Associate Professor; Director Helen Zell Writers’ Program
M.F.A., University of Michigan, 1996
A sample from Michael Byers work online:
Two short stories:
"Malaria" (from Bellevue Literary Review )
"Darver's Big Idea" (from fivechapters.com)
M.A., Boston, 1993
Peter Ho Davies online:
An interview with Virginia Quarterly Review
Top 10 story collections as chosen for the Guardian Newspaper
Peter Ho Davies on the Workshop
My guiding approach in workshop is to try to first consider the aims of any story under discussion and then determine its strengths and weaknesses in light of those aims. I believe as writers we often learn as much from what we do well as what we do badly (and are often as unsure of both) so my classes focus on both problems and successes in the stories examined.
An Excerpt from Peter Ho Davies
from THE NEXT LIFE
The mourners were playing poker around the rosewood table the night before his father's funeral, and Lim was winning.
They had begun the game to help themselves stay awake during the vigil. Pang had produced the new deck from a pocket of his white mourning suit and asked Lim's permission earlier in the evening. "It'll amuse the ghost," he said, indicating the casket. "Being able to see all our cards."
Now it was almost dawn and Lim had been winning for an hour or more. It was uncomfortable. Where before they had talked softly among themselves now they played in silence. Lim wished he could get up and leave, but it seemed improper to end the game ahead. Every time he told himself to fold he would look at his cards and find a pair of aces, a wild card, four cards to a flush, something too good to turn down. He bet heavily on mediocre hands, hoping to have his bluff called, but the others were afraid of his good fortune now. When one of them did stay in, Lim made a hand with his last card and still took the pot.He fanned his cards to study them and thought of the coffin over his shoulder.
Robert Frost Distinguished University Professor of English Language and Literature/Chair, Hopwood Committee
M.A., Columbia, 1966
Nicholas Delbanco on the Workshop
"...the model of the medieval guild is a very useful one for me. After a period of learning, the writer receives a kind of walking paper that permits him to pose as a journeyman-laborer and enter the guild; then, ideally, he has the chance of becoming a master craftsman and having people report to him. In many ways that's a model that pertains to writing programs, where students of the craft come to learn it at the hands or feet of someone who is reputedly a master craftsman. Or, more properly, crafts person.
"Now, that analogy breaks down of course as soon as you look at it a little more closely. First, it's pretty difficult to declare that anyone is a master craftsman, able to turn one's hand to whatever piece of work is commissioned. An athletic coach does not necessarily have to have been a better athlete than the person he or she is coaching; a vocal coach is very often a failed performer; and some of the great teachers of the violin, say, need not have been great violinists. So it's not clear to me that the best writers are the best teachers. It may be wonderfully invigorating to be in the presence of X, Y, or Z whose work you admire, but you may get nothing from them in class. And it may be dispiriting to be in the presence of someone whose work you have either read or liked, yet that person may be perfectly able to allow you to find your own voice and attain your own walking papers.
"My notion of a failed writing workshop is when everybody comes out replicating the teacher and imitating as closely as possible the great original at the head of the table. I think that's a mistake, in obvious opposition to the ideal of teaching which permits a student to be someone other than the teacher.... The successful teacher has to make each of the students a different product rather than the same."
An Excerpt from Nicholas Delbanco
from "The Writer's Trade," The Writer's Trade and Other Stories
Mark Fusco sold his novel when he was twenty-two. "You're a very fortunate young man," Bill Winterton proclaimed. They met in the editor's office, on the sixteenth floor. The walls were lined with photographs, book jackets, and caricatures. "You should be pleased with yourself."
He was. He had moved from apprentice to author with scarcely a hitch in his stride. It was 1967, and crucial to be young. One of the caricatures showed Hawthorne on a polo pony, meeting Henry James; their mallets were quill pens. They were swinging with controlled abandon at the letter A.
Bill Winterton took him to lunch. They ate at L'Amorique. The editor discoursed on luck; the luck of the draw, he maintained, comes to those who read their cards. He returned the first bottle of wine, a Pouilly Fumé. The sommelier deferred, but the second bottle also tasted faintly of garlic; the sommelier disagreed. They had words. "There's someone cooking near your glassware," Winterton declared. "Or you've got your glasses drying near the garlic pan."
Zell Visiting Professor of Creative Writing
M.F.A., Iowa Writers' Workshop,, 2005
Her work has appeared in Granta, The Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Post, Columbia Journalism Review, Himal Southasian, and The American Prospect, among others. A former vice president of the South Asian Journalists Association and former board member of the Asian American Writers' Workshop, she currently serves on the graduate board of The Harvard Crimson.
She previously taught creative writing at Skidmore College. She has been awarded fellowships from Phillips Exeter Academy, Yaddo, and The MacDowell Colony.
Random House published her first novel, Love Marriage, in April 2008. The book was longlisted for the Orange Prize and named one of Washington Post Book World’s Best of 2008, as well as a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick.
School of the Art Students’ League, NY, 1969
Caroline Walker Bynum Distinguished University Professor of English
Ph.D., Stanford, 1987
Linda Gregerson on the Workshop
Our aim in workshop is at once very simple and very complex: we make it our business to become an adaptable and rigorous critical readership for one another's work-in-progress. We use the workshop as an occasion to broaden formal and thematic range, to refine editorial skills, to share questions, enthusiasms, and generous skepticism. Our primary focus is on the current work submitted by members of the class, but we also read selected work by other poets, generally contemporaries in mid-career.
This term, I asked each member of the workshop to teach a single 45-60 minute session on poetry that was neither her own nor that of another member of the workshop. Workshop members chose groups of poems or individual volumes of poems that raised questions or issues of urgency for us in our own writing. We tended to focus on work we admired, but we also considered poetry that seemed to us to fail in some major way, or to cheat, to take admirable risks with mixed results, or to explore unpredictable intersections of voice and form and subject matter. We also found this an invaluable opportunity to consider questions of structure and sequencing in book-length collections of poetry, questions of immediate relevance to those who are now assembling the MFA thesis.A sample from Linda Gregerson's work:
From The Woman Who Died in Her Sleep, "Fish Dying on the Third Floor at Barneys," published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
M.F.A., Warren Wilson College, N.C., 1998
Jordan has been awarded a Whiting Writers Award, an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and a Pushcart Prize. He is a recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, and a United States Artists Williams Fellowship.
Allan Seager Collegiate Professor of English Language and Literature
M.F.A., University of Michigan, 1987
Laura Kasischke on the Workshop
My workshop emphasizes the discussion of issues related to writing; specifically, these issues will arise in response to the new work written and submitted by workshop members:
I state my definition in this round-about way because I'd like to emphasize that my approach to the workshop privileges the discussion of the elements, techniques, and troubles of writing over the goal of setting out to fix a specific piece of writing.
In the rest of your writing life, you will learn primarily through struggle with your own work, alone. In this brief period of your writing life, you'll learn, too, by struggling with the work of your peers. It can be time- consuming, to be sure, but responding to the new work of others can be as great an act of creativity as writing one's own new work. And, it's a great short-cut to learning how to read your own work objectively. With some conscientious effort, the graduate writing workshop becomes not only a place to practice and improve our craft, but a true community of writers. We need to bring all the energy we can to each workshop, and an ambitious generosity. There's no such thing as too much passion when it comes to making art or responding to it. My goal for the workshop is that it will, eventually, become a sustaining memory of a place where serious insight and support were generated and shared--a place and time to which you can return again and again in your mind during the more solitary days of writing ahead.
From Dance and Disappear, "A Kitchen Song"
From The Life Before Her Eyes
Ph.D., Duke University,, 2009
He has translated nine books of contemporary Arabic poetry by Adonis, Saadi Youssef, Fadhil Al-Azzawi, Hatif Janabi, Maram Al-Massri, Joumana Haddad, Amjad Nasser, and Iman Mersal. Mattawa has co-edited two anthologies of Arab American literature.
Mattawa has been awarded the Academy of American Poet's Fellowship Prize, the PEN-American Center award for poetry translation, a Guggenheim fellowship, the Alfred Hodder fellowship from Princeton University, an NEA translation grant, and three Pushcart prizes.
His poems have appeared in Poetry, The Kenyon Review, Antioch Review, Best American Poetry, and many other journals and anthologies.
Prof. Mattawa was born in Benghazi, Libya and immigrated to the United States in his teens.
M.A., New Hampshire, 1983
Before this (what she considers "welcomed" and "invited") upheaval in her work, she published nine other books including: Slave Moth: A Narrative in Verse (Persea Books, 2004; a Village Voice best book of 2004), the memoir, Tale of a Sky-blue Dress (William Morrow, 1998), and the poetry collections: Last Chance for the Tarzan Holler (Persea Books, 1997; finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award), Small Congregations: New and Selected Poems (Ecco, 1993), Rainbow Remnants in Rock Bottom Ghetto Sky (Persea, 1991; winner of the 1991 National Poetry Series Open Competition and of the Ohioana Book Award), Pyramid of Bone (University of Virginia, 1989; finalist for the National Book Critic's Circle Award), and Hosiery Seams on a Bowlegged Woman (Cleveland State University, 1983; finalist for the Best of the Great Lakes First Book Prize). A 1996 Fellow of the MacArthur Foundation and a recipient of a Whiting Writer's Award, she has also received grants from, among others, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Kenan Charitable Trust.
Thylias Moss on the poetry reading : Reading may be part of the event; that is, there will likely be visual systems (of which text may be a part), sonic systems (whether or not brought to a range of human audibility), perhaps virtual systems, digital systems, and tactile systems, all of which may be "read" or perceived or interpreted by those experiencing them.
Thylias Moss on the workshop : So perhaps I can't dodge a notion that a workshop is the carpenter's delight; I want us to make things there, things whose making maybe isn't supported in other locations, things that can come out of explorations of the science of the impossible, things made of interacting language systems (visual [including text], sonic, tactile, virtual, architectural, digital systems may be language systems) in various stages of collapse, growth, and regrowth; I want to make with impunity until the limits of making are remade each time there is an act of making.
Sample of work by Thylias Moss:
Here is a P(p)oam by Thylias Moss. It is not offered as a way to define her work. It may not even provide a clear sense of her work. Better if there is no clear sense, if there remains something that needs resolving. Resist considering it representative (though it may be representative, of any number of things). This language system appears as undercurrent in Tokyo Butter .
Click here to go to the Quick Muse website and read dueling poems by Thylias Moss and Paul Muldoon.
M.F.A., Iowa, 1983
Eileen Pollack on the Workshop
If my workshops have an overriding theme, it's that I want the authors of the stories or novels we consider to be told everything they need to be told, in ways they can hear and use. Since I am unable to listen to criticisms of my own work unless my critics first acknowledge what I've done well - even if I've done hardly anything well - I assume other writers are the same way. I also think that writers who are just starting out aren't always sure of what they're doing right, or why it's working. Someone takes a risk, and no one comments on how well that risk succeeded, so the person never tries that again. If writers figure out what works, they will do that thing more regularly. So, even though it sometimes seems Polyanna-ish, we always start by talking about what's working in a piece.
Then we move on to a descriptive phase in which we discuss the story or novel as a piece of literature. What do we know about the characters and their struggles? What is the writer trying to get us to feel or think as we read? Which scenes or meditative passages are particularly moving or provocative or original or funny or vivid? What is satisfying about the story? What are the strengths of the voice and style?
Finally, we discuss ways in which the writer might make the story or novel stronger, more effective, deeper…. I tend to be more prescriptive than a lot of teachers; I hate to think that a writer will go home knowing that his/her story is too X, as we've pointed out, but not have a clue as to how to solve that problem and make it less X and more Y. No one has to follow the workshop's advice, but I do urge people to get specific in providing possible solutions to the problems we've discussed. I try to give a lot of examples as to how a writer goes home and approaches a specific kind of revision. No matter what anyone says or does, most writers who've just had a story workshopped feel as if they've been punched in the gut. My goal is that by evening's end, all the students in the class go home feeling as if they've learned something about writing, and the authors of the pieces we've discussed feel able to struggle to their feet and go home, increasingly excited about the prospect of making their stories and novels better.
Each student is required to put up a completely new story or novel excerpt for workshop once a term, and a second story/excerpt that can either be new work or a revision. A third story is required, with the understanding that the writer will use this as an opportunity to take a risk so audacious that merely to contemplate it makes him or her queasy. This story will be seen only by me. Even if it bombs, the student's grade won't be affected, so long as he/she tried something new and important and scary. I ask each student to bring in a question of craft or content that is truly perplexing him/her at that moment, and we discuss that issue as a group; most times we meet, we also discuss a published story or two.
A Writing Excerpt from Eileen Pollack
This excerpt is from "Past, Future, Elsewhere," the first story in The Rabbi in the Attic. The narrator is a thirteen-year-old girl who lives a few miles from Bethel, New York, and is hiding in her basement to avoid the mobs of kids who have descended on her town for the music festival called Woodstock.
"All week the newspaper had been lurid with photos of the naked barbarians who had overrun our town - sunbathing on car hoods, dancing to music at this 'festival' of theirs - but an inky strip covered each interesting part, like a gag on a mouth. I scraped at those boxes, even turned the page over to see from the other side what was masked on the front. I felt the reporters had found out my future and printed it here, but blotted out the facts I most wanted to know. At the same time I wished that every inch of those bodies had been blacked with ink…."
Later, she allows herself to be lured outside by three kids who want her to show them a place to swim away from the crowds. She goes with them, and is particularly fascinated by a shaggy, overweight young physicist who is wearing a jumpsuit. In the excerpt below, he begins to take it off so he can go skinnydipping with his friends."'I won't look,' I promised, though I found when he started to pull down his zipper I couldn't turn away. As he stepped from the jump suit I expected to see a heavy black rectangle blocking his crotch. Instead, what I saw was my first naked man, layered in fur so he seemed like an animal, a burly brown bear. Poking from the pouch that hung between his legs was a separate little animal - a baby, a pet, like a baby kangaroo peeking out shyly and waving its arm. And what I felt then wasn't love at first sight, but my first sight of love, of what it could mean to love someone else, a stranger, not family, and how risky this was, loving a pitifully weak, naked man."
MFA Adjunct Faculty; Coordinator, Undergraduate Creative Writing; Director, Bear River Writers Conference
Writers (co-edited with Laura Kasischke), If the World Becomes So Bright and Guilty at the Rapture. His work has appeared widely in journals, magazines, anthologies and newspapers in the United States and in Europe. He has received a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, and support from the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs.
Links to on-line examples of his work can be found at his web site: www.keithtaylorannarbor.com .
Ph.D., Harvard, 1999