Faculty & Workshops
Chris Abani is a novelist, poet, essayist, screenwriter and playwright. Born in Nigeria to an Igbo father and English mother, he grew up in Afikpo, Nigeria, received a BA in English from Imo State University, Nigeria, an MA in English, Gender and Culture from Birkbeck College, University of London and a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California. He has resided in the United States since 2001. He is the recipient of the PEN USA Freedom-to-Write Award, the Prince Claus Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a California Book Award, a Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, a PEN Beyond the Margins Award, the PEN Hemingway Book Prize and a Guggenheim Award. Through his TED Talks, public speaking and essays Abani is known as an international voice on humanitarianism, art, ethics, and our shared political responsibility. His critical and personal essays have been featured in books on art and photography, as well as Witness, Parkett, The New York Times, O Magazine, and Bomb.
Master Workshop: Waiting Before the Doors
Sat - Tues (8/5 - 8/8), 10am - 1pm
How do we as poets approach the construction of our work? What can we say is our core aesthetic? Do we know? What is the syllabic count of our typical line? What is our typical line? How are we moving beyond the “recording” of experience, which is essentially a passive form of writing (regardless of the content of the experience and the individual value that we bring to it) to the idea of “using experience as the template for an intervention of inquiry,” itself a much more active approach? To uncover the answers to these questions and more, we will apply a creative/craft approach that involves constructive critiques of each other’s work as well as discussion of aesthetics and poetry in broader terms. Through the exploration of another’s work, we must uncover what structural movements that we can find, how these are layered into movement and how these movements combine to create effect.
Please pick a sequence of your work – five (minimum) to eight (maximum) poems and submit them, with all poems in TIMES NEW ROMAN FONT 12 WITH MICROSOFT WORD 94-2007.
Denise Chávez is a leading Chicana playwright and novelist who comes out of the Southwest United States. Chávez has been honored with many awards for her literary contribution in Chicana wrting. New Mexico State University awarded her play “The Wait” with Best Play. In 1995, she received the New Mexico Governor’s Award in literature and the El Paso Herald Post Writers of the Pass distinction. This same year she was awarded with the Premio Aztlan Award, American Book Award, and Mesilla Valley Writer of the Year Award, all for her work of Face of an Angel. She is also a founding member of the National Institute of Chicana Writers. Chávez focuses her writing in the Southwest, “in heat and dust” where she claims “love is as real as the land.” From here, she draws inspiration for her characters that reflect the love that “is as real as the land.” She has written over of 21 plays, novels, and a children’s book. Chávez is also represented in anthologies including An Anthology: The Indian Rio Grande, Voices: An Anthology of Nuevo Mexicanos Writers, An Anthology of Southwestern Literature, as well as many others.
Master Workshop: Solo Una Tortilla/ Just One (Well Worked) Tortilla
Sat - Tues (8/5 - 8/8), 10am - 1pm
How hard is it to make a tortilla? There are few ingredients, really, but the order and the way they are combined matters. Also, and this is more to the point of our Memoir workshop: you can make a tortilla, large or small, shapely or ragged, in various configurations, looking like a perfectly round sphere or like an island, you can add flavors, spices and whatever you choose, but the best tortilla is one made with simplicity, attention and intention. To write a memoir is to form from the essential a world until itself, a complete and whole universe, contained and absolutely the best that can be, a tasty morsel of life, feeding yourself and hopefully, others. Our workshop is relentlessly exercise driven and looks at the unformed Masa* of our Lives. Writers are asked to bring raw material to work and then form. How hard it is to make a really good tortilla? Seemingly so simple a thing. Yet, very hard. Don’t kid yourself. Especially now, in this day and age of Ego Story, it is important for writers to write rebelliously, passionately, and yet with a certain detachment from self. Don’t think too much about the you of the story, for although the story is about you, it’s about the More than you. Just let the Masa speak to you. It will tell you how it needs to be formed and then rolled out. *Masa is Spanish for dough. Although the word is mostly used to refer to any kind of dough, in some regions it is often short for masa de maíz, a maize dough made from freshly prepared hominy. It can also mean a flour-based flatbread. Tortillas or tortilla-like bread are to be found in many cultures. Don’t think your tortilla is a loner. Remember that your tortilla can hold the world!
Carolina De Robertis, a writer of Uruguayan origins, is the author of The Gods of Tango, Perla, and the international bestseller The Invisible Mountain. Her books have been translated into seventeen languages. She is the recipient of Italy’s Rhegium Julii Prize, a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Stonewall Book Award, and numerous other honors. She is an award-winning translator of Latin American literature, and editor of the new anthology Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times. She teaches fiction and literary translation at San Francisco State University, and lives in Oakland with her wife and two children.
Master Workshop: The Art of Narrative Tension
Sat - Tues (8/5 - 8/8), 10am - 1pm
We need stories. They lift us, transport us, thrill us, mirror us, stir us, turn the world inside out and reveal it anew. Narrative tension is a key to story’s power: it’s that force that keeps fiction taut, captivates readers, and keeps them turning pages late into the night. Since fiction is a genre of vast possibility, narrative tension can spring from many sources: a compelling voice, graceful prose, the urge to know what happens next, the vibrancy of a setting, or the power of an underlying theme. In this class, we’ll explore the alchemy of narrative tension in our own work, as well as through class readings and exercises. We’ll examine the ways that other aspects of craft—such as pacing, point of view, aesthetic style, structure, and characterization—work together to fuel the engine of a short story or novel, and to keep readers utterly hooked. Together, we’ll weave a class community that catapults our work to the next level, and that celebrates the essential value of our stories in this contemporary world.
Cristina García is the award-winning author of seven novels, including: Dreaming in Cuban, The Agüero Sisters, Monkey Hunting, A Handbook to Luck, The Lady Matador’s Hotel, King of Cuba, and the forthcoming Here in Berlin. She has edited anthologies, written children's books, published poetry, and taught at universities nationwide. García’s work has been nominated for a National Book Award and translated into fourteen languages. She lives in the San Francisco Bay area.
Master Workshop: Cultivating Chaos
Sat - Tues (8/5 - 8/8), 10am - 1pm
This workshop will encourage you to make a mess—to allow your stories, and novels, and poems to unspool in unpredictable, organic ways; to welcome what surprises and disturbs you. Over controlling your writing (too soon) often kills the spontaneous gifts that come with the embrace of what we only dimly perceive, of the mysterious and the random that can so enliven our work. We can’t always describe this mystery, this wildness, but we recognize it: the strange, ineluctable, jagged-edged power of the wonderfully, dangerously unexpected. The feeling that the world, as we thought we knew it, has irrevocably changed. It might be a single image, or a startling convergence of events, or a devastating utterance that, for an instant, illuminates a character. Great poetry and prose are replete with these moments, moments that alter our perceptions and challenge us, as poet Simon Ortiz says, to “the vastness we do not enter.” In this workshop, we will enter this vastness of unknowing, and emerge with twenty-plus pages of new writing. We will cultivate mystery, invite it into our work, harness the wildness without domesticating its energies. We will create from a sense of mission, and discovery, and relentless curiosity. And we will learn how to do this consistently enough to make a lasting, vivid difference in our writing. (All levels are welcome!)
Marga Gomez is a GLAAD Award and LA Theater Ovation Award winning writer/performer of 12 solo plays. Her latest work "Latin Standards" was named "Critics Choice" by the New York Times in January 2017. She is also a nationally touring stand up comedian with appearances on LOGO, Showtime, Comedy Central and HBO’s “Comic Relief.” She was an original member of the Latino ensemble Culture Clash. Marga has been teaching solo performance for five years, most recently for the MFA program at American Conservatory Theater as well as online and at Brava Theater in San Francisco where she is a tenured Artist-in-Residence. Selections from Gomez’s work have been published in several anthologies including Extreme Exposure (TCG Books), HOWL (Crown Press), Out Loud & Laughing (Anchor Books), Contemporary Plays by American Women of Color (Routledge), When I Knew (Harper-Collins) and Out of Character (Bantam Books.) She was born in New York City to entertainers in the Latino community and currently resides in San Francisco. Her website is margagomez.com
Mini Workshop: Sharpen Your Funny
Saturday 8/5, 3:30pm - 4:45pm
Humor is a vital resource providing insight into our stories. It can be a powerful tool for social justice. Writers and speakers use humor to establish an immediate bond with a room filled with strangers. Laughter gets us through life's crap, pain, bad relationships and oh.. dystopian societies. In this fast moving workshop Marga will share relaxation, stage presence and timing techniques to increase audience receptiveness in even the worst situations. Following a brief question and answer segment Marga will ask for volunteer writer attendees to share anything under 5 minutes that includes humor as a twist or base. Bring your funny stuff: narrative story, essay, poetry, stand up, sci fi, interpretive dance etc.. Time limit will be enforced by the hungry timekeeper. If we have more volunteers than time we'll pull names out of a hat. A chill, supportive and festive time is guaranteed or your funny back.
Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo is the author of Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge (Sundress Publications 2016), a 2016-2017 Steinbeck Fellow, former Poets & Writers California Writers Exchange winner and Barbara Deming Memorial Fund grantee. She’s received residencies from Hedgebrook and Ragdale Foundation and is a member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop. Her work is published in Acentos Review, CALYX, crazyhorse, and The James Franco Review among others. A short dramatization of her poem "Our Lady of the Water Gallons," directed by Jesús Salvador Treviño, can be viewed at latinopia.com. She is a cofounder of Women Who Submit and the curator of HITCHED.
Mini Workshop: Building Up to Emerging
Saturday 8/5, 2pm - 3:15pm
In this one-hour craft talk, we will discuss and practice strategies for writing proposals and statements of purpose that will standout to readers and selection committees as well as be meaningful and useful for the writer beyond the application process. While gaining an acceptance from a prestigious residency or fellowship is a worthwhile goal, we will look at how the application process, and the act of hitting send, can be its own celebrated act that can lead to other opportunities beyond the writer’s view.
Claire Calderón is a Chilean-American writer and podcaster based in Oakland. She is a co-founder and creative producer of the New American Story Project, a digital storytelling project dedicated to the voices of the Central American Refugee Crisis. She is a VONA Voices alum and a recent graduate of the Mills College MFA Program in Creative Writing.
Mini Workshop: Politics & The Pen
Activism/Writing, a curated reading
Monday 8/7, 2pm - 3:15pm
This curated reading will feature local emerging writers/artists who have developed unique and impactful ways to express their politics and affect change through their work.
Born in Calcutta and raised in New Delhi, Sayantani Dasgupta is the author of Fire Girl: Essays on India, America, & the In-Between and the chapbook The House of Nails: Memories of a New Delhi Childhood. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Rumpus, Phoebe, and Gulf Stream, among other magazines and literary journals. She edits nonfiction for Crab Creek Review, and previous honors include a Pushcart Prize Special Mention and fellowships from Centrum and Artsmith. She teaches at the University of Idaho, and has also taught at the Port Townsend Writers’ Workshop, the Writers Workshoppe, the Kahini New Delhi Writers Conference and the Cabin Fever Writing Workshop for the McCall Arts & Humanities Council. In Fire Girl, Sayantani examines her personal story against the history, religion, popular culture and mythology of South Asia and her current home in the American West. To learn more, visit www.sdasgupta.com
Mini Workshop: Flash Nonfiction: Writing Memoir in 750 Words or Less
Sunday 8/6, 2pm - 3:15pm
Flash nonfiction or short-shorts have been around forever, in formats as familiar to us as parables, jokes, and fables. They are increasingly popular now because our quickie culture demands that stories be shorter, snappier and tighter. Short-shorts must have precise language, powerful imagery, compelling plot twists, and a fine balance of scene and reflection. Despite their short length, or perhaps because of it, they are challenging but incredibly satisfying to write. Their format lends itself beautifully towards tackling weighty, difficult topics but pares them down to their basics. In this class, we will read a handful of excellent short-shorts and draft three of our own to acquire a taste (and addiction) for this genre.
Aya de Leon
Aya de Leon directs the Poetry for the People program at UC Berkeley. In 2016, Kensington Books published her debut feminist heist novel, Uptown Thief followed by The Boss in June 2017, both part of the Justice Hustlers series. Her writing and performance work has received acclaim in the Village Voice, Washington Post, Oakland Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, SF Bay Guardian and the East Bay Express. Aya has been an artist in residence at Stanford University, a Cave Canem poetry fellow, and a slam poetry champion. She publicly married herself in the 90s, and from 1995 to 2012 hosted an annual Valentine’s Day show that focused on self-love. She has written for for various media outlets such as xojane, Ebony, Huffington Post, Guernica, Essence, Writers Digest, and Bitch Magazine. She has self-published a children's book called puffy: people whose hair defies gravity. She is currently at work on the next book in the Justice Hustlers series, as well as a teen black girl spy YA novel and another children's picture book about racial justice. She blogs and tweets about culture, gender, and race. Visit her at @ayadeleon or ayadeleon.com.
Mini Workshop: Poetry (and Prose) for the People
Political Poetry & Fiction
Tuesday 8/8, 2pm - 3:15pm
Celebrated poet June Jordan founded Poetry for the People at UC Berkeley. Her style of poetry was deeply political and profoundly personal, and she created an artist/activist community both inside and outside of the academy. Since 2006, her successor, Aya de Leon has continued June’s UC Berkeley legacy, and built her own for the people niche in fiction. Aya’s “feminist heists” package radical political themes in sexy, action-packed mass-market novels. This workshop explores the intersection of political / personal poetry and politically-charged genre fiction. Writing prompts will be relevant to both poets and writers of romance, heist, sci-fi/fantasy, mystery, and spy fiction.
Pilar García-Brown graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in Anthropology. She was the Bookstore Manager of Las Dos Brujas in 2012 and is currently an Editorial Associate at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, where she mostly works on literary fiction. She lives, predictably, in Brooklyn.
Mini Workshop: Q&A on the Publishing Process
Sunday 8/6, 2pm - 3:15pm
How do you get an agent? What goes on day-to-day at a publishing house? What is the editorial process like? Pilar Garcia-Brown works in the editorial department at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt—primarily on literary fiction and narrative nonfiction—and will answer any and all questions you may have, from the nitty-gritty (what's the difference between publicity and marketing?) to the more general (what should I look for in an editor?).
Ghostlines is a Bay Area collective of poets, artists, and educators comprised of Ariana Weckstein, Gabriel Cortez, Isabella Borgeson, Jade Cho, and Natasha Huey. Amongst them, they have performed in front of thousands from Oakland to Dubai, been featured on Upworthy and Huffington Post, competed on 7 national slam teams, and taught poetry in classrooms across the country. They write from the spirit–for the hidden parts of themselves, the ghosts of their histories, and the stories they want to leave behind.
Mini Workshop: Conjuring Resistance
Sunday 8/6, 3:30pm - 4:45pm
We invite writers to join us for a generative workshop exploring the stories, people, and memories that haunt us. Drawing inspiration from the ways that ghosts resist -- refusing death and the limits of our physical reality such as walls, borders, bodies, time, space -- we will create poetry that moves through the current political moment, subverts dominant systems of thought, and imagines new, just futures.
Bich Minh Nguyen, who also goes by Beth, is the author of the memoir Stealing Buddha’s Dinner, which received the PEN/Jerard Award, the novel Short Girls, which received an American Book Award, and most recently the novel Pioneer Girl. She teaches in and directs the MFA in Writing Program at the University of San Francisco.
Mini Workshop: What Magic Mike Can Teach Us About Narrative Structure
Tuesday 8/8, 3:30pm - 4:45pm
Behind every great story, novel, memoir, and movie is a great narrative structure, yet this foundational element is also one of the toughest to figure out. Taking inspiration from a perhaps unlikely source, this talk will focus on how to develop a narrative arc and will provide guidance for creating your own. No prior knowledge of the Magic Mike movies, or the world of male entertainers, is required.
Achy Obejas is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Ruins, Days of Awe, and three other books of fiction. Her poetry chapbook, This is What Happened in Our Other Life, was both a critical favorite and a best-seller. She edited and translated, into English, Havana Noir, a collection of crime stories by Cuban writers on and off the island. Her translation, into Spanish, of Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao / La Breve y Maravillosa Vida de Óscar Wao was a finalist for Spain’s Esther Benítez Translation Prize from the national translator’s association. Her most recent translation, Papi by Rita Indiana, is forthcoming in 2016. In 2014, she was awarded a USA Ford Fellowship for her writing and translation. She is a founding member of the Creative Writing faculty at the University of Chicago, a member of the Editorial Board of In These Times and the editorial advisory board of the Great Books Foundation, and currently serves as the Distinguished Visiting Writer and Co-Director of the MFA in Translation program at Mills College.
Mini Workshop: Conflict & Revision
Monday 8/7, 3:30pm - 4:45pm
Without conflict, stories are flat or meandering. Conflict is the engine, the heart, ground zero of a story, whether it’s a blaster or a 900 page novel. But what is conflict, exactly? How do we set it up? How do we set it up so it’s not terribly obvious or cliché? And how do we use conflict to advance our story? This class will hopefully answer some of these questions for you. (Please note that I have a particular approach to this topic that is craft and practice based and begins when you're ready to revise.)
Truong Tran is a Vietnamese-American poet, visual artist, and teacher. His collection dust and conscience (2002) won the San Francisco Poetry Center Book Prize, and in 2003, he served as Writer in Residence for Intersection for the Arts. Tran currently lives in San Francisco, where he teaches creative writing at San Francisco State University, and is Writer in Residence at the San Francisco School of the Arts. He also teaches at Mills College.
Mini Workshop: Art, Poetry, and the Poetics of Resistance
Visual & Written
Saturday 8/5, 2pm - 3:15pm
Using the thinking and practices from artists of color the likes of Kara Walker, Gabriel Orrozco and Doris Salcedo, we will find new and challenging ways to fortify and sustain our own writing practices in these times. What does it mean to write the metaphor, the poem in the wake of 11/9. I for one am living in fear. I am afraid for my students, my nieces and nephews and for myself as a gay artist of color and yet I believe that poetry can give us the courage to withstand this time. Let us use the time and space to come together as a community, to hone our strengths and sharpen our tools for the work of writing a resistance and writing the life that we want for ourselves even in the most difficult of realities.
Carla Trujillo was born to a working class family in New Mexico and grew up in Northern California. Her extended family and roots are New Mexican. She is the editor of two anthologies, Living Chicana Theory (Third Woman Press), and Chicana Lesbians: The Girls Our Mothers Warned Us About (Third Woman Press), winner of a Lambda Book Award and the Out/Write Vanguard Award. Her first novel, What Night Brings (Curbstone Press 2003), won the Miguel Marmol prize focusing on human rights. What Night Brings also won the Paterson Fiction Prize, the Latino Literary Foundation Book Award, Bronze Medal from Foreword Magazine, Honorable Mention for the Gustavus Meyers Books Award, and was a LAMBDA Book Award finalist. Her latest novel, Faith and Fat Chances (Curbstone Books/Northwestern University Press 2015), was a finalist for the PEN-Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.
Mini Workshop: Deepening Your Writing, Finding Your Voice
Monday 8/7, 2pm - 3:15pm
What draws you into a story? The voice? The characters? Uniqueness of time and place? How do imagery and language interplay with emotion? Writing memorable stories is not easy. How do you break away from performing as a writer versus writing something compelling? This workshop offers strategies and practical advice to deepen your writing that includes generating the story, characters, and events; working with voice; utilizing imagery, and finding ways to write past fear. The workshop will be part lecture, part general discussion, and part generative writing. Students will leave with a fuller palette of skills to explore, texture, and deepen their writing.