Coming back from another spirited, challenging and enlightening workshop week, this time the notable Tin House Summer Workshop held at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. I participated in one of the novel workshops led by the gracious and energetic (and fellow native Georgian!) Tayari Jones. In the midst of her book tour for “An America Marriage” and while in the process of beginning to relocate back to Atlanta to assume a position at Emory, she managed to “put in the work” for her Tin House workshop class, focusing our attention on prescriptive fixes… for uncertain and not-quite-right points of view, weak character development, meandering and untenable plots, and rushed pacing. It was a refreshing break from the typical workshop approach, which can sometimes feel like mutual appreciation sessions or windy and forgettable academic lectures on craft, technique or /what literary icons we all should be trying to mimic.
The story is not sacrosanct. It is THE thing that needs to be “fixed.” Tayari has a clear personal theory on how to write engaging novels for readers and reminded us that we are writing for *readers* who want to be engaged with a good story. The biggest takeaways for me: the notion of writing from emotional questions and delving deeply into relationships between characters, as that is what readers will care most about. And, if a weapon appears in a story, somebody better be using it!
Tayari’s presence attracted a wildly talented and diverse workshop group writing wonderfully interesting novels– several boldly tackling magical storylines. Be on the lookout for writing from these creative souls: Fellow Wildcats Nancy Johnson and Angel Gunn, fellow Georgian and new school hip hop scholar Dr. Regina N, Bradley, scholarly Michal Lemberger and Sarah Schiff, the humble and warm Andrea Greer, the talented young stylist Brian Lin, the fabulous and charming Millicent Jackson, sharp-voiced Manuel Martinez, and the soulful storytellers Elaine Musiwa and Simha Stubblefield.
Oh yeah…and also this happened.
A good summary of some of Tayari’s thoughtful advice is provided by fellow workshopper Nancy Johnson here: Finding the Tribe that Fuels Your Writing.