Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Washington University Summer Writers Institute By Catherine Rankovic

I tried to do it alone and failed, so I know that professional writers need friends and specialized knowledge if their goal is to publish and thrive. As writing coach Steve Buttry puts it, “No train, no gain.” It took me years to figure out that, like any other professionals, writers need instruction, moral support, updates on the newest resources, and a network. They can get these in a short two weeks in June at the Washington University Summer Writers Institute.

I've been involved in the Washington University Summer Writers Institute for 13 of its 14 years, as a workshop instructor (poetry; creative nonfiction), guest writer, or planning committee member. I’m a witness, 13 times over, to the fact that The Institute changes people radically.

In two weeks of full-time work on their creative writing, lackadaisical writers become committed writers; pre-professionals solidify their skills and learn about markets; timid writers gain confidence; procrastinators get kick-started; and lonely post-MFAs enjoy workshop feedback again. Guest writers and editors give priceless information on craft, publishing and promotion. Then there’s the final day’s open-mike reading. It's a volcanic and exhausting two weeks -- but hardly anyone has ever dropped out. In fact, many participants return in subsequent years.

Participants – ranging in age from 18 to 75 – who’ve kept in touch have gone on to finish longtime projects, publish their novels, essays, memoirs, and poetry, and start independent writing groups. The Institute can also be a ticket into the large and friendly St. Louis literary community. If it helps a writer write and keep writing, I’m for it.

The dates for this year’s Institute are June 15-26, 2009. You attend Mondays through Fridays and have the weekend to write. The 2009 Institute offers workshops in five genres, each led by a successful working writer:

* Literary Fiction: For writers whose prose fiction is for a general or literary audience. The works may be short stories, novels, novellas, or short-short stories. Instructor: novelist Saher Alam, who recently read from her fiction at Duff’s.

* Popular Fiction: For writers of romance, science fiction, mysteries, fantasy, horror, and other established genres of popular prose. Instructor: Suzann Ledbetter, author of 20 books and columnist for Family Circle magazine.

* Creative Nonfiction: Open to writers of memoirs, essays, personal essays, travel writing, nature writing, biography, and other types of fact-based narrative such as first-person reportage. Instructor: Kathleen Finneran, author of The Tender Land and winner of Guggenheim and Whiting fellowships.

* Poetry: Open to poets of all styles and skill levels. Kerri Webster, currently finishing three years as Washington University’s visiting Writer-in-Residence, will teach, this workshop.

* Young Writers Institute: Open to high-school juniors and seniors interested in writing poetry or creative prose. River Styx editor Richard Newman is this year’s instructor.

The two weeks include two-and-a-half-hour workshops every weekday morning, and in the afternoons one-on-one conferences, readings by guest faculty, craft talks, and panel discussions. Participants may attend on a non-credit basis (for a reasonable $795) or choose to earn three college credits ($1,695). The Institute always ends with a big lunch and an open-mike reading of participants’ work.

So if you reside in Missouri or Illinois, know that you don’t have to pack up and travel out of state if you want to attend a writers’ workshop. If you really must get out of the house, on-campus housing in the Wash U dorms starts at about $30 per night.

In the Young Writers Institute, now in its third year, St. Louis-area high-school juniors and seniors who write poetry or creative prose can study with working writers, become acquainted with the St. Louis literati, and can choose an option to earn three college credits. If you know some bright young writers, please refer them!

If you’re interested in applying, or want details or full faculty biographies, see the Institute website or phone (314) 935-6720. For insider information you can send me a note through my blog.

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1 Responses »

  1. Interested in workshops. I am faculty at Wash U.

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