The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Craft Sessions

JYWO Summer Craft Sessions:

Each day participants have the opportunity to attend one-hour electives where our Creative Writing Instructors go in-depth on a particular element of craft. Participants choose five from a total of eight possible sessions to attend for their morning elective. Held on Zoom, these synchronous classes are also made available as a recording 48hrs after they occur, in order to accommodate different schedules. These morning craft sessions invite participants to expand their writing knowledge by exploring different topics and prompts from a variety of instructors. Each session is capped at 30 participants in order to allow for interaction with the instructor. 

Craft sessions are included in The Full Summer Program & Package #2

Dismantling Form

Taught by: Mark Bias

When we think of narrative, we may think of storytelling and long prose. What happens when poetry enters the narrative conversation? What do poetics tell us about what is essential to tell a story? Through generative exercises we will look at cutting long prose down into poetry and into flash fiction. We will consider the unimportance of punctuation and the importance of empty space, appreciating that even silence can progress a narrative.


Taught by: Sarah Coates

What happens when visual art, design, and writing collide? Where, as viewers or readers or watchers, are we transported? Think of this course as a boat on the river Styx. Let's find creative limbo together.

We'll quickly study the works of artists and writers like Laurie Anderson, Claudia Rankine, Kara Walker, Ann Hamilton, Jenny Holzer, and Tary Simon as compasses in order to navigate our way through interdisciplinary waters. We'll experiment with technology, the gift of found objects, and tactility to weave through visual and verbal modalities. What makes the combination, the slippage, or the subsumption of art and writing successful? Where/ how/ when does the resulting creative live? Who consumes it?

Soaring Associations: Language -> <- Lexicon

Taught by: Julio Cesar Diaz

The OED defines lexicon as "(a) the vocabulary proper to some department of knowledge or sphere of activity; the vocabulary or word-stock of a region, a particular speaker, etc. (b) a list of words or names." In this craft session we explore man-made boundaries in language which seek clarity and beauty. Looking closer at "what a lexicon is," we break down the chains imposed around how we associate language. To have lexicons and associations wild out is to let writer's reconsider: impossible things into existence; affixes as tools; a path between differing tongues.

Vibes: How can we create atmosphere in our work?

Taught by: JR Mahung

Through reading and generative activities, we can examine how writers evoke different atmospheres in their work: creepy, dreamy, stark, etc. How do writers use sensory language to create an atmosphere? How does atmosphere change with word choice? With the length and music of sentences? With sensual language or plain language? With authoritative voice or with a casual voice? We will look at different styles of writing and think about the atmosphere created. We will then emulate different styles and voices, and in doing so, come to find our own.

Remix (Feat. You)

Taught by: Laura S. Marshall

In this craft class, we will "remix" a famous story or narrative poem by zeroing in on a character or an event and rewriting the story or poem with a new perspective, a new surprising twist, or a new setting. We will brainstorm possibilities, but go where your imagination takes you with this one and improvise, like the best musicians do! This is a good strategy to stretch the imagination and examine the nuances of plot and poem.

Dazzling Dialogue

Taught by: Yvette Ndlovu

Some writers seem to be born with an ear for writing dialogue. Many writers are not. This craft session will explore the tools a writer can use to craft masterful dialogue that jumps off the page.

In this craft session, we will engage with six dialogue writing practices, not only to explore a character, but to get them 'talking' to you. For a writer to know how a character speaks, they must know the character deeply and predict how the character would navigate a given conversation. These practices center around character development as a catalyst for dazzling dialogue.

Strange Realms

Taught by: Alex Terrell 

"In a time of destruction, create something." - Maxine Hong Kingston

Our objective for this craft session will be geared toward worldbuilding. We will create worlds, be cruel gods, and populate those worlds with strange creatures and mysterious beings. All of our work this session will culminate in generative writing that may lead you toward your first chapter, poem, or hybrid piece that you can take home with you and expand or continue working on. 

We will explore creation myths and myths of destruction. We will do writing exercises and write ourselves in and out of each other's worlds. If you have 20-sided dice, bring 'em!

Painting Worlds with Words

Taught by: Dāshaun Washington

In this craft session, we will focus on recreating concrete images in the form of text. We will reshape memories and materialize them in a corporeal body. Using descriptive language and experimentation with structure, we will clearly illustrate a multidimensional image that reaches beyond the page and stimulates the sense of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.

This craft session will teach us to see lines of a poem as singular images that adhere to the next to build a greater image. We will find ways to call upon things by other names – inventing new ways to say mother, lover, rain, sea, tree, heart, home. Letting each line be a brush stroke that works towards the illustration of an awe-inspiring image, we will birth new worlds and methods for capturing them on the page.