Just about every writer who travels thinks about using the experience of foreignness in a story or essay or poem, and plenty others feel compelled to at least blog about it. Travel provides us with intense, complex experiences, unfamiliar settings, interesting characters, and the heightened self-awareness that comes from dislocation. But the results are sometimes disappointing, failing to capture the distinctive emotion and vividness of being on that particular street, dealing with that particular conflict at that particular time, much less developing into a coherent piece of writing. During this weekend of engaged writing, reading, and conversations, you will explore techniques for using the experience of travel as subject, theme, and structure. You will study brief examples of great travel writing in published fiction, narrative nonfiction, and poetry, and you will examine your own travel experiences, looking for elements that lead to powerful and original writing. Through exercises drawing on your previous experiences (I’ll ask you to bring along notes and drafts related to your travels to help jog your memory), you will rummage through the baggage you lug along to new places, scrutinize traveling companions, and unfold the maps of memory and imagination. You will share and respond to new writing generated through those exercises, and leave with techniques to make both your writing and your traveling more richly rewarding.
Lon Otto (Ph.D. Indiana University) published his third collection of stories in fall 2015—A Man in Trouble, from Brighthorse Books. His previously published books are A Nest of Hooks (University of Iowa Press), winner of the Iowa School of Letters Award for Short Fiction, Cover Me (Coffee House Press), and the craft ebook Grit: Bringing Physical Reality into Imaginative Writing (Writers Workshop Press). His writing in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry is in many anthologies, including The Pushcart Prize (Pushcart Press), American Fiction (New Rivers Press), Flash Fiction and Flash Fiction Forward (W.W. Norton), Townships (University of Iowa Press), and Not Normal, Illinois (Indiana University Press), and in the craft text Best Words, Best Order (St. Martin’s Press). Several of his stories have been broadcast on NPR’s “Selected Shorts.” He is professor emeritus at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he taught literature and writing for many years.