Pascal writes that all men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone. For those of us who write, this is, instead, an idyllic, necessary environment. For writers, the misery stems from a lack of a literary community and the necessary structured, critical conversation that turns a manuscript into a masterpiece. For while it is perhaps not surprising that writers tend to be private individuals, given to seclusion and introspection—take, for example, Cheryl Strayed and her 2,659-mile solo journey, depicted famously in Wild—there is much to be said of the writer who breaks from this solitude long enough to gain the critical feedback necessary to shape artful beauty from what such solitude produces. Revision is the bulk of what we, as writers, do, and it develops largely from the feedback of readers whose minds are uniquely not our own. This is why so often writers enroll in M.F.A. creative writing programs, but certainly not everyone has the time, money, or even interest in a multi-year degree program, and oftentimes life’s limitations keep us from such concentrated literary companionship. Thus this workshop is developed and designed to give you contact to likeminded individuals and, moreover, a concentrated version of the close reading and community you would find in a creative writing graduate program. This workshop is ideal both for those interested in eventually pursuing an M.F.A. or simply trying it on for the weekend.
We will begin with a concise, sharp lesson on the shape and ambitions of the contemporary essay, an engaged conversation on several daring examples with accompanying exercises, and intense, extended critical workshops of each participant’s essay, brought from home, where classmates will offer thorough and thoughtful feedback as a way of challenging one another and, ultimately, ourselves. By the end of our workshop, you’ll have the beginning framework of several new essays, substantial notes for your own essay’s revision, and most importantly, deep connections with fellow essayists and relationships that will, ideally, continue long beyond your time in Iowa.
Amy Butcher is an essayist and author of Visiting Hours (Blue Rider Press/Penguin-Random House), a 2015 memoir that earned starred reviews and praise from The New York Times Book Review, NPR, The Star Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and others. Additional essays have appeared recently in The New York Times “Modern Love” column, The New York Times “Opinion” column, The Iowa Review, Brevity, and Guernica. Her 2016 New York Times op-ed, “Emoji Feminism,” inspired Google to propose eleven new female, professionally-empowered emojis, rolling out on phones universally this year and discussed at length on the BBC. Her essays have recently been awarded the 2016 Solas Award for “Best Travel Writing of the Year,” The Iowa Review Award in nonfiction, as well as a notable distinction in Best American Essays 2015 and Best American Essays 2016. She is a graduate of The University of Iowa Nonfiction Writing Program and presently serves as an assistant professor of English at Ohio Wesleyan University, where she teaches courses on the essay.