Kenyon Review review (part 2)

For those who missed Part 1, I have recently returned from an awesome week in little old Gambier, OH.

So, what did I actually learn at the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop? Well, without divulging too much of the KRWW’s patented teaching techniques, let me see if I can give you an idea…

“If an idea strikes you as absurd, go for it.” – Geeta Kothari

Prompts are not the pointless, ineffective little monsters I thought they were.

“You’re always looking for trouble in fiction.” – Geeta Kothari

A story needs conflict/tension and stakes…

“Lists are your friend.” – Geeta Kothari

…and will benefit from objects, a ticking clock, and at least 3 characters.

“When you’re writing about big things, it’s best to focus on the trivia/trivial.” – Geeta Kothari

Write a story you can contain. Bigger is not always better.

“You cannot find the absent in the absence.” – Jason Gray

“There’s an art to everything, even leaving.” – Carl Phillips

Poets are so darn poetic!

“Editors read for reasons to quit reading.” – David Lynn

Getting published is tough noogies. But it’s not impossible!

That’s the week in a nutshell. OBVIOUSLY there was a lot more to it than that, but if it were that easily conveyed, they (a) wouldn’t be able to charge $2k for it, and (b) wouldn’t bother having a workshop. They’d just print the rules somewhere and celebrate because everyone would now rock at writing! Alas, you must go and experience for yourself.

(And by “alas” I mean “YAY!”)

Bottom line: if you’re trying to improve as a writer, but you don’t want to go back to school (or don’t know if you do), then I definitely recommend the KRWW.

I remember when I heard there were returning students, and I was all, “Seriously? But it’s so expensive! But we’re in the middle of nowhere! But there are no agents!” (Note: I’d only been on campus for approximately 17 minutes.) By the middle of the week I was wondering how many times I could return before they’d declare me unteachable and ban me for life.

People go back because it’s a fun, friendly environment that nurtures growth. Both concretely, through the classes, and abstractly, through the setting and community. Yes, it’s a little pricey, but I am now completely convinced of its worth. I mean, when else are you going to have the awesome editors/staff/writers of a top-tier literary magazine focused on you?!

(On that note, I’d like to say thanks and give a shout out to: Tyler M, Anna DR, Jay T, and David L! Geeta too, but she was my teacher so she already knows I love her.)

One thing to note is that the KRWW is different from many other writing workshops and conferences. It’s not about schmoozing. Yes, you’ll meet and “network” with the KR staff and the various workshop teachers (who are all published, respected writers and poets) but there are no agents, no editors, no pitch sessions. You don’t bring stories that you want to work on. The KRWW is about understanding and improving your instincts and process as a writer. You will produce a new (short) piece every day. If you can take the guidance and critiques, you will improve.

So just keep that in mind. I don’t have the experience to say that this approach is any better or worse than what the schmoozy workshops do. I think it’s just different. In some ways it’s less direct (you won’t meet your future agent) but in some ways it’s more so (because you can’t get an agent unless you write really well). Just think about what you need and want most at this point in your life/career, and whichever kind of workshop/conference you end up at, make sure you make the most of it.

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Kenyon Review review (part 1)




  1. Les

    Sounds very cool, a little too expensive for my blood though ;) That and I don’t think I try hard enough to even be able to get in.

  2. Aurora

    HAHA I totally convinced you it was worth it.

    how am I soo persuasive…?

  3. Geeta

    I can’t take credit for those things you’ve attributed to me; really, I learned them from Nancy Zafris, who is the best teacher I’ve ever had. She also writes really good prompts. I’m just passing her wisdom on.

  4. Les-
    Oh, I’m sure you could! I’ve read your stuff, remember. ;)

    You ARE persuasive! It’s something about your quietness, I think. Because then when you say something, it must be important!

    Well thanks to Nancy then too! Maybe someday I’ll go back and take a class from her. But trust me, not everyone could even “pass on her wisdom” as well as you did.

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