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 at the JYWO Winter Workshops. Participants will choose one lab from the options below. 

“A Foreign Anguish” / Sounding out the writing voice

Taught by: Sarah Ahmad 

In this multi-genre lab, we will think about what finding our “voice” as a writer means. What do we mean when we talk about a memorable “voice”, a convincing one, and how can we think about our own writing voices as rooted in what we do with language? Together, we will shift focus from the idea of “finding your voice” to instead playfully and intentionally looking at it as something we craft through words in order to tell a story. We’ll think about how questions of voice are complicated and enriched by questions about identity, authority, and authenticity. As part of our exploration, we will read work by writers such as James Baldwin, Garth Greenwell, Natalie Diaz, Dionne Brand, Emil Ferris, and others –ranging across genre, time-periods, and form to try to understand how these voices work. Our writing exercises will focus on experimentation, figuring out what is most compelling to us, the things we are obsessed about or drawn to, and how we disguise, reveal, expose, celebrate, and exacerbate ourselves on the page. What do our words carry with them across our multiple projects and creations? How can we make those choices thoughtfully, and more importantly, what do they tell us about our singular relationship to text?

The Empathy Workshop: Writing Full, Complex Characters in Action

Taught by: Larry Flynn 

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 Nezhukumatathil, Anton Chekov, Nikolai Gogol, Ross Gay, and Gregory Pardlo. Writers of all styles and interests are welcome!

Establishing (Alternate) Realities

Taught by: Sara Hetherington

Are you interested in writing from the perspective of 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 creative writing, no matter how realistic the subject matter, portrays particular realities—realities with their own logic, rules, and texture. We’ll begin this class by investigating the internal logic of works rooted in “realism,” and continue with increasingly speculative ones. Along the way, we’ll interrogate how authors establish their narrators’ trustworthiness and their stories’ realities. Some writers whose works we may read include Lesley Nneka Arimah, Donald Barthelme, Franny Choi, Alice Munroe, Aimee Nezhukumatathil and George Saunders.

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


Taught by: Joan Tate

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, sensation, and reflection 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 within you, seeing how the interact. 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, and James Baldwin 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 a questionnaire about what makes you you!

Writing as Condition

Taught by: Riley Jones

How does living make writing possible? How does writing make living possible? In this generative Lab, we will take these questions seriously as we interrogate, mess with, and transform the boundaries between ‘writing’ and ‘life.’ We will think about the citational, improvisational, and contextual qualities of writing, which we will imagine as not only the act of placing words on paper, but also as a particular state or condition of being in the world, a state we can enter and cultivate through serious play. Central to our living and writing while engaging in this Lab will be experimentation and failure, as we pay careful attention to the conditions which allow for writing to occur and engage both individually and collaboratively in discovering conditions that lead to our own writing.