The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Craft Sessions

Each morning, participants attend online Craft Sessions where Creative Writing Instructors go in-depth on a particular element of craft. In each of these sessions, participants will expand their writing knowledge by exploring different topics and prompts, each day with a different instructor. Held on Zoom, these synchronous classes are also made available as a recording to program participants.

Craft Sessions are included in: Week One of the 1 and 2 week programs, and in the Craft Package

Registration is now open for the Craft Package ($400), offered July 12-16, 2021. This package includes:

Button says: register today! and the link will take you to the registration page



Below are the Craft Sessions that will be offered for Summer 2021. Participants can choose five to attend for their morning elective. In order to accomodate for busy schedules, all craft sessions are shared with the participants as a recording after the talk takes place. 

A List of Possibilities 

Taught by: Sarah Ahmad

Umberto Eco said, “The list is the origin of culture.” In her diaries, Susan Sontag made endless lists: things I like, things I dislike, places I have been, and so on. Nabokov stated that there are three points of view from which a writer can be considered: as a storyteller, as a teacher, and as an enchanter. 

In this craft session, we will travel to merge through these ideas of lists: a list as a place of possibility, a list as a place where we can enchant through cataloging, a daily cultural product we can be creative with. Working to list generatively and intensely, we will look at lists by Nazim Hikmet, Chen Chen, Linda Pastan, among others, and see if we can rethink the marginalia as a space of possibility. 


Everything Is Fan Fiction  

Taught by: Sarah Coates

Everything is fan fiction. Themes, tropes, rhetorical devices all exist because someone once liked what they read and rewrote it in their voice, with their details. As writers, we piggyback off of great works of writing, becoming mesmerized with, and drenched in, their form, style, plot, and characters. In this craft session we’ll give into that fantastical urge to live in the worlds already written. We’ll explore the burning rush to the end of a novel, and the subsequent loss of its shelter, by living in its text, extending the romance of reading a while longer. By writing in an already defined universe, full of fleshy characters confidently inhabiting their environments, we’ll be able to dissect the mechanics of tone, voice, character building, plot mapping, world building, and authorly choices. 

Traveling between the Lines

Taught by: Julio Cesar Diaz

Whether it be a poem, novel, or short story, there is always a start and end with our words, but where do we go? Where do we come from and end up in these stories? This craft session takes a closer look at how we enter a piece, move through it (examine what movement is) and how we finally exit the piece, perhaps transformed. Are there different ways of entering a piece? Is movement only linear? Can we return once we exit the piece? These questions and more will be explored in this talk.

Hit em Wit Da Hee: Writing with Music Videos

Taught by: JR Mahung

Music videos can be a visual world that an artist asks us to inhabit and, in some cases, can even pull us into those worlds well after we’re done viewing. In this session we will watch music videos by Missy Elliott and Flying Lotus and discuss each as an artist’s articulation of craft before spending time with our own favorite music videos to see what we can learn about process. We will end the session with a prompt and some writing inspired by music videos.

Not Second Banana

Taught by: Laura S. Marshall

After reading a short story, I will invite each participant to consider the characters in that story. Not just people and animals, but lesser-regarded characters too, including objects in the setting: all nouns, from fax machines to food items, trees to bicycles. We will consider how inanimate characters create meaning in stories, and then I'll invite them to select one of these characters,  place it in a brand-new setting, and give it a starring role in a new story. Finally, I'll invite them to share why they chose those characters, and how it felt to think about "character" this way. 

Getting Unstuck: A Survival Kit for the Wilderness that is Writer’s Block

Taught by: Yvette Ndlovu

Have you not written a single word in months? Never fear, you’re not alone! Sometimes, we hit a wall in our projects or are so busy that we have little energy left to sit down and write. Join me as we explore the writer’s toolbox and pull out the writer’s block survival kit! In this generative writing session, we will get re-grounded, revived, and re-inspired. We’ll use 5 exhilarating idea generation and craft tools that will defeat your archnemesis, Writer’s Block, and remind you why you love writing. You will walk away from this craft session with a framework and methodology for getting unstuck. 

Beyond the Horizon 

Taught by: Rabia Saeed

We will focus on reading and imitating works of translations and writers who lead genuinely bilingual lives—who construct worlds in English when, often, they live their lives in other languages. Our purpose will be to let the styles, histories and inflections of other literary traditions seep into ours so that we are made all the more aware of what is possible. How can we reclaim the language of our writing—English—and use it differently, more originally, to reflect the unique vantage points from which we see the world? This craft session is then an exercise in understanding our boundaries, to write beyond these boundaries, to discover ourselves as writers.

'Motherland, drip on me': Voice, Ancestors, and the Histories We Carry 

Taught by: Alex Terrell 

In this craft session, we will explore what it means to write voice-driven fiction and connect with those ancestors (however we define that) which we hail from. This can be literary or familial ancestors. It might also be places that we feel a deep connection to or places that we’ve visited that have remained with us. We will focus on exploring the stories we carry from our past by writing to our ancestors and thinking of our ancestral homes. Exercises will include writing a story for one of your ancestors and engaging in memory work.

The Turn

Taught by: Rachelle Toarmino 

Every piece of good writing—whether a poem, short story, essay, novel, tweet, or TikTok—requires setup and payoff. The moment the text begins to pay is called the turn, and we rely on these shifts in tone or thought to surprise our readers and keep them engaged. In this craft session, we’ll study different kinds of turns—from the sonnet’s volta to the essay’s pivot—and how they work to open up a piece of writing by allowing it to change its terms.

Fanfiction as Creative Impulse

Taught by: Lucy Wainger

Fanfiction is a guilty pleasure for some, a lifelong writerly endeavor for others, and an afterthought to “real literature” for many. In this craft session, we’ll take fanfiction seriously as an expression of the impulse to transform—to adopt existing stories and make them your own. We’ll discuss the pleasures of fanfiction, interrogate the divide between fanfiction and “real literature” (like, isn’t Paradise Lost just fanfiction of the Bible?), and read contemporary works that disregard that divide (Carmen Maria Machado and Fatimah Asghar come to mind). Finally, we’ll try our hands at writing our own fanfiction—“real literature” or otherwise.

Text as Image

Taught by: Dāshaun Washington

This craft session will explore the ways in which experimentation with language and form is used in literary arts. Such experimentation can be used to further the narrative and imagery within a poem or a story. But what becomes of writing that extends beyond the boundaries of genre? What becomes of writing that extends beyond the boundaries of writing? In this craft session, we will blur the line between writing and visual art. We will take imagery from within our writing and create concrete images from the text itself. In this craft session, we will imagine images within text, and text as images.