Workshops and Field Trips/Craft Sessions

Descriptions of Workshops and Field Trips/Craft Sessions are provided as examples of our curriculum.

Juniper Institute for Young Writers 2018 Workshops:


Rattlesnake Kumbayaa: a study in getting weird

Taught by: Chris Ayala

We will write what it is we write and then learn why we chose to show what we have done, though as an elite unit of equals who will, by the end of the week, be capable of eating light. The name of this game is creating worlds unique to our experience, to make stories that matter to us as if they are the last thing we will ever say and we will say them as such for the first time. Our ambition is to enter a room where we come together to read work and talk about each line as it makes a paragraph that makes a page that creates whatever it is we decided to brand as our story. It will be intensive, the scrutiny we place on how we do these things. Our reading will be twice as much so.

The goal of this class is to develop severity.


Writing is a Made Thing

Taught by: Sean Bates

In this course, you will write. You will free write every day. We will examine creative limits, freedoms, permissions, tools, and springboards with the goal of growing your relationship with writing. Whether in prose or poetry or between, an idea is born first in our minds and choice makes it manifest on the page. Through practice, experiment, failure, and revision, we will become more acquainted with the possibilities of writing. We will come to our work and the work of others with a method of hope in our action and our feedback. This is a course to fail together openly and proudly with the rousing support of your peers. This is a course to discover your own relationship to revision. This is a course to celebrate the sometimes slow and occasionally quick electricity of language.


How We Ask Why: a poem

Taught by: Amanda Dahill-Moore

This workshop begins with a very fundamental question: why write a poem?

We will ask this question of each other in our conversations, and we will create and stumble upon our individual answers through writing exercises.

Curiosity will be our guide as we traverse the physical, emotional, conscious, and unconscious realms that we respond to in our writing. In keeping with this spirit of discovery, we will be more engaged with questioning how and why we write than creating highly polished works.

Each day will begin with writing prompts that invite us to explore the places our writing comes from. The rest of our time will be divided between responding to one another and discussing other poets. As we read other writers (both those in the room and beyond) we will foreground the same question of motivation, while simultaneously examining how we as readers bring our own personal interpretations to any poem we encounter.


Ephemera/Ephemeral: the art of keeping a notebook

Taught by: Ell Davis

Dear or detested, notebooks and journals are interesting byproducts of many writers’ processes. They are frequently messy and full of lively "first thoughts": the beginnings of books. But notebooks are also books themselves.

In this workshop, we will write (note) books. We will fill journals with notes rich in potential energy and begin to unleash that energy in parallel writing projects. Our notebooks will be our companions as we embark on a set of excursions to spark our literary imaginations. We will write while and as we move, draw, and converse; as we encounter unfamiliar places, people, art, and books. The observations we fill our notebooks with will transform into ekphrastic poetry, centos, lyric essay, poetic collage, collaborations, journalistic portraits, and whatever else happens to happen.


Tales As Old As Time

Taught by Emmalie Dropkin

Ursula K. Le Guin wrote, “There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.” Stories are told and retold, myth and fairytale and lore shifting across time and geography and culture to offer us new insights or old truths as they provoke us to observe, confront, explore, and question the world around us. From Beauty and the Beast to Hamilton to Romeo and Juliet, we’re surrounded by retellings.

For writers, retelling old stories in our own ways, from pastiche to fanfiction, can be a means of emulating what we love and making ourselves part of the great conversation of literature. In this workshop we’ll play with the forms of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry and with the tropes and stories we’ve encountered our whole lives as we write to express our own voices, experiences, and insights.



Taught by: Elizabeth Mikesch

are you in tune with the tiniest things? is your mind like a mix you want to give to everybody so they get you? when you figure out what’s important to you about writing and art, you can rule out what isn’t and focus on making your words the most you they can be. our time together at juniper is short.  above all, what we’re going to do is to find the language for & the skills to hone our vibes as writers. we’ll talk about literary forms & constraints, contemporary publishing, & exercises that you can take home with you after we part ways. we’ll consider who our influencers are & as fast as we can, we’ll take from them & do our own thing. come with an open heart & mind. inevitably our style will rub off on each other & even better, we can use that inspiration to create original writing.


The Cave You Fear

Taught by: Ben Parson

You are a writer. But what is it that you write, and why? Maybe you’re a novelist, or a poet, or an essayist, or maybe you claim any number of titles that describe you and your work. But why? What do we exclude or deny by drawing such boundaries around ourselves? As Campbell tells us, the hero’s journey begins in a place of comfortable discontent—meaning a world in which growth is necessary but unsought. In order to begin our journey towards growth, we will discuss our identities as writers, the awareness and responsibilities which our work demands, and the uncomfortable necessity of rule breaking.

Our goal will be to question the dividing lines of genre and to investigate the symbiotic relationship of reading and writing. You are a writer, but you are also a reader—capable of navigating any genre or form, and returning with insights which can be forged into new and exciting work. We will read fiction, poetry, mythology, creative nonfiction/ personal essay; we will listen to music and meditate on movies—and through critical reflection we will attempt to arrive at an understanding of both the shared visions and the shared burdens of writers. Along with our study of established authors, students will be responsible for generating their own creative work (any genre) which will be shared and discussed in class.


The Joy in Writing

Taught by: Jay Ritchie

You already know the feeling. You’re writing, and working, and editing, then finally—something clicks. It’s a rush. It’s impossible to communicate, and it’s all yours. But how did you get there? How can you make it happen again? And again, and again, and again! This workshop will honor the ineffable joy in writing and take a technical, practical approach to manifesting it. We will look at writing as craft. We will locate and discuss specific writing techniques and their effects, which we will then emulate, subvert, and redefine in our own writing. By expanding our repertoire of technical strategies, we can write more nuanced and complex work than initially thought possible. Voice, multivalence, cadence, conceit, imagery, narrative, irony, apostrophe—all are at our disposal if only we know to call on them. All modes of writing all welcome: poetry, fiction, nonfiction, mixed genre, hybrid work, anything! A primary goal of this workshop is to leave with the skills and habits necessary to independently manifest the joy in writing far into the future.


“Draw Out Yr Heart”

Taught by: Ann Ward

You’re a writer, but you’re also a doodler and dreamer. You’re the person in a group who always notices the strangest, smallest details, and puts them in your pocket to use later on. In this multi-genre workshop we will use images as fuel for our writing, threading our words and visions together. We will create poetry comics inspired by the work of Bianca Stone, creative nonfiction from the prompts of cartoonist Lynda Barry, and fiction grown from vivid dreams, memories, and noticings. We will then use our visual skill set to deepen our readings of each other’s work. Together we will confront the uncomfortable, tense and joyful moments in the word and images we study, take them apart to learn what we can, and put them back together again well-oiled with humor, precision, and love. We will try and fail together, laugh together, and possibly get a little muddy. But we’ll also look at important pieces that are seeking to create change in the world, and learn to trust our own creative and artistic instincts, no matter our backgrounds in writing, in drawing, or in life.


Juniper Institute for Young Writers: Field Trips and Craft Sessions 2018

Write, Right Now

Field trip to: Paradise Pond, Smith College

Taught by: Amanda Dahill-Moore

You know that feeling when you read or write a phrase, and it just feels right?

Or a line break happens, and you can’t explain why, but you just know that it had to move across space in exactly that way?

This craft session is about those intuitive moments. We all have instincts as writers, but we aren’t always taught to trust them. For our afternoon, both in and outside the classroom, we will talk about—and experience—listening to our instincts as a method for generating writing.

We will begin in the classroom by looking at some of the different writers and theories that deal with spontaneity and instinct in writing. Then, we will play with writing prompts designed to gently turn the kaleidoscope of our perspectives. Finally, we will venture out on a walk around the Smith lake and woods, where we will try some group trust exercises and explore both collaborative and individual forms of spontaneous writing.


Cabinet of Curiosities: Challenging Our Perspectives in Writing

Field Trip to: Smith College Museum of Art

Taught by: Ben Parson

Imagine a movie scene. In this scene two people are smiling at one another—one shot of Person A smiling, followed by another shot of Person B smiling. Our brain says, “oh cool! these people are smiling at each other, and therefore emotions are happening,” but in reality all of this is an illusion. Soviet filmmaker Lev Kuleshev posited a theory in the early 1900’s which stated that two separate shots shown in sequence will inevitably alter the viewer's understanding of what they are being shown. Think back to that shot of Person A smiling, but now instead of being followed by the shot of Person B, it is followed by a shot of a ham sandwich. Our brain now says, “Oh! Person A likes ham!” Thus, the same image gains a new meaning through a simple change in perspective.

During our craft session we will be focussing on perspective in our writing. We will be examining how choices in language, juxtaposition, and form can alter the meaning of our work. Examining unconventional authors, we will find inspiration for weirdness. Using fragments and parcels of ill-suited text, we will build scenes and poems which are unexpected or perhaps challenging. And rethinking exercises like Exquisite Corpse, we will endeavor to assemble monsters from our words and images.

Following the in-class work, we will venture to the Smith College Museum of Art, where you shall receive a secret envelope. Before opening this envelope, your task is to peruse the limits of the museum and to seek out a piece art or an artifact which significantly resonates with you. At this point, you open your mysterious envelope. Inside you will find a section of text that you must put into context against the museum piece you discovered. After some individual writing, you will seek out your partner and discuss the exercise together.


Hidden Histories and the Old Hadley Cemetery

Field trip to: Old Hadley Cemetery

Taught by: Emmalie Dropkin and Sean Bates

Writers often draw inspiration from stories we find around us, in the histories of our names and the journeys of our families and the origins of familiar narratives. But how can we question or investigate to find stories that are hidden below the surface of the world we know? Research is part of the craft of creative work, and in this craft session we’ll explore excerpts from Trace by Lauret Savoy, Half-Hanged Mary by Margaret Atwood, and The Homeplace by Marilyn Nelson Waniek and how their family mythologies inform their work. Then we’ll do a little writing of our own.

Next we’ll travel to the Old Hadley Cemetery, established in 1660, for an inspiration scavenger hunt for natural and human ephemera and make these acts of discovery a form of research. Today the cemetery offers a glimpse of a certain perspective on that moment in colonial history. A visit to the graveyard will prompt us to consider whose lives are written into history and how those moments in history rub up against our own. We’ll delve into the possible lives of the settlers buried there, the populations who are recognized and unrecognized in the history of the area, and our own impulses for our writing. Then we’ll respond to a choice of writing prompts related to our own family lore and take time to explore the cemetery, the adjacent Alexandra Dawson Conservation Area, the site of the original Hadley Meeting House, and a nearby coffee shop.


Be Who You Aren’t

Field trip to: Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

Taught by: Ann Ward and Chris Ayala

As writers, we aim to populate our work with characters who seem to “come to life,” but how do we push ourselves to create complex beings whose experiences and perspectives bear less resemblance to our own? In this craft session, we’ll examine voice as it appears in poetry and prose and draw on guided meditation, performance art, and the principles of method acting to invent—and then inhabit—characters whose lives are strange and surprising to us. The metamorphoses that begin in the classroom will continue after lunch at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, home of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, where we’ll remain in character as we tour a series of “Transformation Stations” that will provide occasions for us to try out the eyes, ears, and voices of our newly minted creations and journal about our discoveries. By the end of the day, we’ll each have our own stockpile of character-building strategies and a wealth of raw material to fuel future poems and stories. Please keep in mind that immersing ourselves in the characters we develop in our craft session will require a willingness to risk absurdity in public – adventurous personalities encouraged!



Field trip to: Emily Dickinson Museum

Taught by: Elizabeth Mikesch and Jamie Thomson

When’s the last time you actually wrote an IRL letter to someone? Never? Do you even know what an ink and quill set IS, my dude? Emily Dickinson does. That’s because Emily Dickinson is THE literary style star of epistolary (letter) writing.

In our craft session, we’ll look at the form of the letter as a tool for summoning someone, something, some energy beyond the page just through having a recipient. Next, we’ll visit Emily Dickinson’s house to see if we can attune ourselves to her spirit. Per J-I-Y-Dub tradition, we’re going to try to talk to Em via Ouija board at her grave, sling some tarot, and see if she answers back.


To Get You Out Walking

Field trip to: Robert Frost Walking Trail

Taught by: Ell Davis and Jay Ritchie

Walking is a venerated tradition among writers. Virginia Woolf, Vladimir Nabokov, Frank O’Hara, Haryette Mullen, and countless others used or use walking as a way to get inspired. Biologically, walking brings more oxygen to the brain, allowing for new connections between brain cells to be formed while also stimulating memory and attention—there is a surfeit of scientific literature on the benefits of walking. Walking brings the body consciously in to the practice; body and practice, both, benefit.

This group will take a long walk on the Robert Frost Trail, our notebooks in hand. As we walk and write together, we will practice defamiliarization, heightening and shifting our attention in order to surprise ourselves in language.

Accessibility information: The Robert Frost Trail passes through flat, wooded terrain which is rocky in places and can be muddy in certain conditions. It is not wheelchair accessible. Tall socks, pants, comfy shoes, bug spray, sunscreen and a raincoat or umbrella are recommended.