One Story Summer Workshop: Dispelling Myths, Making Magic

The idea for One Story’s Summer Workshop for Emerging Writers was to find talented writers on the verge of their careers who were trying to figure out which next step was right for them.  We would gather them in our Can Factory for an intensive week of workshops, classes, and panels about the special stuff of writing and the not-as-special stuff of publishing.  Music would swell.  I would cry.  Balloons would be released.  If we were lucky, a little magic would occur.

Of course in the way life tends to go…all of that happened.

My assistant Michael J. Pollock and I put together a tiring week of craft lecturers and panels, then combed through the rich and varied writing portfolios of all the tremendous people who applied.  On Sunday, July 24th, we welcomed the students at a cocktail at the Can Factory and I promised them a week that would intellectually and physically tire them out so much they would spend all of Saturday sleeping. 

Every morning, I led workshop.  We made our way through the students’  stories, novel excerpts, short shorts and, in Patrick Gaughan’s case, prose poems.  I knew the week would be all green lights Monday morning during introductions.  Julia Strayer, the first to go, asked me what I meant when I said: tell everyone a little about yourself.  “What would anyone want to know?”  She said.  After I explained that any detail would do, she said “Fine,” blew the blonde bangs out of her eyes and stated, deadpan, “I like fast cars.” 

Every afternoon, a visiting writer lectured on a particular element of craft, starting with our own  Hannah Tinti, who delivered a lecture on structure.  Myla Goldberg, Terese Svoboda, Allison Amend and Ann Napolitano gave talks on character, figuring out where the story starts, dialogue and description, respectively.

Each night a different panel of professionals dispelled common myths of publishing.  The students found agents Renee Zuckerbrot, Paul Cirone and Julie Barer so warm and friendly they couldn’t believe they had previously thought agents were scary.  “They’re just people who like books, just like me,” Sarah Broderick said.

On Editors night, Johnny Temple (Akashic Books), Carla Blumenkranz (n+1), and Scott Lindenbaum and Andy Hunter (Electric Literature) spoke about publishing ideology in the wake of digital advancement.  Together, these illustrious editors dispelled the myth that New York fiction editors drive Audi convertibles, wear magic clothes pressed and washed by animated birds, and eat sandwiches made from the dreams of young writers. 

Not only did we learn about craft issues during the week, but I got to learn about the students who came from as far as England to attend the intensive.  Mackenzie Brady and Joseph Jordon, for example, are both training for the New York Marathon, and would wake at 5am every morning to run Prospect Park which is, you know, insane.

Speaking of running, the week itself took on the pace of a marathon.  We on The One Story staff had to keep ourselves energized.  I did so by excessive caffeine intake and dancing around to INXS.  Michael took what he called “gentlemen’s naps” in Prospect Park before each night’s panel.  Our amazing staff helped us every step of the way by setting up and taking down drinks and snacks for each event, and generally being a joy to be around.

On Thursday night, we enjoyed “An Evening with Sam Lipsyte,” who read hilarious excerpts from his newest novel “The Ask,” and told moderator and Managing Editor Tanya Rey a list of words his teacher Gordon Lish banned in stories: restaurant, thigh, splayed.

Themes sprung up.  For example, writers who are also rock stars or who have “screamed loudly in front of bands”: (Johnny Temple, Myla Goldberg, Sam Lipsyte), working with Gordon Lish (Sam Lipsyte, Terese Svoboda), and community.  Another theme was community.  Josh Henkin and Deborah Landau , Directors of the MFA programs at Brooklyn College and NYU, respectively, listed it as a major reason to attend an MFA program, to find people who are trying to do the same thing you are, to find “your readers.”  And the final theme was a little thing called magic.  Over and over, speakers mentioned it as the unexplainable factor in a favorite piece.  Hannah called a good resolution of a story “a magic feeling you get in the pit of your stomach.”  And, I began every workshop by saying, “Let’s make some magic, people.”

Here is where I talk about the moon.  Every evening in Brooklyn, the moon sat fat above the rooftops like it was auditioning for a movie with Cher about opera and bread.  On Friday night, we had our final reading and “family” dinner.  During dessert our hilarious intern Adina Talve-Goodman debuted a slideshow of pictures she had taken throughout the week to the song “Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangster.”  As I drove home in my Hummer, eating a croissant made out of gold, I felt a hollow, buzziness in my stomach, as if I had just taken a good hill fast in my car.  It could only be one thing: a good resolution to a story.

Thank you to the talented and lovely students of our inaugural Workshop: Mackenzie, Eric, Sarah, Joseph, Brianna, Erin, Bobby, Julia, Meghan, Jude and Patrick.  Thank you to all the amazing professionals who came in to lend their expertise.  Thank you to our wonderful staff; Maribeth Batcha, Tanya Rey, Hannah Tinti, Jenni Milton, Cordelia Calvert, and Adina Talve-Goodman who helped Michael and me pull off a great show.  Thank you to Nathan at the Can Factory and Nana, our caterer with the mostest.  Thank you to Scottadito Osterio Toscana, who hosted our yummy final Italian family dinner.  And thank you to Michael J. Pollock, who never fails to crack us all up. 

I will think of all of you while I am on the beach next week with Jay-Z and the cast of Mad Men, being massaged by singing, animated blue jays.  Damn.  It does feel good to be a gangster.

For more pictures, check out our Facebook page.  I hope you will join us if and when we do this crazy intensive next year.  Bring Vitamin Water.

Until then I remain your dedicated Associate Editor,


3 thoughts on “One Story Summer Workshop: Dispelling Myths, Making Magic

  1. Thanks for sharing all this information about your workshop, Marie-Helene. It sounds like a wonderful experience. You’ve touched many writer’s lives.

    Author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers

  2. Pingback: One Story Alumnae Newsletter « One Story blog

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