Evolving Workshop Culture to Inspire Equity, Empowerment, and Innovation in Writing Workshops

“Inclusion is a form of diversification but it can also be violent. Inviting voices into spaces not built for them or that undermine their messages, lived experiences, and expertise can often work against the well-intentioned goals of inclusion.”

Dr. Max Liboiron, Civic Laboratory, August 12, 2019

Summary and Introduction

The Clarion West Writers Workshop has been held annually in Seattle, WA, since 1986. Our program was founded on the belief that writers from diverse backgrounds need an opportunity to be heard — and to experiment with new forms of storytelling. With over 600 graduates from the Six-Week Summer Workshop, Clarion West has been a significant actor in helping the careers of speculative fiction writers, including women and other writers who have been traditionally underrepresented in the field.  

Ultimately, however, the workshop is only as good as the assumptions and expectations that we bring to it. For over 35 years, Clarion West has held strictly to the Milford peer workshop model, assuming it to be the superior workshop method for all writers. 

This belief was shaken a year ago, when we had to postpone the Summer Workshop for the first time in our history. In discussions with our instructors, we heard something new. A quiet criticism of the unchanging. A gentle push to consider that not every writer has been involved in the conversations around — and represented in — the design of our workshops. 

Over the course of the last year, Clarion West has begun the process of exploring where our assumptions about key components of the workshop, including critiquing methods and social interactions, have limited the experiences of writers from a broad range of underrepresented communities. Communities whose voices are still emerging in prominent speculative fiction outlets. 

And as we started looking for answers, we have found that a serious examination of traditional peer critique methods has been happening in the broader writing and workshopping field. See below for a recommended reading list. 

As a result of this self reflection, Clarion West recognizes that changes need to be made within the workshop model. Our staff, alumni, faculty, and participants will help evolve our workshop culture and create protocols towards equity, empowerment, and innovation. 

Clarion West seeks to make the structural changes needed to ensure that our workshops and classes are places where all participants will feel welcome and safe. 

Program Goals & Key Principles

The goal of this program is to invite Clarion West’s staff, alumni, faculty, and participants to: 

  • Reflect on Clarion West’s history and experiences with workshop via the
    Six-Week Summer Workshop and other workshop offerings through an organizational inventory. 
  • Define and discover Clarion West’s vision for the Six-Week Workshop, other workshop offerings (in-person and online), and its workshop culture based on prior successful workshop experiences. 
  • Envision a workshop culture distinctive to Clarion West’s mission of equity, empowerment, and innovation — by providing a safe space for participants to explore concepts of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation within and beyond the genre of speculative fiction.  
  • Design workshop models and protocols rooted in Clarion West’s mission and vision. 
  • Facilitate and participate in Clarion West’s models. 
  • Assess Clarion West workshop models through surveys and community reflections. 
Project Outline and Timeline 
November 2020February 2021 

Anonymous online surveys of alumni, instructors, staff, and board members were developed and sent via email. The surveys were developed to be brief and reflect on the history of Clarion West workshops and participants’ experiences in them. 

A Core Workshop Group composed of paid BIPOC alumni and instructors, as well as staff and volunteers, has been organized to oversee the program development (see “Our Core Committee”).

Initial Core Workshop Group meeting held for the Visioning Session:

  • Participants developed a statement and plan of action for alternate workshop models, in addition to protocols regarding microaggressions and other hostile forms of exchange. 
FebruaryMarch 2021

Survey results were compiled and analyzed by our consultant, Rachelle Cruz, to provide a baseline for designing new offerings. Data from this survey will be used to help inform content and emphasis of key topics/concerns moving forward. 

The Core Workshop Group has met to review goals and discuss initial survey results:

  • Reflection on survey data and an interactive discussion on ideal workshop settings and dynamics. 
  • Gather stories and experiences to define and discover workshop success and principles that reflect CW’s mission and vision. 

One-on-one sessions held with BIPOC alumni and Rachelle Cruz in an anonymous setting to respond to direct issues and concerns.

A Design Session was held with the Core Workshop Group, Volunteers, and Staff to generate workshop models unique to Clarion West. Rachelle Cruz presented various models that she uses in both the classroom and community workshops, and readings by Matthew Salesses, Felicia Rose Chavez, and others in this field. The Core Workshop Group designed a number of models based on these anti-racist, student-centered examples.

April 2021May 2021 (Forthcoming)
Experiential Workshop Sessions

The Core Workshop Group will test out each model. Participants will facilitate the workshop while Rachelle observes.

Assessment

After the workshop series, both workshop facilitators and participants will fill out a survey that reflects CW’s mission and vision, in addition to participants’ goals. Participants will meet for an assessment and reflection on their experiences facilitating and participating in these new workshop models. 

Our Consultant

Rachelle Cruz

Rachelle Cruz is an IDEA (Inclusivity, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility) consultant from Hayward, California. She is the author of God’s Will for Monsters (Inlandia, 2017), which won an American Book Award in 2018 and the 2016 Hillary Gravendyk Regional Poetry Prize. She was appointed the 2018–2020 Inlandia Literary Laureate. She co-edited Kuwento: Lost Things (An Anthology of New Philippine Myths) (Carayan Press, 2015) with Melissa Sipin. Her most recent book, Experiencing Comics: An Introduction to Reading, Discussing and Creating Comics, was published in Fall 2018. Her work has appeared in As/Us, Yellow Medicine Review, The Lit Pub,The Collagist, Bone Bouquet, PANK, Muzzle MagazineInlandia: A Literary Journey, among others. She hosts The Blood-Jet Writing Hour with Muriel Leung. She is a Lecturer in the Creative Writing Department at the University of California, Riverside. An Emerging Voices Fellow, a Kundiman Fellow, and a VONA writer, she lives and writes in Southern California.

Website: https://www.rachellecruz.com/

Email: rachelle [dot] a [dot] cruz [at] gmail.com

Our Core Committee

We invited Clarion West alumni, staff, board members, and instructors to help us in this process. Members were chosen based on their knowledge as teachers, their experience of the workshop, their demographics, and availability.

Bearing in mind that this work is often extracted from Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, as well as other marginalized people, without compensation, after our first session, we moved from a volunteer model to offering the core working committee an honorarium for their time.

Working Committee:
Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas (CW 19)
An image of Nelly Geraldine Garcia-Rosas

Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas is a Mexican immigrant and a graduate of the Clarion West class of 2019, which she attended with the help of an Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in ClarkesworldLightspeedNightmare, the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology She Walks in Shadows, and elsewhere. She can be found online at nellygeraldine.com and on Twitter as @kitsune_ng

Georgina Kamsika (CW 12)
A photo of the author Georgina Kamsika

Georgina Kamsika is a speculative fiction writer born in Yorkshire, England, to Anglo-Indian immigrant parents, and has spent most of her life explaining her English first name, Polish surname, and South Asian features.

As a second-generation immigrant, her work often utilizes the speculative element to examine power structures that are mirrored in the real world, touching on issues of race, class, and gender.

Her debut novel, Goddess of the North, began as a short story written for Connie Willis during Clarion West 2012. She can be found on Twitter @Gkamsika and at kamsika.com.

Karen Lord

Karen Lord is a Barbadian author, editor and research consultant. Her debut novel, Redemption in Indigo, won several awards and was nominated for the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. Her other works include the science fiction novels The Best of All Possible Worlds and The Galaxy Game, and the crime-fantasy novel Unraveling. She edited the anthology New Worlds, Old Ways: Speculative Tales from the Caribbean.

She was a judge for the 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize and the 2018 CODE Burt Award for Caribbean YA Literature. She has taught at the 2018 Clarion West Writers Workshop and the 2019 Clarion Workshop, and she co-facilitated the 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Prize Workshop in Barbados. She has been a featured author at literary festivals from Adelaide to Edinburgh to Berlin, and often appears at the Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad & Tobago.

Nibedita Sen (CW 15)

Nibedita Sen is a Hugo, Nebula, and Astounding Award-nominated queer Bengali writer, editor, and gamer from Calcutta. She acquired several English degrees in India before deciding she wanted an MFA too, and that she was going to move halfway across the world for it. A graduate of Clarion West 2015, her work has appeared in venues like Podcastle, Nightmare, and Fireside. These days, she can be found in NYC, where she helps edit Glittership, an LGBTQ SFF podcast, enjoys the company of puns and potatoes, and is nearly always hungry. Hit her up on Twitter at @her_nibsen.

Izzy Wasserstein (CW 17)

Izzy Wasserstein is a queer and trans woman. She is a Senior Lecturer in English at Washburn University, where she teaches writing, literature, and film. Her fiction has appeared in Apex, Beneath Ceaseless SkiesClarkesworld, and many other magazines and anthologies. She’s an enthusiastic member of the Clarion West class of 2017 and shares her home with the writer Nora E. Derrington and their animal companions.

Volunteers:
  • Shweta Adhyam (CW 17 and Clarion West board)
  • Andy Duncan (CW 94)
  • Huw Evans (CW 12 and Clarion West board)
  • Adrian Khactu (CW 02)
Staff:
  • Marnee Chua
  • Stephanie Malia Morris (CW 17)
  • Rashida J. Smith (CW 05)
  • Jae Steinbacher (CW 14)

For more information about this project, please contact Jae Steinbacher, Workshop Coordinator at workshop@clarionwest.org

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