Creative Nonfiction Workshops, Panels and Events

To register for the full conference and enroll in a workshop or critical seminar, click on the button below. All keynote talks, panels, one-day workshops, readings and special events are included in general registration, as is attendance at the Poetry Symposium each afternoon. All three-day Workshops and three-day Critical Seminars require an additional fee of $200.


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Creative Nonfiction Panel #1: Reporting in Creative Nonfiction

Thursday, July 20, 8:30 - 10:00, Taylor Hall 226

Alissa Johnson and Brian Calvert, Co-Moderators, with George Sibley and Mark Todd

Good reporting isn’t limited to news coverage and feature stories—it can also be the bedrock of many forms of creative nonfiction. In this panel, we take a look at the ins and outs of reporting. What is good reporting? How does it change for different types of creative nonfiction? How does it play a role in literary nonfiction? And what do you need to know about reporting if you’ve never considered it part of your own creative nonfiction? We’ll also discuss the role of reporting during a time when the media is under scrutiny and the veracity of facts is being called into question. Join this panel for a discussion on both the practical aspects of reporting—how to do it—and a closer look at its role in creating vibrant and relevant creative nonfiction.

To see full biographies of the panelists, click each speaker's name below:​​

Alissa Johnson, Co-Moderator

Brian Calvert, Co-Moderator

George Sibley

Mark Todd

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Creative Nonfiction Panel #2: "The Art of the Fact: Is There a Canon of Creative Nonfiction?"

Saturday, July 22, 2:00 - 4:00, Taylor Hall 229

Kelsey L. Bennett, Moderator, with Peter Anderson, Kase Johnstun, Valerie Lester, and Sean Prentiss
"Creative nonfiction" is a relatively new and rather clumsy title that refers to a genre that we used to call, more broadly, "the essay." CNF is now taught and discussed widely, which raises the question of how we define it historically and structurally, and how we should teach it. Are there foundational works that all students should read? Montaigne? Bacon? The Tattler? The Rambler? Thoreau? Emerson? Virginia Woolf? Borges? George Orwell? Flannery O'Connor? James Baldwin? Sontag? What is the historical narrative of how the genre developed and is developing? Where are the fault lines between CNF and the literary essay, biography, memoir, journalism, travel writing and other non-fiction prose genres?  What does authority and fact look like in CNF vis-vis fictional or hybrid modes?  Join this group of widely published CNF writers, who are also critics, scholars and teachers, for a lively discussion about the future and fortunes of the genre.
To see full biographies of the panelists, click each speaker's name below:

Kelsey Bennett, Moderator

Peter Anderson

Kase Johnstun

Valerie Lester

Sean Prentiss

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Creative Nonfiction One-Day Workshop #1: "The Art of Biography." Instructor: Valerie Lester.

Thursday, July 20, 2:00 - 4:00, Taylor Hall 204

I have no intention of lecturing. This will be a loud, active workshop.

We will start with an exercise. You will select a subject for biography, write two to three sentences, pair up, and then take turns in describing this character to each other. When you are ready, you will introduce your partners to the group and describe their subjects. You will all then take three minutes to write one sentence in which you describe your favorite biography.

I will then ask you to write a preface (hook) to a biography of your chosen subject (10 minutes) using color, sound, sensation, and the snap of language to enliven your material. We will listen to the results (so much of writing is listening), and if we have enough time, you will make comments and suggestions on each other’s work.

Together we will find answers to these questions: Why do we enjoy biography? What do we look for in a good biography? What are its required components? Is it necessary to submit to the lockstep of chronology? How does one jump in? Is it possible to delve inside the head of someone who is dead and long gone? Can we rely exclusively on the Internet? What biographies would you recommend to others? (I will provide a list of biographies that I highly recommend.) In the end, we will all emerge energized about the fascinating, difficult and tremendously meaningful work of describing another life.

Valerie Lester is the author of Phiz, the Man Who Drew Dickens (Chatto & Windus, 2005) and of Giambattista Bodoni, His Life and His World (Godine, 2015). She is currently at work on a biography of Clarence Bicknell (1842-1918), an extraordinarily interesting Victorian/Renaissance man. She has also written a history of Pan Am from the point of view of the cabin crew, Fasten Your Seat Belts! History and Heroism in the Pan Am Cabin (Paladwr, 1994) and translated Alain-Fournier’s, Le Grand Meaulnes (The Magnificent Meaulnes, Vintage, 2008). She studied Versification (along with David J. Rothman) at Harvard University with Robert Fitzgerald, and taught it at George Washington University. Born in England, raised in the West Indies, she currently lives in Hingham, Massachusetts.


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Creative Nonfiction One-Day Workshop #2: "Pitching the Rockies: How to Sell a Story that Sings." Instructor: Brian Calvert.

Sunday, July 23, 2:00 - 4:00, Taylor Hall 200

When it comes to telling a story about the Rockies or of the American West, there are few better places to do so than in High Country News, an award-winning magazine with a deeply loyal readership that has covered the region for almost 50 years. Yet pitching to this magazine, any magazine, really, can be hard. Join the editor of High Country News, Brian Calvert, for a workshop on magazine pitching. In a two-hour session, you’ll learn how to convince editors you are the right writer for the job. We’ll go over the editorial decision-making process, along with pitch length, tone and approach, the ever-tricky nut graph, the importance of scope and stakes, how to build narrative drive, and more. At the end of the session, we’ll have a pitch slam, where writers can spitball with the editor before writing a more well-developed pitch for the magazine.

Brian Calvert is the Managing Editor of High Country News, the nation's leading source of reporting on the American west. A fourth-generation Wyoming native, he grew up in Pinedale and graduated from the University of Northern Colorado in 1994 with a BA in English liberal arts and minors in writing and media studies. He has worked as a foreign correspondent, writer, audio journalist, and most recently, a Ted Scripps Fellow in Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado. After extensive time in Cambodia, China and Afghanistan, Brian has a new appreciation for the West and is thrilled to be back. When he's not working, you can find him outside, trying to regain his mountain hardiness. He is also earning an MFA in Poetry at Western.


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All Three-Day Workshops and Critical Seminars meet Thursday, 7/20, Saturday, 7/22, and Sunday, 7/23, from 10:15 - 12:15. Cost: $200 in addition to registration. 

Creative Nonfiction Three-Day Workshop #1: “Taking the 'Me' Out of Memoir. ” Instructor: Kase Johnston.

Location: Taylor Hall 201

I once heard someone recently call memoir, “MEmoir,” emphasizing the narcissistic aspect of writing about self. Though this pronunciation was sarcastic, it roused a feeling that I have experienced many, many times when reading memoirs (including my own): sometimes memoirists take a myopic approach to story telling; we delve so deeply into what we are feeling, experiencing, or thinking, that we disrupt the story's arc, leaving readers bored and drowning in the author’s spiritual wanderings.

To address this challenge, this workshop will explore the usefulness of fictional devices (plot, character, tension, development, suspense) to create memoirs (short or long form) that engage the audience in the same way that fiction does, reeling in the audience through development of story and not monologue. This course will, of course, touch heavily on how to do all of this ethically within creative nonfiction and memoir.

Here’s how I see it happening for the three-day class:

Day One: Craft talk that explores scene building, character development, and tension building in memoir (creative nonfiction). HW: Scene sketches: bring two scene sketches, derived from real-life events, to write about in class.

Day Two: After reviewing what we talked about on day one, we will share the two scene sketches with the class, and the class will vote on which one the author will develop. We will spend the rest of the day writing our scenes. HW: Develop scenes into a full personal narrative/memoir under 2,000 words, using dialogue, tension, character development, rising action, climax, descriptive narrative, and falling action. Submit to all class members via email.

Day Three: Workshop the memoirs in class and leave with a good sense for revision.

Kase Johnstun lives and writes in Ogden, Utah. He is the author of recently released Beyond the Grip Craniosynostosis (McFarland & Co), which has been featured in Pennsylvania Parenting Magazine, Portland Family Magazine, The Ogden Standard Examiner, and many other places, as well as having mentions in the Chicago Tribune and the Seattle Times. It was recently awarded the Gold Quill (First Place) in Creative Nonfiction by the League of Utah Writers for 2015. His work has been published widely by literary journals and trade magazines, including, but not limited to, Yahoo Parenting, Creative Nonfiction Magazine, and The Chronicle Review. He is the co-editor/author of Utah Reflections: Stories from the Wasatch Front (The History Press), which was name the Salt Lake Tribune’s book of the month for August 2014 and the League of Utah Writers Recommended Read in Nonfiction 2015 (Third Place). His essay collection Tortillas for Honkies was named a finalist for the 2013 Autumn House press Nonfiction Awards (most of the essays in the collection have found homes in places like The Watershed Review, Label Me Latino/a, Prime Number Literary Magazine, and Animal Literary Magazine). Most recently, he was the writer-in-residence at JIWAR international artist residency in Barcelona, Spain where he finished one novel and wrote most of another.


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Creative Nonfiction Three-Day Workshop #2: "Writing the Environment.” Instructor: Sean Prentiss.

Location: Taylor Hall 229

All writing, from creative nonfiction to poetry to fiction to screenwriting, occurs in some location, whether in the city, wilderness, or some place between the two. And all characters, real or invented, are created and altered by place. And these people and places are affected by our Anthropogenic age of climate change, overpopulation, oil pipeline construction, deforestation, and massive extinction. Many of today’s writers focus not just on the arc of a story or the lyric qualities of a poem but also on how we writers can move readers to action and how place affects our characters in poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction. This is what we will be studying in Writing the Environment—how to write about the environments (natural and human constructed) around us, how to use these writings to make readers think in new ways, and how to show place as a character in our narratives.

Sean Prentiss, this year's keynote speaker in Creative Nonfiction, is the award winning author of Finding Abbey: a Search for Edward Abbey and His Hidden Desert Grave, a memoir about Edward Abbey and the search for home. Finding Abbey won the 2015 National Outdoor Book Award for History/Biography, the Utah Book Award for Nonfiction, and the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award for Biography. It was also a Vermont Book Award and Colorado Book Award finalist. Prentss is the co-author of the environmental writing textbook, Environmental and Nature Writing: A Craft Guide and Anthology, and the co-editor of The Far Edges of the Fourth Genre: Explorations in Creative Nonfiction, a creative nonfiction craft anthology. He and his family live on a small lake in northern Vermont and he teaches at Norwich University and in the MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.


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