Craft, Community, and Politics: Reforming the Creative Writing Workshop

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2018
full name / name of organization: 
Northeast Modern Language Association
contact email: 

We are currently seeking paper proposals for a creative writing pedagogy panel accepted for the Northeast Modern Language Association annual meeting in Washington, D.C., from March 21-24, 2019.

Recent work in creative writing studies has exposed how the discipline’s central pedagogical tool, the silent workshop, is implicit in perpetuating and reifying power and privilege at the expense of women and people of color. Mark McGurl’s influential history of the discipline,The Program Era, has exposed the paternalistic origins and colonizing impulse of the workshop approach, even as the essays in n+1’s MFA vs. NYCreveal the troubling toxicity of the workshop—a problem that includes unclear (and often unrealistic) expectations on student writers, disaffected or mercenary teachers, and workshop leaders who exploit their positions of power in the classroom. In these situations, discussions of “craft” often elide valuable political questions or cover up for blatant hostility. By insisting that the author being workshopped remain silent, the workshop model is complicit in the same kind of gendered and racial silencing that marks the exercise of white, male power and state power—a contention recently levied by such writers as Claire Vaye Watkins and Viet Thanh Nguyen. To that end, this panel will perform the necessary task of considering, through scholarship and personal narratives, how creative writers can reinvent the workshop, dismantle its implicit power structures, foster a more inclusive workshop environment, and generate a workshop pedagogy that explores (rather than obfuscates) the intersections of craft with politics, history, the creative industry, and other prominent current concerns.

As Viet Thanh Nguyen observed in a 2017 article in The New York Times, the “unexamined assumptions” of traditional workshops perpetuate white privilege and male authority over the aesthetics and literary traditions of other populations. Primarily, Nguyen contends, this has resulted in workshop environments that analyze “craft” without exploring its connections to politics, theory, philosophy, and other disciplines. To that end, this panel seeks papers or personal essays that address methods for reconceptualizing the creative writing workshop. Topics may include the creative workshop and inclusivity, alternative workshop methods, or strategies for enfolding craft talk with theory, politics, and so on.

To submit an abstract for this panel, please visit Abstracts will be accepted through the NeMLA web portal only. All abstracts are due by September 30, 2018. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at patrick.henry AT