MFAism: Hosting Summer Writing Workshop

22 Jun

Even though the MFA writing program is officially on summer break — whoo-hoo! — some of us from the creative-nonfiction writing workshop decided we were having so much fun (or something like that) that wanted to keep on meeting.  Last Tuesday we had our first informal workshop.  It was so nice to catch up with everyone and to chat about our writing.

As I’ve alluded, everyone in my classes always recommends I read David Sedaris when they find out I write about growing up Greek American.  I do get a kick out of David Sedaris, but it’s his sister Amy Sedaris who captured my heart with her book I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence. There’s just something about us Greek women — we love hosting and feeding people.  I barely had anyone over during the semester so I was super-excited to volunteer hosting the writing workshop in my apartment.

Since my classmates have been giving me feedback all semester on the Greek American memoir I’m writing — and since I’m the Queen of Theme Parties — I of course prepared Greek meze for them.  I served feta cheese (imported from Greece!  I’m stimulating the Greek economy!), sliced tomatoes with sea salt, pita, red pepper & eggplant dip, dried apricots, and almonds.  The other writers graciously brought delicious homemade (!) scones and sumptuous red wine.  I pretty much gorged!

We had a great conversation about nonfiction vs. fiction writing and talked about the role of blogging in our writing.  Then we spent some time critiquing each other’s works.  I got helpful feedback on a short reflection I’d written about my experience at the 2011 Gabby Awards.  I really enjoyed reading their new pieces too.  Everyone has such interesting stories to tell!

Now I’ve got to get to work on the next chapter to submit!

In the meantime, if anyone has any tips on how to run a writing workshop, please post in the comments section.


8 Responses to “MFAism: Hosting Summer Writing Workshop”

  1. Jerry Waxler June 22, 2011 at 9:14 am #

    Wish I was closer, not only for the food, and not only because I love ethnic-mixing in memoirs, and not only because I have had neat experiences with Greek American culture but because I love participating in CNF workshops and have a hard time finding them down here in Pennsylvania. (To compensate for their absence, I have had to learn how to teach them.)

    It’s a great question, but I wonder if you could break it down. There are so many parts to running a workshop. And what kind of workshop? Are you teaching lessons? Are talking about a mutually supportive peer critique group. If so, that’s a lot easier to describe. The key is to stick together, and keep having fun.

    Memory Writers Network

    • Stephanie Nikolopoulos June 22, 2011 at 9:58 pm #

      @Jerry: Thanks for your feedback! If you like reading about cultural mixing, stay tuned: I’ll be posting more on my personal experience (drama) growing up with a half Greek family that moves to Greece soon.

      Sorry to hear you haven’t been able to find a CNF workshop in PA. Please feel free to join in on the virtual conversations we have here on the blog. (Writing posts are usually on Wednesdays.) It sounds like you have a lot of experience we could learn from. Essentially, the summer workshop we’re in is an extension of our MFA workshop … minus an instructor or anyone being “in charge.” We submit our writing prior to meeting and then critique the work. I’ve taught writing classes in the past, but this is more of a peer critique group.

      • Jerry Waxler June 23, 2011 at 6:40 am #

        This sounds awesome, Stephanie. Critique groups are such an important part of developing a writing voice. Everyone in the critique group has to learn the subtle skill – a mix between being a naive reader and a helpful (but not technical) editor. I find that participation in a critique group helps in a variety of ways: you improve your editing/critiquing skills by reading other work, you learn to be “thick skinned” and accept feedback about your writing, and most important you gain some brainstorming to help you refine your voice. I read somewhere that everyone that came through some big famous MFA were beginning to sound the same because the critique process had become so formalized that people were badgering each other to follow some standard voice. You need to be aware of that, and encourage each other to develop their own voices. I am really excited for you to have this built-in set of peers all striving along the same lines. Take advantage of this pressure cooker. Such focused writing groups are incredibly valuable and pretty hard to find in other more “normal” settings. Maybe NYC is different but picking up a set of writing companions out here in the world is not easy. You may be in one of those peak life experiences that you will look back on with admiration. Good food for a future memoir.

        Memory Writers Network

  2. Power of 26 June 22, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

    Fun to read about other workshops, thanks for sharing!

    Great advice can be found here, at The Center for Fiction:

    • Stephanie Nikolopoulos June 22, 2011 at 10:03 pm #

      @Power of 26/Sherri: Thanks so much for posting the link! We’re doing nonfiction but I think a lot of the elements still apply. I saw on your website that you’re also a nonfiction writer. What anthologies were you published in?

  3. Sarah June 22, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    Stephanie, thanks again for hosting! I had a lovely time. 🙂 I am interested to know what suggestions, if any, people have about writing workshops. One thing that I remember from undergrad was that we began each discussion with two questions: what is successful about this piece and what is unsuccessful. It’s great to hear the things you’re doing wrong AND the things that are working. I am looking forward to the next meetup!

    • Stephanie Nikolopoulos June 22, 2011 at 10:04 pm #

      @Sarah: Yay! I hope you’ll submit something next week. Your essays are always so fun to read! I love the voice you use and your willingness to be vulnerable. Your writing is easy to relate to.


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