The Writers Studio

The Hume Center, the Stanford Storytelling Project, and the Creative Writing Program are proud to offer this free workshop series open to all students from all majors. Come for intensive, fun, hands-on workshops with dynamic facilitators from the Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR), the Creative Writing program, and the Stanford Storytelling Project. You'll leave with an expanded understanding of what your writing can do.

Winter 2019 Schedule

All workshops are free, open to the entire Stanford community, and held in the Hume Center for Writing and Speaking in Building 250, Room 201, from 6:00-7:30pm, unless otherwise specified. Snacks are provided!

Week 2, Mon 1/14 — "Interviewing for Story" with Jenny March

Many of today's most impactful, award-winning stories are built around interviews. Consider not only documentary-driven stories such as Serial or S-Town but also novels such as Dave Eggers' What is the What, or novelistic journalism like Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers, or Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, or the plays Anna Deavere Smith. Interviewing is a great way to discover, build, or just do background research about a story, and it can help you create rich characters, bring new depth to a story, or develop dimensions you hadn't considered in your wildest imagination. In this workshop, we'll look at texts based on interviews (novels, reporting, sound storytelling) and explore how the writer or producer might have elicited the material, and then examine the art of preparing for conducting an interview. We'll consider strategies for eliciting story, creating intimacy and rapport, and focusing your interview questions to get the content you're looking for. You'll leave the workshop with interviewing strategies and prepared questions for an interview, whether it's a dream/imagined interview or an upcoming one.

Jenny March is an audio documentary producer and community-builder and works at the Stanford Storytelling Project as a senior producer and program associate. She particularly loves exploring the human experience through intimate, non-narrated audio portraits. She has taught audio courses at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies and will offer "Introduction to Podcast Storytelling" this spring at Stanford. She is also the co-producer of Audio Under the Stars, a summer-long outdoor audio festival in Durham, NC.

Week 4, Mon 1/28 — "Building Community with Story" with Kevin DiPirro

Much performance work these days uses immersive, participatory, food and story-based approaches for gathering people together. The idea is to not meet strictly as performer or observer, talking head 1 or talking head 2, or even giver or receiver, but rather as H2H (Human-to-Human.) In other words, not to meet from our necks up, but from our necks down. In this workshop we will each start with an important intention for creating a potential social gathering, consider hosting protocols from ancient to modern, and identify a particular central story to guide the work of the gathering. Working from a recent immersive production on campus, we will, as devised event-makers, consider the various modes of engagement that were used and why (music, movement, storytelling, food, set design, live action, playstations) and then each create a working template for a potential social gathering we would like to stage on campus that we are passionate about. Come with an event already in mind, an event you always dreamed about making happen, or a blank slate. By the end of the studio we should have a working script thoughtfully designed to gather people on important issues in fresh and whole ways that allow them to work together with beginner's minds towards creative expressions/solutions.

Kevin DiPirro is a writer and creator of the immersive performance work, who/where am I: the underworld. He is an advanced lecturer in PWR.

Week 5, Mon 2/4 —"The Moving Image" with Will Brewer

Plenty of writing is described as “cinematic,” but for that description to hold true, it means that the writing must move (as “kinesis,” the root of cinema, suggests). This class will explore how different poets utilize movement—generated through techniques of rhythm, syntax, line, and form—to build and activate images that function “cinematically” in the reader’s mind. In addition, we'll examine how movement can create thematic and formal tension within a poem. A number of exercises will help us translate these concepts and techniques into practice.

William Brewer is the author of I Know Your Kind (Milkweed Editions, 2017), a winner of the National Poetry Series, and Oxyana, which was selected for the Poetry Society of America's 30 and Under Chapbook Fellowship. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in American Poetry Review, The Nation, New England Review, The New Yorker, A Public Space, The Sewanee Review, and other journals. Formerly a Stegner Fellow, he is currently a Jones Lecturer at Stanford University.

Week 6, Mon 2/11 — "The Ode Not Forsaken: Writing Celebratory Poems in a Dark Time" with Austin Smith

It is easy to be inundated by bad news: climate change, wildfires, hurricane, terrorism, gun violence, social and political unrest. It can seem futile to write joyful poems, and yet poets do, perhaps recognizing that to praise the commonplace can be a vital, even radical, act. In this workshop we will consider a number of odes, taking a fresh look at some of the classic odes we may have encountered before, and considering some odes by contemporary poets. And, of course, we'll work on a draft of an ode of our own.

Austin Smith is a Jones Lecturer at Stanford. He is the author of two poetry collections, Almanac and Flyover Country, both published through the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets. A recent NEA fellow in prose, Smith teaches courses in poetry, fiction, environmental literature and documentary journalism.

Week 8, Mon 2/25 — "Creating Stories for AI" with Elizabeth Arrendondo

The recent explosion in artificial intelligence (AI) has led to a demand for writers who can write for AI entities. As the Washington Post recently put it, “[b]ehind Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana are not just software engineers. Increasingly, there are poets, comedians, fiction writers, and other artistic types charged with engineering the personalities for a fast-growing crop of artificial intelligence tools.” This workshop will use character development and user experience design to give students an overview of creating a personality and backstory for an AI entity. The workshop will explore how to think about creating characters that interact and speak with users and how this is different from creating characters for the screen or page. Using character development prompts, students will explore backstory, utility and conversation style to conceive an AI personality. We’ll explore user research techniques, such as Wizard of Oz testing, and how they can be helpful in thinking about relationships with human users. By the end, students will have a better understanding of the opportunities and challenges of writing for an interactive relationship.

Elizabeth Arredondo is among the small but growing group of writers working at the intersection of creative writing and artificial intelligence. She spent the past three years designing the personality, backstory, and conversations for a robotic wellness coach named Mabu at Catalia Health. After earning her MFA in Writing for Screen and TV from USC’s School for Cinematic Arts in 2005, Elizabeth participated in NBC’s “Writers on the Verge” program. She went on to work as a staff writer on the primetime CBS drama COLD CASE and develop several original TV pilots. Elizabeth is currently a Visiting Scholar at mediaX at Stanford where her work focuses on the study of AI personality design. During the 2018 winter quarter, she designed and moderated the seminar series Creating AI Conversations.

Week 9, Tue 3/5 — "Making Mysterious People" with Gabrielle Moyer

How can we write a person, especially in a way that captures the authentic and mysterious in any particular person? And how can we write about others’ lives in a way that captures their uniqueness but also appeals to a broad audience? In this workshop we will look at a number of excerpts from Modernist and contemporary writers as they seek to describe the mysteriousness of other people—in ways that may not even make sense to the authors themselves. We will explore how their deliberate attention to style and form help them depict the particular lives of others. After looking closely at some of their alternative styles for communicating character, you will experiment with constructing your own complex, particular person, or the space for a person (in a poem, in a film, in a fiction).

Gabrielle Moyer has published on Modernist fiction and the relationship between literary aesthetics and ethics. She is an Advanced lecturer in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric where she teaches on the political ramifications of telling stories and avoiding stories.