Desire drives any story worth telling. One of the most notoriously difficult forms of desire to write is the sexual. As Audre Lorde wrote, “The erotic has often been misnamed by men and used against women. It has been made into the confused, the trivial, the psychotic, the plasticized sensation.” To write scenes that remove sex from patriarchal structures means to (re)place them in the context of their inhabiting corporeal bodies and realities, to engage topics of identity, gender, family, politics, history, and, yes, the nature of love and longing. That is, writing about sex and sexuality is an exploration of our humanity. It is a craft issue. It is a radical and necessary practice for the writer interested in changing their world. In this class, we will practice changing our world and our minds by reading and writing about the erotic.\
Nonfiction Forms Lab
Conventional essay forms offer us familiar containers in which to pour our content. And essays are traditionally driven by content. It is a formula that works. The problem with formula, and the familiar, is that it lulls the imagination and protects the psyche. But what happens when we lead with structure? What happens to our content when it meets an unfamiliar container? Sometimes, by disrupting the familiar forms that narrative takes, we can find a truer story. In this generative seminar, we will examine short works by contemporary masters and generate work using forms from diverse sources such as playlists, bestiaries, instruction manuals, and letters.
Melissa Febos is the author of the memoir Whip Smart; and three essay collections: Abandon Me, a LAMBDA Literary Award finalist and Publishing Triangle Award finalist; Girlhood, a national bestseller; and Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative. A recipient of the Jeanne Córdova Nonfiction Award from LAMBDA Literary and of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, MacDowell, Bread Loaf, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, The Barbara Deming Foundation, The BAU Institute, Vermont Studio Center, and others; her essays have appeared in The Paris Review, The Believer, McSweeney’s Quarterly, Granta, The Yale Review, Tin House, The Sun, and The New York Times Magazine. She is an associate professor at the University of Iowa, where she teaches in the Nonfiction Writing Program.
The Stories that Guide Us
In search of resilience turn to story. Sometimes our own stories are heavy with grief and trauma; where can we look to for strength? This workshop will explore research and memoir, mythologies and personal narrative. We will focus on the art of weaving research into personal narrative, and what it means to look beyond our own experiences in search of resilience. We will look at the braided form, write together using several prompts and share and discuss our creative work.
We live in a time that challenges the binary and explores intersection and identity. In this class we will radicalize our approach to the personal narrative. What happens when we intertwine poetry and personal memoir? How do our stories of self become more realized when we break the constructs of traditional personal essay?
Have you ever wanted to experiment with form and narrative? This class will be the space to explore fusions. We will write lyric essays, explore the braided form, and learn how to weave multiple ideas together like strands and produce hybrid essays that celebrate both personal story and poetry.
In our workshop, we will have writing prompts meant to generate these kinds of pieces. We will read and discuss successful examples of lyric essays. We will engage in fun and experimental writing exercises and we’ll share our stories with one another.
The Landscape of Memory
The places we most often return to in our writing are the places we know. These places carry weight. As Native writers there is often an expectation to only write our traditional homelands. These places of course can be important but sometimes we’ve been removed from these places, sometimes these places are heavy with memory, with traumas both lived and inherited. What happens when we begin to map our places according to moments and memory? Places of origin. Haunted Places. Places of joy or growth. What happens when me make a cartography of the heart rather than the land? It’s a privilege to remain connected to our places of origin in the face of settler/colonialism. What happens when we invent our own? What is your place of origin? Where did something begin for you? This is our starting point.
In this workshop we will map out important memories, with attention to place and setting. The land that surrounds us as we move through some of our most impactful experiences deserves space on the page. We will experiment with writing exercises and share our work together.
Sasha LaPointe is from the Upper Skagit and Nooksack Indian Tribe. Native to the Pacific Northwest, she draws inspiration from her coastal heritage as well as her life in the city. She writes with a focus on trauma and resilience, ranging topics from PTSD, sexual violence, the work her great grandmother did for the Lushootseed language revitalization, to loud basement punk shows and what it means to grow up mixed heritage. With strange obsessions revolving around Twin Peaks, the Seattle music scene, and Coast Salish Salmon Ceremonies, Sasha explores her own truth of indigenous identity in the Coast Salish territory. Her memoir Red Paint: The Ancestral Autobiography of a Coast Salish Punk was published by Counterpoint Press on March 8, 2022. Her collection of poetry, Rose Quartz will be published by Milkweed in Spring, 2023.
LIKE DANCING TO ARCHITECTURE: USING THE VISUAL ARTS TO GENERATE NEW MATERIAL
Why not dance to architecture? For isn’t dance an art of movement and choreography—bodies in space—and architecture the study of static form existing in and altering its environment? Couldn’t a dancer choose to dance, say, in the courtyard of a castle or on a wharf? One art calls to the other; one artist pays homage to, collaborates with, another’s work. George Steiner dubs this “enacted criticism.” I see it as a desire to create hybrid forms. In this 90-minute craft workshop, we explore the ways in which paintings, drawings, photographs, and sculpture inspire, collaborate with, and complement our writing process. We start by examining both ekphrastic and hybrid works by writers such as Claudia Rankine, Geoff Dyer, Larry Levis, Yusef Komunyakaa, Teju Cole, W.G. Sebald, Sally Mann, Ross Gay, Terry Tempest Williams, and Michael Ondaatje. We then try our hand at a pair of exercises that engage these techniques.
POINTS OF ENTRY: ON COLLAGE & COLLAGE TECHNIQUE
Collage technique, like its progenitor Surrealism, is becoming ubiquitous in popular culture. Just look around and you will see collage moves everywhere—magazines, book covers, Facebook ads, fashion, movies and television. One could argue that collage has become one of the major aesthetic forces in art and design. This phenomenon holds equally true in literature. In this 90-minute craft workshop, we first look at the work of collagists Ray Johnson, Hannah Hoch, Lorna Simpson, Jean Lacy, Man Ray, and Kurt Schwitters, before turning to examples of collage technique in the work of contemporary poets and writers Vievee Francis, Sarah Manguso, David Shields, Michael Ondaatje, Dinty Moore, Renata Adler, Dana Levin, and Maggie Nelson. We will discuss ways to apply collage technique in our own work and do a group exercise that highlights the power and flexibility of collage.
SPACE IS THE PLACE: UTILIZING CINEMATIC TECHNIQUE IN YOUR WRITING
It’s almost taboo to say that creative writers are influenced by movies. Supposed to be the other way around, right? Movies as bad company. However, writers have for a long time embraced the attributes of classic cinema—close-ups, fades and cutaways, white-outs, deep focus photography, and mise en scene. In this 90-minute craft workshop, we will study aspects of cinematic technique used by great directors—Kurosawa, Welles, Hitchcock, Scorsese, Campion, and Krzysztof—before turning to the work of writers who apply similar techniques in their prose, including James Baldwin, Joan Didion, Melissa Febos, A. Van Jordan, and Paul Yoon.
We will discuss ways to bring these techniques to bear in the revision process then begin a two-part exercise: “writing the tracking shot.”
Sebastian Matthews’ latest books are a memoir in essays, Beyond Repair: Living in a Fractured State (Red Hen Press), and a hybrid collection of poetry and prose, Beginner’s Guide to a Head-on Collision (Red Hen Press), an Independent Publisher’s Book Award winner. His other publications include two books of poems, the memoir In My Father’s Footsteps (W.W. Norton & Co.), and the collage novel The Life & Times of American Crow. Matthews is the recipient of a North Carolina Writers Grant and the Bread Loaf Writers Conference’s Bernard de Soto Fellowship in Nonfiction. Along with Stanley Plumly, he edited Search Party: The Collected Poems of William Matthews (Houghton Mifflin), which was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize. Matthews serves on the board of trustees for the Vermont Studio Center and on the advisory board for Callaloo. He is the host of Jazz on a Summer’s Day, a music and talk show broadcasted out of Asheville, NC, and livestreamed at wpvmfm.org. He leads workshops for the Great Smokies Writing Program, UNC-A, and offers classes on occasion at the Flat Iron Writers Room.
What to expect:
To learn more about the Port Townsend Writers Conference experience, please click this link to view the PTWC 2023 Catalog.