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What Kind of Workshop Works?

Micro-communities. That’s what writers’ workshops really are.  They gather together young practitioners and the not-so-young as well.  Skilled artists and aspirants. Writing, talking about the work and the process; eating and drinking, talking about most anything; living together for a little while and yet developing a collective identity.  Together these groups represent patches of that quilt of a national literary community that hardly existed a few decades ago.

Yet each workshop also has its own character and ethos. Whether in winter or summer, in a “destination” up in the mountains or by the sea, or simply offering a good place for the work, each strives to serve different needs and to inspire its participants in multiple ways.

Many, of course, are literary celebrations that last a week or two.  Famous writers read their work, walk along the lanes, sign books.  Agents and editors mingle with the crowds, trolling for unsigned talent.  “Networking,” shameless and inevitable, stalks among participants from chow line to bedtime.

From the start nearly two decades ago, the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop shaped itself around a particular ethos: it’s all about generating new work.  Instead of bringing manuscripts with them, talented writers of many ages gather in green and pleasant Gambier for a week of serious engagement.  Workshops are structured on the craft of fiction or poetry or nonfiction, of course.  New prompts inspire writing from afternoon through the evening.  Hands ache, eyes blear.  Even the delightful evening readings draw participants away from their pens and keyboards only reluctantly.

This year we are also offering sessions on the literary hybrid/book arts, a new workshop on writing online, and also a Writers Workshop for Teachers, which will generate personal work as well as materials for later use in the classroom.

Out of this creative crucible many friendships are forged, to be sure.  Hard labor does that.  A rich sense of belonging is fashioned too, of communal engagement with the struggle towards art.  Most of all, this exhausting, intensive week propels its writers out into the world beyond with an inspiration and a momentum that will carry them for many months, into the fall and winter and towards the following summer, when so many will seek to join us again.