Creative Writing at URI            Summer Programs

2016 Event Descriptions

Here is a closer look at some of our conference offerings. Check back regularly as new events are added, or follow us on Facebook, where you will find more information about the programs, presenters, writing events in the Northeast, and resources for writers.


Workshops meet each day of the conference: Thursday, 6/23, 1:00 – 3:00 pm; Friday, 6/24, 9:00 – 11:00 am; and Saturday, 6/25, 9:00 – 11:00 am.

Beginning and Intermediate Fiction – Rachel Harper

This workshop will focus on several key elements of craft, including strong character development, creating dynamic openings, building dramatic tension, effective plotting/pacing, and utilizing vivid descriptions to evoke an authentic sense of place. We will read excerpts from published stories and novels to identify successful examples, and then use in-class writing exercises to practice and hone these skills. Participants will generate material to be shared with the rest of the workshop, and will be encouraged to develop these shorter pieces into longer works on their own, integrating these concepts into both pre-existing and future projects.

Beginning and Intermediate PoetryChristina Pugh

This workshop will focus on some of the most powerful and perennial elements of poems and poetry writing. These include the line, the sentence (and the relationship between these two), rhythm, diction (or word choice), and the paramount role of revision in poetry. We will make use of selected readings in order to treat these topics. Students will participate in in-class writings that will be exploratory in nature, and they will then revise one or more of these exercises. Beginners are welcome, as well as students who have had some prior experience in writing poetry or in other poetry workshops.

Creative Nonfiction Workshop (all levels) – Patrick Madden

Finding Inspiration in Classical Essays
Among the literary genres, creative nonfiction has the most potential to be naked and honest, given that its writers share personal and factual experiences. And among the nonfictional subgenres, the essay has the most potential to replicate a mind in the act of thinking on experience. Drawing on Madden’s own work gathering “cover essays” for an anthology called After Montaigne, and on new computer-stylometric research he’s been doing on the Essay Genome Project, this workshop will introduce students to Great Dead and Forgotten Dead writers with whom they share a stylistic affinity. Attendees should bring with them a 20-page sample of their previous creative nonfiction writing, which we will compare to great essays of the past, which we will use as models for imitation and inspiration.

Memoir Workshop (all levels)Rebecca Walker

This workshop will look at the primary elements at the heart of memoir. Each day we discuss pillars of the genre—voice, theme, memory choice, structure, etc.—and read selected passages from celebrated memoirs that demonstrate mastery of the elements in question. We follow with a related prompt, in-class writing period, and subsequent brief workshopping of generated work.  Throughout each session, we consider issues that often arise in the writing of memoir, including the definition of truth and the unreliability of memory, the challenge of writing about friends and family, and the process of transforming personal experience into art.

Screenwriting Workshop (all levels)Laura Cahill

How to write a script that can get made.
This workshop concentrates on the essential aspects of a salable screenplay. We’ll look at how the standard three-act structure has evolved and what’s current in Hollywood today. We’ll go over proper formatting, discuss story, character, plot line and some of the tricks I’ve learned writing for studios over the years. Bring a few pages you’ve been working on to class and we’ll read them out loud. I can help you discover what you’re missing and set you in the right direction. We’ll work on outline-building exercises to help you with your script. A proper outline is invaluable whether you’ve written 120 pages or 5 pages or you’re carrying around an idea in your head you haven’t quite figured out how to write yet. Wherever your script is, we can get it on track!

Advanced Intensive Workshops

Advanced Intensive Workshops meet Thursday, 6/23, 1:00 – 4:00 pm; Friday, 6/24, 9:00-12:00 pm; and Saturday, 6/25, 9:00-11:00 am.
Advanced Intensives incur an additional fee.

Novel Planning Advanced Intensive WorkshopJulianna Baggott

Crafting the Novel
In this workshop, we will practice plotting a novel. Writers at any stage of novel development—from initial idea to first draft to final revision—will benefit from writing exercises and craft discussions. We will map a novel based on memory exercises as a group to see mapping in action, as well as the textured effects of piecing together seemingly disparate parts to fashion a whole. We will work on large pieces of paper, like artists who sketch out a painting first to see if it’s to scale on the canvas. Discussions will focus on various aspects of craft, process and technique. By the end, participants will have a new lens through which to re-imagine their narratives. Each participant is asked to bring in a synopsis and a five-page excerpt of a novel-in-progress. This workshop does not require an application. 

Fiction Advanced Intensive Workshop – Derek Nikitas

In the fiction intensive, participants will work to refine their advanced skills in writing short fiction. Through workshopping and occasional exercises, we will consider how the writer’s choices affect the reader’s engagement. In short, we will emphasize the power of storytelling, even as we also address inspiration, self-expression, originality, and the other major elements of successful fiction.

Poetry Advanced Intensive WorkshopRigoberto González

Word Power: Imagery and Music
Perhaps two of the most neglected elements in poetry are use of image and attention to sound. Image is usually relegated to the visual when its sensory possibilities are in fact expansive. And sound comes across muted because the poet doesn’t pause to consider the immediate linguistic benefits of a different word choice. This class will take a practical approach to learning how to make decisions about detail and language that will strengthen a poem’s composition and “score.” Participants will be asked to study and imitate master poems, and to consider a series of craft-building in-class exercises.

Master Classes

“I, You, We and They” in Literary NonfictionMargo Jefferson
Friday, 6/24, 2:00 – 3:15 pm

Each pronoun contains worlds. Each pronoun implies and each imposes. Each probes the relation(s) between writer(s) and reader(s). And each raises intriguing questions about identity and power; about the uses and meanings of technique. This master class will examine the ways in which writers negotiate these complex matters. What are the particular challenges and complications for literary nonfiction, from cultural criticism to the personal essay and memoir? What are their aesthetic and moral dimensions?

The Pleasures of the Poem Rigoberto González
Friday, 6/24, 3:30 – 4:30 pm

The three major pleasures of a poem manifest themselves linguistically, intellectually and/ or emotionally. Through a close study of poems by master poets, this discussion will elaborate on ways to achieve sophisticated levels of beauty, rhythm, tone, thought, and sensory or visceral engagement. The expectation of this class is to sharpen the writer’s tools before the next draft is initiated, to discover fresh approaches to revision, and to simply heighten the writer’s awareness of the elements that make the reading of a poem a memorable experience.

Efficient Creativity Julianna Baggott
Saturday, 6/25, 11:15 – 12:15 pm

This workshop-style seminar reaches across genres and disciplines to challenge participants to reflect on and engage with their creative processes. Drawing on research, psychology, and the ideas of some of the most innovative and creative minds of our time, we delve into the creative process. From Steve Jobs’ mock turtlenecks to contemporary research on ants to William Carlos Williams’ poems written on the backs of prescription pads, we will question what makes an idea beautiful. Participants will be encouraged to reconstruct individualized creative environments to help generate, incubate and cultivate those ideas.

Legacy Tribute

Inspired Pedagogy, Literary Influence, and the Writing Life with Mary Cappello, Beverly SwanMike Lennon, Christina Pugh, and Theo Greenblatt
Thursday, 6/23, 4:30 – 6:00 pm

A tribute to honor URI Creative Writing Faculty in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and cross-genre prose Paul Petrie, Nancy Potter, Dan Pearlman, and Robert Leuci.


Craft Seminars

Fantasy – Caitlin Kiernan

Authenticity, Immersion, and Character in Fantasy and Science Fiction
Isaac Asimov wrote that science fiction is the literature of ideas, and JRR Tolkien stated that escape is one of the main functions of fantasy. While there is certainly truth to both of these statements, fantasy and science fiction must, like all literature, be concerned first and foremost with its characters. And these characters must be genuine, possessed of all the weaknesses and ambiguities of our species, or we risk condemning fantastic fiction to inconsequence. We will examine what separates fully realized characters from one-dimensional clinches, as well as the importance of fallibility and the humanity of villains.

Biography – Mike Stanton

History and Biography
If all history is biography, then reconstructing the past is crucial to understanding the essence of your subject. Stanton will discuss how to write descriptively about historical events, drawing on examples from his biography of Buddy Cianci, The Prince of Providence, and is current research into the life of former boxing champion Rocky Marciano.

Screenwriting – Rob Cohen

Short Story Screenwriting
As the short story is to the novel, the short film is to the feature film. And like the short story, the short film is a beautiful genre of it’s own. It demands an elegance of writing, a purity of plotline, and the inventiveness that comes from working in small spaces. Happily for screenwriters, there is a growing demand for short films and short film screenwriters; there are more platforms for short films and short script than at any time in history. Richard Brody, film critic of The New Yorker magazine writes: “The short film doesn’t supplant the feature; it nourishes it. It doesn’t make a filmmaker’s career, but it augments it, just as a brief visit to a friend may bring a wise word that may stick with a person for a lifetime.”

Conversations, Publishing and Craft Sessions

SESSION I. FRIDAY, 6/24, 11:15 am – 12:00 pm

Young Adult Fiction Conversation with Padma Venkatraman and Dana Walrath
Friday, 6/24, 11:15 am – 12:00 pm

Crossing Borders with Novels for Young and Old
Critically acclaimed and award winning authors Padma Venkatraman and Dana Walrath will discuss young adult novels that break barriers and cross different kinds of borders.  They will speak about what it takes to write a young adult novel that has cross over appeal for adult audiences, and how topics like genocide, dementia, gender equality, social justice and spiritual awakening may be addressed in young adult novels. They will leave ample time to answer questions (about writing and publishing) from the audience.

Publishing Session Q and A with Literary Agent Yishai Seidman
Friday, 6/24, 11:15 am – 12:00 pm

How do I write a query letter that will stand out? What is a partial submission? What’s hot in the fiction market right now? This is a unique opportunity to get answers to all your publishing questions. Dunow, Carlson & Lerner agent Yishai Seidman will be available for this informal Q&A session.

Creative Nonfiction Craft Session – J. Michael Lennon
Friday, 6/24, 11:15 am – 12:00 pm

Types and Techniques
Following a brief survey of the wide variety of forms that can be fairly called creative nonfiction (memoir, various essay types, travel and place writing, reviews, narrative history, autobiography, and biography), will be a discussion of five elements of craft common to all types of creative nonfiction: imagery, voice and point of view, character, setting, and story. The session will also examine the blurred boundary lines with other genres.

SESSION II. FRIDAY, 6/24, 2:00 pm – 3:15 pm

Fiction Craft Session – Yishai Seidman and Derek Nikitas
Friday, 6/24, 2:00 – 3:15 pm

Symbiosis: On the Relationship Between Agent and Author
The road to publication is more than negotiating a contract and selecting a cover design. Long before any of that takes place, the author must have a manuscript ready to submit to a publisher. The literary agent is writing coach, editor and advocate. In this publishing conversation, Yishai Seidman and Derek Nikitas will discuss the unique editorial relationship between a literary agent and an author.

Poetry Craft Session – Talvikki Ansel
Friday, 6/24, 2:00 – 3:15 pm

Collectors, Gatherers, Thrift Store Hunters
It’s not unusual for poets to sweep other texts into their poems—scraps of conversation, sketches, quotes that they can’t quite stop thinking about. We’ll look at how a few contemporary writers have incorporated discovered material into their writing, and discuss how these get worked into the form of the poem, the lines and stanzas, and how they inform the poem. We’ll fit in a little time for some in-class writing based on the discussion (if you have a quote, or letter, or piece of writing you’ve been wanting to write about, bring it along—not required!).

Conversation: Discussion of Mother of GeorgeLaura Cahill and Rob Cohen
Friday, 6/24, 2:00 – 3:15 pm

Mother of George is a Nigerian drama directed by Andrew Dosunmu. The film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and tells the story of a Nigerian couple who run a restaurant in Brooklyn and are struggling with fertility issues. In this discussion, we will focus on the elements of storytelling that you, as a screenwriter, can develop in your own work. We will analyze scene, dialogue and plot structure.

SESSION III. FRIDAY, 6/24, 3:30 pm – 4:30 pm

Fiction Craft Session – Rachel Harper
Friday, 6/24, 3:30 – 4:30 pm

Outlines Matter: Why Planning Your Novel Might Make it Better
Some writers worry that the use of an outline will take the fun and spontaneity out of the writing process, impeding creativity by forcing the writer to stay on course, yet most successful novelists swear by them—refusing to put pen to paper until they have a clear roadmap in front of them. This session will identify the key elements of a successful outline and illustrate how utilizing one actually makes the writing (and rewriting) process easier, faster, and better. Several types of outlines will be discussed, as well as tips for getting started and common pitfalls to avoid.

Memoir Craft Session – Rebecca Walker
Friday, 6/24, 3:30 – 4:30 pm

The Authentic Frame: Finding the Right Structure for Your Story
Common wisdom often tells us to “begin at the beginning,” yet many successful memoirs have departed from traditional chronology, and some of our most beloved writers have used innovative, non-linear framing devices to shape their narratives. Through a discussion of Marguerite Duras’ The Lover, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, and William Styron’s Darkness Visible, we will look at approaches to structure that challenge, delight, and inspire us to discover organic and deeply personal ways of organizing our own lives on the page.

Screenwriting Craft Session – Laura Cahill
Friday, 6/24, 3:30 – 4:30 pm

Building a Scene
What makes a scene memorable? Is it the dialogue? The setting? We’ll look at what a good scene needs. We’ll talk about how to write an intriguing beginning and a satisfying tag line. We’ll discuss the importance of knowing where each character stands in the beginning, middle and end of a scene. We’ll try new ways to play with dialogue to make a scene stand out. We’ll analyze scenes from movies and TV and see what we can learn from them. Short exercises will help you write an original scene that could be the starting point for a new script.

SESSION IV. SATURDAY, 6/25, 11:15 am – 12:15 pm

Page to Screen Conversation with Rebecca Walker, Rachel Harper, and Jody Lisberger
Saturday, 6/25, 11:15 am – 12:15 pm

What are the challenges of adapting narrative fiction to a screenplay? In this conversation, Rachel Harper and Rebecca Walker will talk about how elements of fiction such as voice, setting and characterization can translate to both feature films and television scripts.

Comics, Medicine and Art Craft Session – Dana Walrath
Saturday, 6/25, 11:15 – 12:15 pm

Writers work at “showing” instead of “telling.”  But for graphic storytellers, images show automatically. This capacity to show, to reveal—often on many levels simultaneously—gives comics the power to capture the complexity of life and death, of sickness and health, and ultimately, to heal us. Through exercises and examples from graphic illness narratives including my graphic memoir Aliceheimer’s, we will tease apart the distinct capabilities of verbal and visual communication and explore the specific ways that graphic narratives allow for non-linear, multi-layered storytelling.  The session will also give writers a set of tools to use when they return to words alone.

Poetry Craft Session – Christina Pugh
Saturday, 6/25, 11:15 – 12:15 pm

Poetry and the Visual World: Image, Description, Metaphor
What is the relationship between poetry and vision – in particular, our precise vision of the world around us? What makes visual description vivid or compelling in a poem? How can visual description of “things” (paintings, clothing, flowers, or anything else) deepen or focus a poem that is also dealing with emotions or ideas? Where do effective metaphors come from? This class will introduce poems that make masterful and effective use of description, image, and metaphor, and suggest strategies to sharpen students’ visual focus in poems. It will also include a writing exercise so that students can begin to put these strategies into practice.

SESSION V. SATURDAY, 6/25, 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Publishing SessionDavid Groff
Saturday, 6/25, 3:00 – 4:00 pm

From Writer to Author: A Roadmap to Publication

This seminar, led by a longtime independent book editor, helps you transition from being a prose writer or poet publishing individual works to becoming the author of a book. We’ll explore the vast changes occurring in the publishing business and how, as a proactive writer, you can make them work for you; how to answer the five questions every publishing professional will ask about your book; how the practice of literary citizenship can benefit your book project, your career, and the overall culture; and how you can chart your own path to getting your words between covers and into the hands of readers.

Fiction Craft Session – Jody Lisberger
Saturday, 6/25, 3:00 – 4:00 pm

Moving Between Scene/Seen and Unseen: Fiction Techniques for Creating Dramatic Tension

This session will examine and practice some techniques for creating maximum dramatic tension in a scene by carefully thinking about and proportioning the placement of emotion and the unseen.

Screenwriting Craft Session – Rob Cohen
Saturday, 6/25, 3:00 – 4:00 pm

Non-fiction Writing for Television
Non-fiction television is a writer’s great question mark.

Is there a place for writers in the landscape of non-fiction television? Is non-fiction television just another way of saying ‘reality tv’? Are there writers on a “reality television” show? Can non-fiction television be smart and entertaining, or does reality television have to be trashy?

Do you have an idea for a reality show?

This craft session will look at ways to create, pitch, sell and ultimately, write your non-fiction TV show. It will talk about what the networks are looking for, examine pitch documents and do a short exercise in writing for non-fiction television. You may just have the next idea for “The Deadliest Catch”, “Duck Dynasty” or “Jazz”.

Memoir Craft SessionMaria Mutch
Saturday, 6/25, 3:00 – 4:00 pm

Creative courage and the Memoir
In constructing memoir, we are bound by certain facts and truths—or are we? The category of memoir, influenced by the inventiveness of the creative nonfiction essay, is an ever-expanding genre. This workshop will explore memoir’s boundaries and how to push against them, how to mine creativity, play with time, and use that most fundamental of writerly tools, the notebook. In finding inspiration in unexpected places (how is Moby Dick, for instance?), we will learn to surpass simply writing down the facts and find our most authentic, creative voice.

Fiction Craft Session – Michael Keith
Saturday, 6/25, 3:00 – 4:00 pm

The Short Story
An examination of the short story genre to include story ideation, plot creation, character development, theme, point of view, irony, setting, and so forth. Discussions will also focus on sourcing potential markets for the short story (and collections) and what to expect following acceptance and publication. A review of major short story authors past and present will be offered. Finally, questions from course participants pertaining to their own work, writing experience, and goals will constitute a central element of the session.

Think Big We Do

Copyright © 2016 University of Rhode Island.