Division of HumanitiesMFA in Creative Writing - Low Residency

Rainier Writing Workshop

FACULTY

"I am impressed with the caliber, commitment, and generosity of the faculty. Their willingness to engage with us in and out of our classroom made this experience unlike any other I've had."

Rick Barot

Director

Office 253-535-7318
Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in poetry. Oversight of program.

Statement: "I’ve always been intrigued by these two connotations of the word craft—that it refers to something like technique, and also that it refers to cunning. Which is to say that we writers handle materials that, when handled just so, lead to a sort of alchemy. The most powerful pieces of writing, then, contain an infinite complexity—a complexity that’s tangible and undefinable at the same time. And all of this is done in the writer’s solitude, which seems its own mixture of materiality and expansiveness.

Even though I believe that a strong piece of writing generates something like magic, I also believe in tough-minded examinations of the thematic and formal elements that we use as writers. As a teacher, I prefer discussions in which everyone seems to have a lab coat on, detailing the mechanics of the work at hand. How a piece achieves its force through writerly decisions—decisions which have been guided by thought and feeling, insight and intuition, analysis and imagination, failure and risk—this is what I care about.

As a necessary complement to the writer’s solitary work, the conversations we have about each other’s work can be as vital as the work itself. With as much rigor and delight as possible, we engage in what Czeslaw Milosz described as the purpose of poetry: 'the passionate pursuit of the real.'"

Suzanne Berne

Fiction

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in fiction.

Statement: "In my view, the best thing a workshop can provide is excitement. By focusing on where a story is most original, most engaging – where it 'burns the brightest,' as I heard someone say last summer – the workshop can locate ideas and scenes a writer may not have realized had so much potential. It's easy to lose faith in something you're working on; in fact, losing faith in your own work may well be an essential part of writing well. So part of the workshop's job is to help you locate that spark, where your work is most alive, original, memorable.   And then send you on your way again."

Linda Bierds

Poetry

Responsibilities

Master Classes in Poetry.

David Biespiel

Poetry

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in poetry.

Statement: "One of poetry's capacities is to reveal a process of thinking by feeling. The imprint of a poet's mind in his or her poems is one distinguishing factor, and that imprint is relayed through form and revealed through content. My understanding of poetry is that we make these kinds of formal decisions both consciously and unconsciously. If one decides to write a poem in free verse, that's a catalyzing formal decision. The more you understand what those decisions are, how you arrived at your assumptions about them, and what their consequences are beforehand, then the more you will be able to master the emotional, formal, ideational, psychic, and spiritual demands that arise in your poems. What I mean is, you can say you want to focus on content only but in the end we’re all going to be discussing form (in workshops, in discussions, on panels, in mentoring). Discovering form is not just the filter but the catalyst for content and for finding one’s subject, and for creating communion with some readers somewhere. Focusing on form strengthens our capacities to reinvent our imaginative representations of experience.

Mary Clearman Blew

Fiction, Nonfiction

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in fiction and nonfiction.

Statement: "Never comfortable with abstractions, I encourage my students to read widely and to practice a variety of ways to explore their works in progress as deeply as possible. I look for students’ strengths and point out doors to open. I ask students to uncover their stories, whether in fiction or nonfiction, and I question every aspect of their work as it relates to their stories."

Barrie Jean Borich

Nonfiction

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in nonfiction.

Statement: "Writing is a process: part thought, part instinct, part wish. Every honest draft holds some glimmer of what your work might become. To write is to try, try, and try again, until we’re stunned to arrive at the revelation of new understanding. Through study of creative nonfiction literary form and strategy we find new ways to uncover meaning and render actuality, which is why I ask students to analyze craft. Yet I no longer believe, as I did when I began teaching over twenty years ago, that my first job is to identify and repair flaws on your draft pages. Editing too soon is futile. Writing is revision. Critique is suggestion. First I help you identify and re-identify the intention, voice and form of your project, and will often suggest you write it again, with one ear keyed to what you know and the other open to ongoing attempt. Write until you’ve surprised yourself; then we’ll attend to the sound, pace, texture, language, image and other points of unfinished beauty."

Fleda Brown

Poetry, Nonfiction

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in poetry and nonfiction.

Statement: "I've taught many kinds of workshops--one-shot 3-hour sessions, weekend retreats, and semester-long creative writing classes. Sometimes students come into a workshop simply wanting a push, sometimes they need help finding their voices. Everyone talks about 'finding a voice,' as if we all knew what this means. We don’t. I don’t. What I can do in a workshop is to help students allow themselves to be clumsy, foolish, and sometimes nuts in their writing, while loosely hanging onto the reins. What are the reins? I don't know that, either, but we can figure it out by looking closely at the best work we can get our hands on. No one ever had a 'voice' that came from nowhere. It develops partly from bouncing off other voices—the ones in the workshop, and the ones on the page. I dearly love being around when the bounce lands in new territory."

David Allan Cates

Fiction

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in fiction.

Statement: "My success in the publishing world is limited, but my success as a writer has been boundless.  Every book I have written has taken me on an adventure I would have thought impossible beforehand. I am a middle-aged man, and there are fewer and fewer things I know. But I know what it takes to write. I know the fear; I know the dangers and demons; and I know the joy. As a teacher, I try to help students understand this journey, and I try to help them live it as the adventure of their lifetime."

Kevin Clark

Poetry

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in poetry.

Statement: “One of my goals in the writing workshop is to help students enhance what is idiosyncratically best in their writing while they simultaneously try other directions. There’s a context for this kind of teaching. The short story writer Al Landwehr once told me that the act of writing well is like the act of reading the best book you’ve ever read. You are utterly transported, ecstatic. But, as Al noted, the next day you come back to your work and you realize that what you have written is not the best thing in literary history. In fact, it can’t walk; it has warts; it hacks like a consumptive. As a writing teacher, I hope to help you readily achieve the first ascendant state of creativity and quickly overcome the second deflating state of starting over. The whole enterprise need not be a jaw-clenching struggle; it should be a habitual, quotidian pleasure.”

Stephen Corey

Editor in Residence

Responsibilities

Editor in Residence. Mentor. Workshops and classes in nonfiction and poetry.

Statement: "I am an editor because I am a writer; I am a writer because at some point--I believe I was in my mid-twenties--simply taking in the world no longer seemed enough, and because I have crazy but loving dreams of whacking a few readers in the gut the way my favorite writers have whacked me. I try to edit via compassionate insinuation [from the Latin insinuare: to introduce by windings and turnings], doing my best to enter the intention and spirit of a piece to determine how it might be finished more completely and accurately. But I also edit via compassionate fiat, because some things just don't work if you fail to handle them thoughtfully enough. In one sense, I suppose, there's what a good editor must strive to be: thoughtful enough. And, I would argue, good writers must be so as well. Once I sat at a dinner gathering of writers and said, 'For a piece of writing to be genuinely great, someone has to want to kill you for having written it.' This isn't true, of course, but I think it's next door to something that needs to be true."

Gary Ferguson

Nonfiction

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in nonfiction.

Statement: "I believe good creative nonfiction requires the mastery of certain fundamental craft techniques, including character, setting, tone, dialogue, and transition. In addition, our success is defined by the ability to learn and apply the essentials of sound storytelling, including learning how to energize our narrative arcs. But beyond all that, I’m a big fan of an old, anonymous saying: 'If you want to work on your art, work on your life.' Literary nonfiction writers are well served by a constant and curious investigation of the world at large, as well as of their own internal conclusions and desires."

Greg Glazner

Poetry, Mixed-Genre, Criticism

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in poetry, mixed-genre, and criticism.

Statement: "I love the reciprocal relationship between technical matters on the one hand, and subject matter on the other. I've been focused for years on how the explosiveness of just being alive can call into question the aptness of one’s acquired technique. Equally, I've been fascinated with how a technical revision—cutting a weak stanza, say, or letting the sound of a word dictate a next phrase that unmoors some of a poem’s original intended meaning—can sometimes result in vastly livelier subject matter. I think that the most difficult and rewarding thing about being a writer is that we are forced to honor two opposite and essential necessities at once: the necessity to learn and master craft, and the necessity to be given over to a process that takes us beyond our conscious intentions into something more akin to dreaming. I go to lengths to make sure that my workshops and mentor relationships honor this rich doubleness."

Kevin Goodan

Poetry

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in poetry.

Statement: "It is my belief that everyone can write poems. We just have to relearn how to let go of our preconceptions, our fears, and allow the poem lead to us where it wants us to go with language. It is my duty as a mentor to assist with the journey to that place within us where our particular poems live."

Adrianne Harun

Fiction

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in fiction.

Statement: "I don't believe there's any one route to writing good fiction and, sorrowfully, I also have come to believe that the magic book or teacher possessing the secret of fiction writing does not actually exist. I do, however, believe in the value of the twined practices of revision and obsessively close reading, as well as the great promise of intuitive leaps, emotional honesty and constant exploration. As a mentor, I ask a lot of questions, and I tend to prod my students also into asking questions of their own work. The wonderful Canadian writer Catherine Bush writes, ‘The novel needs curiosity the way a river needs water,’ and I could not agree more. I’m also particularly interested in the ways in which narrative architecture can alter, intensify, or obscure a story, so I often focus on structure as well. My goal as a teacher is to act as an informed yet curious companion, sometimes guiding, sometimes badgering, always listening."

Lola Haskins

Poetry

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in poetry.

Statement: "My goal is to help mentees say what they came to say. Sometimes that involves counseling them to take chances they've been avoiding, since for poetry to matter, everything must be risked. Or so I think. That aside, for mentees to flower, two things are absolutely necessary: a safe place and stimulation. To this end, I adore sharing my favorite writers with my students and also assigning fine writers whom I don't personally respond to but I think might be useful to a given mentee. In all of this I think of myself as a coach rather than a traditional teacher, which means I see my mentees and I as a team. This is lucky work my colleagues and I have, and I'm pretty sure we know it."

Jim Heynen

Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in fiction nonfiction, and poetry.

Statement: "For me, the greatest pleasure in teaching is spotting what is most promising in a poem, story, novel, or essay—and going from there.  Finding the possibilities in a piece of writing requires generous and attentive reading. It is hard, empathic work but can be far more rewarding than starting with the critical scalpel and going flaw-hunting. The flaws tend to dry up and flake off the page without much messy coercion if the reader and writer agree on what and where the real promise is.  One of my favorite metaphors I draw from the sport of curling: when teaching, I like to think of myself as the person with the broom clearing the way for another’s earnest intentions."

John Holman

Fiction

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in fiction.

Statement: "I hope to help writers bring forward the value of their vision. To that end, I'm particular about clarity of language, and I encourage experimentation with form and technique. I hope to coach writers to discover ever new pleasures in the effort to communicate and create."

David Huddle

Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

Statement: "Listening has become a philosophy for me as both a teacher and a writer. I've become a better writer by way of paying more attention to  what my writing is trying to convey to me as I'm working on it. I've become a better teacher by way of giving my students more 'say' in the classroom. As a reader, I'm often trying to help other writers discover their work's 'truest' impulses. And though I've been teaching for thirty-two years now, I still get chills when I read a terrific passage in a manuscript or when a member of a workshop speaks with illuminating generosity. It's not that I don't have opinions that I'm eager to share--in recent years, I've even found myself pounding the table and surprising myself with the passion of my words, something I was far too cool to do in my first twenty-five years of teaching."

Judith Kitchen

Nonfiction, Poetry, Criticism, Fiction

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in nonfiction, poetry, criticism, and fiction.

Statement: "I believe in passionate memory, remembered passion, and the long, slow, often lonely, labors of the writer. That said, I also believe in the joint effort that can result in inspired revision. My deepest interest is in how to shape material, how to discover the underlying issues and then find a structure to enhance them. In both fiction and nonfiction, I like to see where personal experience intersects with the imaginary (or the critical) way of thinking. I look forward to a freewheeling discussion where questions count more than answers."

Dinah Lenney

Nonfiction

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in nonfiction.

Statement: "Years ago, unable to put one sentence in front of another, I ran into one of my teachers. 'How goes the writing?' he asked. When I told him I was stuck, he said: 'What question are you trying to answer?'

Not that I simmered it down to a single question, nor were all the answers ever revealed (of course not), but I was able to go back to my project. He’d reminded me: first, about the urgency of the work—the point and the reason; second, about the role of mentors and the value of community. Solitary though we may be, we writers mean to reach out—to communicate and connect—having everything to do with the questions we ask of ourselves and each other.

In my view, therefore, it’s my job to ask questions, and to insist that whatever my students are writing—journalism, memoir, essay, humor, criticism—the stakes are high. It’s not that they have to be traumatized and tormented, only genuinely engaged and inspired to figure things out. I’m there to encourage them; to keep them honest: to remind them it isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be almost impossible, in fact, but worth doing (per Joan Didion and Patricia Hampl) with the goal of discovering what they think and what they know. They are not required to have the answers before they begin: if they did, I tell them, they wouldn’t have to write in the first place."

Rebecca McClanahan

Nonfiction, Poetry

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in nonfiction and poetry.

Statement: "In my workshops, I am not interested in 'fixing' so-called flawed texts; fixing is the work of morticians. I am interested in helping writers discover what their drafts want to be when they grow up. How do we locate the essay hiding within the messay, the memoir stalled on a ME-more track, the poem trying to sing its way out of the journal’s pages? Our task as writers is not only to pay attention to our world but also to use the materials of the world in extraordinary ways. To do this, we must uncover the subtle design, the 'figure in the carpet' that is woven into even the most everyday events. Often we must proceed without knowing what form the work will finally take. We write our way into the question, into the mystery. Writing begets more writing; meaning grows on the page."

Kent Meyers

Fiction, Nonfiction

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in fiction and nonfiction.

Statement: "I’ve heard writers say that, to avoid influence, they never read fiction when they're writing it. I, on the other hand, want to be influenced—by everything: the shadows on the sidewalk, the expression on a stranger's passing face, the music from an open window and, yes, other writers. I want to borrow power and style and voice, use them to challenge and stretch me. If that influence is too strong in the first draft, by the time the novel or story has gone through several revisions, it will have subsumed all those influences, taken them in and become its own thing. The same ought to be true for a writing workshop. We should be influenced and challenged by all those other minds—and yet in the end, emerge with our own, unique voice, an amalgamation that isn't an amalgamation at all."

Brenda Miller

Nonfiction

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in nonfiction.

Statement: "As both a writer and a teacher, I'm so interested in how we make authentic connections, especially in a world that has grown so busy and ‘digitized’ that such connections can be rare, fleeting, and absolutely stunning. I look forward to being witness, cheerleader, mentor, and companion as you find your true voice in creative nonfiction."

Scott Nadelson

Fiction

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in fiction.

Statement: "As a writer, I am endlessly surprised and fascinated by the possibilities offered by narrative and by language; as a teacher, I try to get students excited about those possibilities by sharing my discoveries and encouraging them to make discoveries of their own. Above all, I try on a daily basis to remind myself and my students of the joy that literature can provide both reader and writer, the relief from a world that often suppresses joy, the pleasure of finding a way to communicate genuinely what it feels like to be human. What a wonderful way to spend one’s life, working day after day to compose, in the words of the great William Goyen, 'the music of what was.'”

Ann Pancake

Fiction, Nonfiction

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in fiction and nonfiction.

Statement: "My greatest commitment as both a writer and a teacher is to writing that originates in deep personal investment because I believe that only by writing from this place in ourselves do we produce real art. For this reason, I think the most valuable expertise I can bring to my students is not my education in literature, nor what I've learned about craft after practicing it for twenty years, although I'll bring those, too. It's my ability to listen: to students, as they describe their interests, backgrounds, and aspirations, and to their drafts, from their earliest conceptions to their final stages. Through this kind of close listening, I help students find their passions. I guide them towards discovering and developing their own authentic voices. And I teach them to identify and then realize their drafts' richest potential."

Lia Purpura

Nonfiction, Poetry

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in nonfiction and poetry.

Statement: "In any writing workshop, my goal is to help participants figure out how to engage in a practice, and how to live like writers in a daily and sustaining way. The bracing thrill of sensing a real, live temperament / disposition / sensibility on the page is what I long for (and fall for!) as a reader, and so, as a mentor, I look forward to finding those moments in my students' work, studying them, marveling at them—and then, working to refine or reposition the whole, in whatever way the poem or essay requires, so that each piece is up to its best moments. I hope to remystify the process of writing rather than demystify it. What I mean is this: it’s by engaging with practical, process-oriented habits, and learning techniques and formal gestures, that one becomes receptive enough to trust and catch the unexpected surprises that come along, and to allow mystery (call it the imagination if you like) to freely flourish. I believe in a workshop where risks of all kind are supported and strengthened."

Stan Sanvel Rubin

Poetry

Responsibilities

Founding director. Mentor. Workshops and classes in poetry.

Statement: "This is a small, very selective program for motivated and experienced adults. There are high standards, but no condescension. No enforcing an aesthetic as if it were the aesthetic. Instead, individual choices, individual challenges, individual achievement-all of which it's our job to support.  As a writer, I know writing is a way of being. There's a time for community, and a time for solitude. When we're together, sparks will fly, and there will be high spirits as well as intelligent conversation with people who care about writing. (Bring your passion to residency.) When you're working at home, you will have new voices, new skills, and a new vision working for you. The process matters as much as a credential. The purpose? What you make it."

Marjorie Sandor

Fiction, Nonfiction

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in fiction and nonfiction.

Statement: "One day in college, my favorite teacher came to the limit of her patience with me. I had nearly suffocated a personal essay full of similes and metaphors and the word 'I.' She looked at my five drafts, handed them back and said, 'You can do better than this. Just tell the truth.' The simple rightness of this struck me like a blow to the head, and still does: it is a model of great teaching. Of course I still commit, on a daily basis, the sins of over-decorating, of willful obscurity and unmediated anger and blindness to irony, but I know, thanks to her, that there is another way. And I try to follow her example as a teacher, too. The Italian writer Natalia Ginzburg once said she wanted to be 'the recording angel' of her family. I like this idea, and even better, her example. Her sentences are laconic, unadorned, stripped down in language and tragic in historical context, but rich in compassion, humor, and irony. She regards her characters with an astonishing tenderness, from a little distance, as if she hovers just above the earth's surface, still part of its atmosphere, but not confined by its petty passions. Another great writer, Nadine Gordimer, says you must write as if you were already dead. I almost know what she means, and I will spend the rest of my life reaching to accomplish it, if only in a single sentence that bears witness to the beautiful failures we are bound, by our humanness, to create. I read for it, write toward it, and teach with it always in mind."

Peggy Shumaker

Poetry, Nonfiction

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in poetry and nonfiction.

Statement: "I want to read the poems, essays and stories that only you can write. I want to pay close attention to your words, your images, your lines and sentences so that we can narrow the gap between what you imagine and what's on the page. Together we'll come up with reading lists to support and challenge you. You're about to devote several years to honing your craft, to reading as a writer, to finding ways to make room for writing in your life. We're in this together, as writers and as readers. Writing well is an act of generosity. Writing well allows us to add our steps to a dance that began long before we were born and that will continue long after we're dust. Across cultures, across centuries, writing lets us in on the inside stories, the stories that make us most human."

Sherry Simpson

Nonfiction

Responsibilities

Mentor. Workshops and classes in nonfiction.

Statement: "My favorite moment is when a writer who's struggling with a piece or a direction hears the right question and then realizes what to do next. To me a workshop or mentorship doesn't involve 'teaching' or 'learning' so much as rediscovering what we already know but may have forgotten, overlooked, or masked. I think we're all apprentices to our work, and the heart of this relationship lies in the way we choose to be in the world. I want students to interrogate their experiences, trust their sensibilities, and open themselves to the possibilities revealed through their work and the work of others. I hope they'll cultivate the narrative expanse of the draft and the beautiful discipline of revision.  I'm drawn by language yoked to purpose – language that rises from intonation and rhythm rather than words that rely on mere ornamentation. I believe that facts offer us some of the most imaginative opportunities. And is it so much to ask that all this thinking and exploring could be fun now and then?"