The University of Massachusetts Amherst
Workshop and Field Trip/Craft Session Selection

Writing Labs

At the heart of the online program are Writing Labs, where participants explore creative styles, forms, subjects, and modes of writing. The lab sessions meet daily for two-hour sessions for a total of eight hours of live, interactive instruction with a cohort of passionate young writers from all walks of life. Labs are synchronous, dynamic, and participatory. The work is complex and at a college level, allowing participants to dive deep into developing their own work and exchanging feedback with one another on their creative writing projects.

Following the completion of the Writing Lab, instructors provide each participant with a written summary of their work, evaluation of their progression toward writing goals, and future considerations for their writing.

Writing Labs are offered during the Juniper Institute for Young Writers, Juniper Young Writers Online, and the JYWO Winter Workshops.

Below are the Writing Labs that will be offered in Summer 2023. Participants will choose one lab from the options below. Please note that most Writing Labs are available either only online or only in person! Each lab is labeled accordingly next to the name of the instructor.

Botanical Writing

Taught by: Scout Turkel (In-Person only)

Botanical Writing considers the relationship between cultivating the earth, and cultivating a writing practice. This multi-genre lab centers around the thing called "earth" (the globe, the soil, the place writing happens). To stimulate our writing in preparation for workshop, we will develop an awareness of literature as a "cultivation" practice, one that follows and plays with nature’s rhythms. We will take inspiration from nature, botanical texts and drawings, and writers who address the earth, including Emily Dickinson, CAConrad, Brandon Shimoda, Gloria Anzaldúa, Lorine Niedecker, Aimé Césaire, Rachel Carson, and others. Participating writers will also experience the "pace" of writing alongside the earth; we will take advantage of the local botanical abundance in Amherst. Activities include plant-walks, nature-generated prompts, and the cultivation of an in-lab collective "writing garden." We will experiment with how writing's forms might imitate the different ways plants grow and live, and in turn, what kinds of nurturing our own writerly voices require. Botanical writing, in this lab, does not mean writing "about" nature. Instead, we will see where the rituals of gardening and plant-life take us: love poems, flash fiction, memoirs, plays, dream descriptions. This lab will be generative, cooperative, and encourage us to begin writing from the place we all reside: on earth.

The Empathy Workshop: Writing Full, Complex Characters in Action

Taught by: Larry Flynn (Online and In-Person)

Writing is an act of empathy. When we write, we place ourselves in the experiences, bodies, and perspectives of another. These people are our “characters” and they, like us, deserve full, radiant, nuanced humanity. How do writers and poets effectively and empathetically craft character through scene and action? How do we avoid character stereotypes and instead allow our characters agency on the page? Why might we care to craft such people in our writings? Through reading a variety of writers and poets, we will learn techniques of characterization through dramatization and staging in order to write our own character-driven sketches, scenes, and poems.

This writing lab will challenge us to experiment and play with language and voice. We will take empathetic risks and write through our senses. Our craft exercises will allow us to try new styles and forms, particularly regarding our choice of point-of-view, dialogue, and action. We will even learn how cities, animals, and ecosystems can be “characterized” as collective systems functioning in unison. Readings will include excerpts of contemporary and classic works by Amy Hempel, Edward P. Jones, Aimee Nezhukumathil, Anton Chekov, Nikolai Gogol, Ross Gay, and Gregory Pardlo. Writers of all styles and interests are welcome!

Establishing (Alternate) Realities

Taught by: Sara Hetherington (In-Person only)

Are you interested in telling stories with unreliable narrators? Or are you a sci-fi writer trying to balance world-building and plot? Maybe you have a great idea but are having trouble bringing it to the page in a way that feels “real.”

All stories, no matter how realistic their subject matter, aim to portray a particular reality—one with its own logic, rules, and texture. We’ll begin this class by investigating the internal logic of stories rooted in “realism,” and continue with stories containing increasingly central elements of speculative fiction. Along the way, we’ll interrogate how authors establish their narrators’ trustworthiness and their stories’ realities. Some authors whose works we will read include Lesley Nneka Arimah, Donald Barthelme, Alice Munroe, Sayaka Murata, and George Saunders, among others.

Each meeting will include generative writing exercises and time set aside for group feedback for those comfortable sharing their work.

Finding the Eye

Taught by: Joan Tate (Online only)

Linda Gregg opens her essay The Art of Finding saying “I believe that poetry at its best is found rather than written.” This writing lab uses Gregg’s idea of a poetics searched for actively each day to look at how best to develop a writer’s eye, opening the world around us through vision and sense as an active pursuit rather than passive intake and response. In this class we will read excerpts of writers whose work engages deeply with the eye and try our own hand at writing based on the world around you and its sensations going beyond the visual. Students will be asked to keep a sense journal, engage in class discussions and free writes, and be exposed to the likes of visionary writers such as James Schuyler, Claudia Rankine, Eileen Myles, CAConrad, Eduardo C. Corral, Lucie Brock-Broido and more in hopes of developing their own aesthetic taste, eye, and consistent note-taking practice to enrich their writing. Students will be expected to participate in several generative out of class activities such as a sensory walk, room re-viewing, and prompts. All you need is a set of eyes.

More Than a Feeling – Writing with Our Emotions

Taught by: Noelle Mrugała-Paraan (In-Person only)

Literature is the space in which emotion supersedes the logistical functions of language – we write creatively, artistically, to utilize language as a machine toward empathy, understanding; as the expression of complex ideas and emotions that cannot be communicated any other way.

Here, we will challenge our grasp of how our own personal emotions can both influence and be controlled in our writing. Does a poem serve only as the grounds in which to air out our anger; our sadness; our jubilation? Do we balance the spinning plates of our stories, or cause them to crash beautifully? How can we, as writers, develop our understanding of others alongside ourselves, as emotional animals, together?

Our goal is to explore our emotions in a safe space. We will write to explore ourselves, and reflect upon our own relations to how our emotions arise in our work. We’ll let it all out; we’ll pull it back in. We will explore different matrixes to work through our emotions, such as the social, natural, and fantastic. We will read work by writers such as Bei Dao, Paul Celan, Raymond Carver, and Zachary Schomburg. Students will finally be able to answer: Is this more than a feeling?

Villains You Hate To Love

Taught by: Rutendo Chidzodzo (Online only)

Have you ever fallen for a villain so hard you want them to win? From Shadow and Bone’s The Darkling to Six of Crows’ Kaz Brekker to An Ember in the Ashes’ NightBringer, we can’t help but (kind of) root for the villain. In this lab, we will focus on what makes a villain so likeable. How do we create villains we hate to love? What qualities do we pay attention to when crafting a villain? We will look at characters from tv shows, movies and short stories to find the answer to that. We will create our own unlikeable-likeable characters in this lab and see how they fare against other characters.

“Where Are We?”: Setting the Scene of Your Story

Taught by: Dyala Kasim (Online only)

What makes a country a homeland? What makes a house a home? What makes a room your own?

In this multi-genre lab, we will think about setting — the location in which a story occurs. For multiethnic authors, place is the fundamental groundwork of their writing. From the texture of the earth to the exact shade of one’s kitchen, place is linked to history, as well as individual and collective experience. Authors retrieve memories of their ancestral homelands and plant them in new soil, creating hybridized worlds that reflect their own multifaceted identities. How do we also compose settings where we can explore our, our family’s and our ancestors’ memories?

We will examine a variety of contemporary immigrant narratives and memoirs — including The Island of Missing Trees (Elif Shafak), American Dirt (Jeanine Cummins), Salt Houses (Hala Alyan), Crying in H Mart (Michelle Zauner), Beautiful Country (Qian Julie Wang) and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Ocean Vuong) — to determine the many ways in which these authors — immigrants or the children of immigrants — “set the scene” for their fiction. The goal of this multi-genre lab is to equip students with the stylistic tools to craft the foundations of their own stories.

Writing In The Rhythm

Taught by: Ide Thompson (Online only)

What does it mean to be in rhythm? Is it simply the act of staying “in time” to music? Is it about the ways we move through, rather than to time? Is rhythm something intrinsic? Is rhythm something learned, or is it a marker of identity, culture, and self? In this course on the stylistic approaches to writing rhythm we will examine the work of a variety of writers to “pick up” the beats of their rhythms, learn to move in them, and then learn to make them our own. Intrinsically, this class asks us all to step beyond “traditional-western” ideas of poetic rhythms and explore unfamiliar ways of writing the beat.

The exercises in this lab will focus on the two fold skills of seeing and hearing rhythm. Our ways of seeing rhythm, the ability to feel and contextual movement on the page will be problematized and reconstituted to allow us to come to appreciate a variety of ways to work rhythm on the page as well as hopefully opening up new ways of expressing our own rhythms. Moreover, our ways of hearing rhythm, the ability to categorize movement as it appears in the ear, the sounds of the words, morphemes, and punctuation units will be troubled to reveal how we use sound as a primary tool to shape and re-shape meaning.