Workshops are at the heart of the Juniper Institute. Here, writers generate new work, and present that work or other work-in-progress to their assigned faculty workshop leaders and peers. Workshop sizes are kept small so that every writer’s work gets dedicated attention. In addition to focusing on specific pieces of writing, writers actively interrogate larger issues of form, style, content, language, and process.
Every workshop has its own climate and conventions: some lean toward the generation of new work, some toward the honing of existing pieces, while others emphasize a combination of both. Here’s how the 2014 faculty describe their approach to their Juniper workshops. (Details are subject to revision.)
Poetry Workshop with Timothy Donnelly:
Ordinarily when we write a poem we give shape to what’s in our heads, drawing from the reservoir of what we’ve already experienced, thought, or felt, or else from the stream of what we come to imagine, think, or feel in the throes of writing. In this workshop we will experiment with imparting a sense of fixity and focus to even our most rambunctiously emergent material through the use of different kinds and varying degrees of formal regularity. While this won’t be a workshop in traditional forms and meters per se, we will acknowledge how traditional poetic practice has, at its best, served to gratify the mind’s seemingly opposite appetites for stability and surprise, sameness and variety, constancy and change. We will explore new ways of achieving the “unity in multeity” that Coleridge has, like so many before and after him, identified as “the principle of beauty”—but not without asking ourselves whether or not beauty is always our top priority. Perhaps most importantly, we will consider our work as a field of interplay for centrifugal and centripetal forces, as a site where chaos meets containment, and how the struggle to control and to rebel against control can become not merely a compelling formal property of our writing but also a crucial aspect of its significance.
Poetry Workshop with Dorothea Lasky:
In this workshop, we will investigate what a poem can and will do and what you want a poem do, especially to you, and what it will and can do to your readers. Using your poems as the lens with which we will look at these issues of craft, you will be encouraged to push the boundaries of what you imagine your poems can do to grow and transform. Writing exercises will be shared with you in order to aid this transformation and to push your practice, particularly those which ask you to engage with the everyday and the beauty of objects, things, and people. You will also be urged to share with the group ideas, poems, songs, paintings, cities, animals, colors, theories, heroes and heroines, gods and goddesses, disciplines, famous people and family members, foods, and flowers that inspire you and to create poetry exercises that help us all to see poetry anew. And in doing so, we will explore together whether "Poetry ends like a rope" like Spicer said it might, or if "Poetry is a Destructive Force," as Stevens said it could be, or, as Dickinson wrote to us, if "A word is dead/ When it is said," or if we agree with her that a word "Begins to live/ That day."
Poetry Workshop with Evie Shockley:
This workshop will explore the intersection of the lyric poem and the curious mind's proclivity for research. We'll begin our poems by doing some digging—not in the psyche, but in the archives, so to speak. Our focus will be on the generation of new work via a series of prompts that will direct our creative process through a brief research process, crafting poems that use whatever materials stick to the muse as s/he passes through various dense, rich thickets of information. We'll look at poems that offer models and possibilities, and we'll give generous attention to each other's still-wet drafts.
Poetry Workshop with Dara Wier:
In our workshop you'll be invited to bring us your best poems, your most difficult poems, your poems in progress, your most questionable poems, your almost there poems, your inklings of poems. And with them your concerns, fears, risk-taking questions, and gut feelings, your instincts, your experience and your understanding of why poems matter, to you, and to us all. You will be invited to bring us poems by poets you admire so we can gain a collective reading experience we can talk about, refer to, and enjoy. You'll be given a chance to tell us about how you happened to come to be writing poetry and what you hope your poetry will be up to as it evolves. You'll be invited to ask questions, tell stories, direct our conversation toward subjects you feel significant to poets gathering over poetry, in order to love it, to question it and to further its life in the future. Your work is the heart and soul and brain of our meetings and it will be our main focus.
Fiction Workshop with Ron Hansen:
Randall Jarrell described a novel as a work of prose fiction of some length that has something wrong with it. In this week-long class we'll be looking at stories or chapters in which the fiction writer is still fully invested while realizing there are problems she or he doesn't know how to solve. In a workshop environment, faults will be identified and solutions proposed by the class members as well as the instructor. Depending on the enrollment, we'll consider two or three pieces in each class period. The instructor requests that individual manuscripts (of no more than 20 pages) be submitted through the Juniper Institute at least one week prior to the commencement of our week together.
Fiction Workshop with Noy Holland:
Our time here is short and happily intense. I think you will use it best and hardest by producing new work while you are here, by internalizing—through the act of writing—the varied lessons that arise among us. My idea is to approach the work in units. We might spend a whole workshop, for instance, looking at adjectives and adverbs; another workshop looking at dialogue; another at the angle of perception; another at rhythm and syntax. After each workshop, I ask that you embrace what you’ve discovered by producing work that responds to those discoveries—in direct and meaningful and immediate ways.
Does this mean you are not invited to bring work with you? No, not really. If you are deeply engaged in a project, it may make sense to use your time in active revision; you may want to share not new work but newly revised work. But to get what you can from the workshop, you need to be open, in the moment, to deep changes, to seeing what you have brought as raw material, endlessly malleable. This can be difficult to do in as short a time as we have. Ideally, you will come to see everything you have written through the lens of what you learn while you are here, and this re-seeing takes time, often quite a long, welcome, wrestling kind of time that writers find in the weeks that follow.
Fiction Workshop with Joy Williams:
Participants’ new, raw material will provide the basis for this workshop. We will be working on three to four stories per session; the last session will be devoted to individual manuscript consultation (number of participants permitting). In addition to working with participant’s manuscripts, we’ll also be discussing some (more or less, classic or strange) stories to explore the techniques to make them effective.
Creative Nonfiction/Memoir Workshop with Paul Lisicky:
The ideal writing workshop is a place where a variety of forms are encouraged and respected, where we attempt to create a version of a model literary community: a thriving ecosystem, as Richard Powers might call it, rather than a monoculture. It requires an openness at every turn, a dedicated generosity, and a willingness to consider each piece on its own terms. We'll look at a variety of outside work (Nick Flynn, Peter Trachtenberg, Mary Gaitskill, among others), but your writing will be our primary text. We'll make time for in-class exercises and relevant discussion. Along the way, we’ll work hard, have fun, and make sure delight isn’t an enemy to seriousness.