Justin St. Germain
Justin St. Germain is the author of the memoir Son of a Gun, which won the Barnes & Noble Discover Award, was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, and appeared on best books of 2013 lists from Amazon, Publishers Weekly, Salon, Library Journal, Bookpage, and the Pima County Public Library. His short nonfiction has recently appeared in The New York Times, Tin House, The Guardian, New England Review, and elsewhere, and recently won a Pushcart Prize; his short fiction has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including the Best of the West. He holds a BA and MFA from the University of Arizona and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. He has taught writing for fifteen years. He lives in Oregon and teaches at Oregon State University.
Mentor. Workshops and classes in fiction and nonfiction.
Statement: I want your work to be your own, so my approach to advising individual students emphasizes description first: what effects the piece has on the reader, what it seems to be doing and trying to do, identifying the major formal and craft decisions made by the author. My critiques of student work are usually more suggestive than prescriptive, pointing toward other approaches or models that might be useful to consider, rather than telling you how to “fix” a draft. Because the study of craft is critical for an aspiring writer, and will serve them for the rest of their writing lives, I also focus my feedback on fundamentals of craft. Early in the drafting process, I consider mostly large-scale concerns such as structure and scope, which encourages student writers to articulate and sharpen their artistic vision for a piece of writing. Later, we’ll focus more on line-level concerns, to polish a piece toward its final form.
In workshop, I strive to create an environment of mutual respect. Students should read their classmates’ work with diligence and care, and articulate their responses in a constructive and generous manner. Ideally, a writing course develops the critical impulse as much as the creative one. I believe readers at any level possess inherent critical instincts; I view my role as encouraging and enabling them to better articulate and understand those responses, and to provide them with a toolbox of terminology they can employ in their own critical and creative pursuits. Participants often find it far easier to evaluate techniques and elements at play in stories they read for workshop than it is to view their own work with the same critical detachment. This is only possible in a respectful and inclusive environment. It should go without saying that any classroom must be a place in which all participants, regardless of the foundations by which they define their individual identities, feel safe to bring their work and to express themselves. Students should be respected as writers and as thinkers, and their work must ultimately belong to them.