather 4 – 5 random magazines from different disciplines and backgrounds. Hard copy is best, but you can have online magazines ready as well. These do not need to be scholarly or literary magazines. Variety is important. And a guilty pleasure will work just fine. No judgment. 3) Find 2 – 3 of your favorite songs that you like because of the lyrics. If the lyrics tell a story, that’s great, but they don’t necessarily need to as long as they are evocative in some way. Have the recording of these songs with you so you can listen to them during one of the assignments. 4) Collect some vacation photos of interesting places, or find a couple of interesting travel photos online from National Geographic or from Atlas Osbcura. Sometimes you just don’t have enough time to write. And sometimes, like, say, during a pandemic quarantine, you might have all the time in the world to write, but you just can’t focus on a single idea. This class will look at strategies for focusing your creative energy in brief, fast-paced, 10-minute sessions to produce the beginnings of 10 new stories. We will make use of ten different writing prompts, and write intensely for 10 minutes on each prompt. The goal is that by the end of the class, you’ll be exhausted, but you’ll also have the foundations for 10 new stories that you can develop later. We will spend a few minutes before each prompt discussing structures and approaches to help you think in terms of narrative, plotting, and character, and at the end of the class, we’ll share some of the story ideas that you’ve come up with. The prompts are based on in-class writing exercises that I’ve been using over the years with my students at UT-Austin. You’ll also be able to take the prompts with you after the class to use over and over again. We’ll also spend a class developing one of the prompts into an early rough draft, and then we will hold a class on strategies for revising that draft into a full story.

Flash Fiction/Creative Nonfiction Generative Workshop

Workshop leader: Robin Lippincott Area(s): Fiction, Creative Nonfiction Open to students in any area. Pre-reading: None Writing short encourages the writer of fiction/CNF to pay closer attention to language and the poetic techniques of lyrical compression, as well as to formal experimentation. A workshop uniquely adapted to the virtual format, we’ll focus on generating new pieces of sudden work, as well as on sharing and discussing that work.

Into the Woods: Fairy Tale Retellings

Workshop leader: Beth Bauman Area(s): All Areas Pre-reading: Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Wild Swans Karen Joy Fowler’s “Halfway People Michael Cunningham’s “The Wild Swans” (PDF)

Fairy tale lovers, join me in the enchanted wood where we’ll play with these foundational tales to create new stories, prose poems, and assorted narratives. Fairy tales offer a treasure trove of opportunity for writers with their ingrained structures and motifs, archetypal characters, and primal emotion. As we play, we might subvert or modernize the original. We might discover minor characters begging for a starring role or buried detail, twinkling in the shadows, awaiting our illumination. The possibilities are endless. The elements we pull from beloved fairy tales can be shaped by and melded with themes we find ourselves returning to again and again. Bring one or two tales you’d like to work with.

Show, Don’t Tell—Communication Theory In Screenwriting

Workshop leader: Larry Brenner Area(s): Screenwriting, Playwriting Open to students in any area. Pre-reading: Several scenes from screenwriting and playwriting will be assembled into a PDF, TBD. As dramatic writing is primarily a visual medium, this workshop focuses on finding ways to deliver information to the audience beyond the spoken dialogue. In this session, we will apply aspects of various communication principles to scene creation. Emphasis will be on different types of nonverbal communication, models on how interpersonal relationships begin and end, and other communication theories.

World Building

Workshop leader: Kira Obolensky Area(s): Fiction, Screenwriting, Playwriting Open to students in any area. Pre-reading: A PDF will be sent out a few weeks before SpaldingCon. Whether it be sci-fi, or southern Gothic, all narratives have a logic that emanates from the world in which the story lives. And from the universe of your story/narrative comes its logic: the way people think; the way characters talk; even the rules of physics can apply differently depending on the world you’ve invented.  (Heck, even families can be considered universes, with their own rotations, moods, weather, etc.) In this generative intensive workshop, we’re going to build worlds together. Using our collective imaginations, we’ll work together to create a world from which everyone can draw inspiration. And using your individual imaginations, you’ll build a universe in this workshop that’s going to tell you exactly what needs to happen within it.

Making Unexpected Connections in Thoughts, Words, and Emotions

Workshop leader: Edie Hemingway Area(s): Fiction, Poetry, Creative Nonfiction, W4C&YA Open to students in any area. Pre-reading: None

Come with an open mind and the willingness to disconnect from habitual ways of thinking. This generative workshop will experiment with different techniques to connect color and other sensory details to actions and intangible thoughts and emotions. It may even scramble your words and thoughts to give you fresh and interesting raw material. You will be asked to approach each exercise in the persona of your character, whether fictional or real.

Hybrid Forms of Poetry and Prose: Description, Survey, and Practice

Workshop leader: Greg Pape Area(s): Fiction, Poetry, Creative Nonfiction Open to students in any area. Pre-reading: No pre-reading required. Suggested reading: Chinese Rhyme-Prose, translated by Burton Watson, and The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches, Matsuo Basho, translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa.

In this short course we will look at various hybrid forms such as ancient Chinese Fu, Haibun, prose poems, collage, and contemporary examples of mixed or cross genre forms. After considering the possibilities we will try out our own use of hybrid forms and share some drafts.

Reading and Writing as Spiritual Practice

Workshop leader: Fenton Johnson Area(s): Fiction, Poetry, Creative Nonfiction Open to students in any area. Pre-reading: As inspiration and model for our writing, we will work from a course reader with short selections from Anne Lamott, Martin Buber, Patricia Hampl, Francine Prose, N. Scott Momaday, Patti Smith, Marilynne Robinson, Leslie Marmon Silko, Brother David Steindl-Rast, and Suzuki Roshi. Selections will be emailed to students a few weeks before the workshop. Pre-assignment: By October 28, students send Fenton 250 words or less about their background and source of interest in the topic that might serve as a take-off point for a generative exercise. In “Reading and Writing as Spiritual Practice,” we will devote particular attention to vivid figurative language as a way of enriching our encounter with the world, on and off the page. We will explore memoir and journaling as means of deepening our writing and our interior life and discuss how reading and research can provide a foundation for and complement the contemplative experience. We will devote particular attention to the calendar, as our meetings lead up to and embrace holidays, religious (Christmas, Hanukkah, the Buddha’s birthday) and seasonal (winter solstice). This writing workshop arises from a conviction that at their foundation our contemporary challenges are ethical, philosophical, moral, and spiritual.

Teaching Creative Writing to Youth in Alternative Settings: Tailoring a Curriculum of Lessons for Short-term Residencies

Workshop leader: Jeanie Thompson Area(s): Fiction, Poetry, Creative Nonfiction Open to students in any area. Pre-reading: A PDF will be sent a few weeks before the residency, which includes pre-reading and a sample residency curriculum with lessons. If students have taught creative writing in alternative settings such as alternative schools, treatment facilities, or detention centers, let Jeanie know by October 28.

This class is designed for writers who are acquainted with the classroom—either as a conventional creative writing teacher in a school or university, as a graduate student, or as a writer working in schools in conjunction with an arts council or special project. We will study what has made the Writing Our Stories program in Alabama successful (as a partnership between entities) and then move to lessons that work with “alternative populations” who embrace creative writing as part of their therapeutic process. Participants will describe/define the populations they are interested in working with and will creative a syllabus of lessons to cover the proposed residency time period. For some it may be 10 classes over 5 weeks, or 14 classes once a week for a semester. For detention centers or prison settings, the syllabus may be flexible enough to fit a short-term residency or longer one. Each institution or agency will define the time available. Our goal is to be prepared to offer a meaningful, content-rich experience and hope for the best in terms of time. We will also talk about how these programs are funded and what reasonable expectations may be of finding a program or starting one if it doesn’t already exist. Online resources will be shared and a bibliography touching prison-writing, poetry in the schools, arts in foster care settings, veterans programs, etc., will be shared and participants will research a least 3 new resources for their final project—a proposal for a specific location, with a curriculum of lessons and goals for the participants. The lessons I share will be based on the text “Creative Writing in Alternative Settings: A Guide for Implementation and Teaching/Learning,” an expanded edition of “Writing our Stories: Curriculum Guide,” published in 2002 by the Alabama Writers’ Forum, Inc., and the Alabama Department of Youth Services.

Adapting Theatrically

Workshop leader: Eric Schmiedl Area(s): Playwriting, adapting works for the stage Open to students in any area. Pre-reading: The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Simon Stephens If writers have a specific work (of prose or poetry) they are interested in adapting for the stage, send the title and a very brief description to Eric by October 28. While we are discussing adapting works for the stage, the workshop will be constructed for writers of all genres. Shakespeare did it. Steinbeck did it. Suzan-Lori Parks did it too. Adaptation! This popular form of drama has been a driving force in Western theatre for centuries, and it continues to draw attention in the 21st century. But what makes adaptations tick? This hands-on workshop will explore Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, and the Simon Stephens adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime to discover and apply practical lessons for adapting works for the stage. It is structured for writers of all genres. If you have a story, poem, article you think needs to “enter stage left,” this is the workshop for you.

Call Me Ishmael: Creating Dynamic Openings in Fiction

Workshop leader: Rachel Harper Area(s): Fiction, W4C&YA Open to students in any area.

Pre-reading: A short PDF will be emailed a few weeks before the residency. Readers are warned not to judge a book by its cover, but most of us think it’s acceptable to judge one by its opening page—or sometimes even just the opening line. Knowing this bitter truth, how can writers craft their openings to entice and engage readers from the very first lines of their story or novel? This workshop will explore the many ways we can draw readers into our stories and chapters, keeping them engaged page after page. Beginning with a craft discussion connected to our pre-reading, we will identify several successful techniques offered by examples from both contemporary and classic texts. Participants are asked to come prepared with pen/paper or laptop; during the 6-hour workshop, members will write several drafts of a new opening (approx. 1 ̶ 3 paragraphs), from either new or pre-existing work, and will have an opportunity to share their writing with others.

Hollywood Films of the Seventies

Workshop leader: Charlie Schulman Area(s): Screenwriting Open to students in any area. Pre-reading: Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind. This book doesn’t have to be read in its entirety for readers to get a feel for the decade and its films. The success of Easy Rider in 1969 launched a new era of independent, visionary writer/director auteurs (such as Scorsese, Coppola, and Spielberg) influenced by the French New Wave, who over a decade created many classic American films—some of which were also studio blockbusters. This era also witnessed the advent of Blaxploitation films like Shaft and the critique of such films by directors such as Melvin Van Peebles, in Sweet Sweetbacks Badassss Song. In addition to these three films, students should be familiar with the following movies: Network, Dog Day Afternoon, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Chinatown, Jaws, and Taxi Driver. In this workshop, we will analyze these films and the instructor will screen clips to inspire students to write new scenes for their own screenplays-in-progress, focusing on issues such as how to create a sense of place (the opening sequence of Shaft); how to craft the first ten pages of a screenplay (Dog Day Afternoon); how to write for an ensemble (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest); how to convey exposition dramatically (Chinatown); and how strong antagonists can anchor your story (Network and Jaws).

Let’s Look at AutoFict! Stories of Truth and Lies

Workshop leader: Rebecca Walker Area(s): Fiction, Creative Nonfiction Open to students in any area. Pre-reading: A short PDF will be sent out a few weeks before residency. Let’s Look at AutoFict! is a cross-genre workshop designed to help participants explore and experiment with the growing and dynamic genre of autobiographical fiction. In this generative workshop participants discuss pre-assigned selections of popular works of autofict, and write their own scenes, transforming “real life” experience into fictional narrative. We will talk about when and why to employ autofict, how to maintain the intimacy of the autobiographical voice in the genre, and how to approach point of view when changing “your” story into “a” story.

Ekphrastic Writing: Image as Inspiration

Workshop leader: Dianne Aprile Area(s): All Areas Open to students in any area. Pre-reading: A few weeks before residency, I will provide a page of links to and reproductions of visual art, plus a few examples of ekphrastic writing. In this workshop, we will explore the rich territory of ekphrastic writing in all the genres, not limiting ourselves to poetry. Meditating on works of visual art, particularly those created by under-represented artists, we will generate writing that may include original work, critical pieces, or illustrative responses, all inspired by a deep reading of the art itself (which I will select, for the most part). The goal of the workshop is to discover or renew the connection between the visual and the textual, the image and the word, and in the process refresh or kickstart our writing life. Each day I will lead the workshop with a combination of visual and verbal prompts, designed to aid the process of writing about—and beside—art. By the end of the three days, participants should have several rough drafts or at least one more polished piece (a chapter, an essay, a scene, a section of a children’s book) based on their experience of viewing, writing and critiquing.

Through the Keyhole: Writing Personal Essays about Public Issues and Events

Workshop leader: Roy Hoffman Area(s): Creative Nonfiction Open to students in any area.

As the world churns and history unfolds, each of us has a keyhole through which we view public events. That keyhole is our point of view, enabling us to reflect, and respond, in deeply personal ways to seismic shifts—pandemics, social protest—or changes in the culture that are more specific, the loss of a pop star, for example, or the arrival of a great new film, or the anniversary of a catastrophe like Hurricane Katrina, or 9/11. In this generative workshop participants will consider how one’s particular point of view—personal background, experience, culture, education—creates a stance on public events, and how to use those personal experiences to reflect on a topic of public concern. Where does one’s personal story give further dimension to the public story? And what is the resonance between the two? The choice of topic is the writer’s, of course, the recommended length 750 ̶ 1,000 words, the most common length for newspaper and magazine viewpoints sections. In the course of the three sessions each writer will have the chance to compose different pieces, ultimately finalizing one essay that offers in a clear, engaging, and dramatic way a personal perspective—and point of view—on an event, or issue, of our time. The ground rules for this workshop will make us all better, more expansive readers and editors, too, in that we will not challenge another person’s point of view, or opinion, but help each writer develop that public-private story more effectively (no pros or cons on particular political candidates or officials, though). Always, the perspective has to be grounded in the personal—where it meets the public. We will begin each session with discussions of one or two published, personal essays on public events or issues, asking if they are effective, and why.

Pre-reading: Links will be provided to workshop participants for the following articles. Caroline Randall Williams, “You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body is a Confederate Monument” (Confederate Statues). Brent Staples, “Walk On By,” New York Times (being a Black man in a white world) Pico Iyer, “On the Secret of Immersive Travel,” BBC Travel (How the pandemic has made us all more observant). Silas House, “What Are We Without Community?Atlantic Monthly (Pandemic). Katy Yocom, “Muhammed Ali, My father and Me,Salon (How a Public Figure Can Impact Us Personally) Mary Pipher, “The Joy of Being a Woman in her 70s,” New York Times (Aging) Jesmyn Ward, “Cracking the Code,” New Yorker (Perceptions of family background after genetic testing)


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