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Spring 2022 Update: Evolving Workshop Culture to Inspire Equity, Empowerment, and Innovation

“[A less privileged writer] leaves a disempowering workshop and faces the same disempowerment on a larger scale: though they should be in charge of their story, they are again made to listen to other people telling them what their story is or should be. The result is exactly the opposite of finding their voicethe real-world silencing simply reinforces the idea that the marginalized writer should be writing toward the workshop and power.”

Matthew Salesses, Craft in the Real World


This post continues from where we left off here. For a thorough description of the efforts made to update our workshop culture in 2020 and early 2021, please visit the previous post.

The Clarion West Writers Workshop was founded in 1986 under the belief that writers from diverse backgrounds need opportunities to be heard and that the workshop should be a space for experimenting with new forms of storytelling. In spite of this, for more than 35 years our workshops have been held mostly in the Milford peer workshop model.

In 2020, when we had to postpone the Summer Workshop for the first time in our history, we heard something new in discussions with our instructors. 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. 

Since then, Clarion West has been 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 found that a serious examination of traditional peer critique methods has been happening in the broader writing and workshopping field. See the end of this post for a recommended reading list. 

As a result of this self reflection, Clarion West recognized that changes needed to be made within the workshop model. We took our first steps toward addressing these last spring and summer, when we introduced new elements to our 2021 class. The changes, so far, have been received with excitement and positivity. We will continue working to evolve our workshop culture and updating 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

In this program, we have invited 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.  
  • Update existing and design new workshop models and protocols rooted in Clarion West’s mission and vision. 
  • Facilitate and participate in these new models. 
  • Assess Clarion West workshop models through surveys and community reflections. 
Project Updates and Timeline Since Spring 2021 
April 2021–May 2021
Experiential Workshop Sessions

The Core Workshop Group participated in a series of workshops using new critique models and modifications to existing models like Milford. Participants took turns acting as students, instructors, facilitators, or close readers, depending on the model being used. Our consultant Rachelle Cruz, who is completing a detailed report for Clarion West, observed the sessions and took notes.


Following the experiential sessions, the core group met one final time to reflect upon what methods would fit within the Clarion West format, participants’ perception of their effectiveness, and what could be improved in each model. A collaborative document was created to capture notes from all participants on the different models. What began to cohere was a modified Milford format, which includes the use of author statements, no longer prevents the workshopped student from speaking, and ends with time for further conversational discussion of the work.

Core members were also asked to complete a survey of their experiences. The Core Workshop Group and sessions took a pause at this time to allow Clarion West staff to prepare for the 2021 Six-Week Workshop.

Summer–Winter 2021
Help Build!

From these early experiential sessions, instructor and alumnus Andy Duncan and Clarion West staff crafted a set of guidelines for workshop titled “Help Build! Or, Talking About Work in Progress.” This document was prepared for the Class of 2021 for use during the summer workshop, and was modified again following the Six-Week Workshop.

A significant change with this document is the acknowledgment that students are writing first drafts at Clarion West. Often, hastily! It’s not our expectation, nor should it be the expectation of their instructors or classmates, that these drafts will be printed word-for-word in a publication. “Help Build!” encourages readers to ask questions and engage with the author’s work, rather than searching out every flaw (many of which our writers are already aware). These guidelines are available to anyone running workshops, with attribution to Clarion West. We will update them frequently as we continue fine-tuning our approach. Click to download here.

The Core Workshop Group also advised Clarion West staff on instructions for how author statements could be used. The 2021 class consistently included author statements with their stories, offering each writer the opportunity to express their goals for a story or ask questions of their classmates. These statements could also be used by authors to provide context for a story or explain how they integrated knowledge from a previous workshop as they approached the current story. Overall, our students and instructors found these to be helpful in determining how to direct their comments and questions about the work. We saw a shift toward centering the authors in the workshop. Moving forward, we plan to continue offering the use of author statements to our students as an optional way for them to dialogue with their readers before they come to the classroom.

March 2022
A New Role: Workshop Facilitator

Clarion West created a brand-new position based on feedback from the workshop sessions: Workshop Facilitator. This is a role that will help us further develop our approaches to critique and support our staff during the Six-Week Workshop. The Workshop Facilitator will be present in class for the duration of the workshop, providing leadership through workshop facilitation and engaging with instructors, participants, and staff. This role is intended to be an advocate for our students and a resource to our instructors. The facilitator will assist instructors in leading our new workshop methods and coach students as they engage with them.

Outside of the classroom, the facilitator will help develop and plan all Clarion West critique-based workshops; help train staff and instructors; and help update methods and materials.

María Alejandra Barrios
Headshot of María Alejandra Barrios.

After a months-long search, Clarion West hired María Alejandra Barrios, a writer and educator from Colombia living in Brooklyn. María teaches at Gotham Writers Workshop and Catapult, and she’s revising her debut novel.

María will participate in trainings with all our 2022 summer instructors, and be involved in our upcoming experiential workshops.

April 2022
Additional Experiential Workshops & Reflection

Members of the Core Workshop Group will return this spring to participate in another series of workshops, this time with alumni from the Class of 2021 and some of their student mentors. Using what we learned last spring and summer, we’ll be revisiting a few formats to fine-tune their structure, as well as trying out a few more recommended methods to see if we think they’ll work successfully in our classroom. Our goal is to be able to offer students a menu of workshop offerings, which may shift each week based on each instructor’s approach. We’ll also get additional feedback and insights from the class of 2021 alumni who already workshopped with the modified Milford method.

This multi-part series will once again offer participants opportunities to reflect on the experience of their workshop immediately after it is completed, with a final session for a full-group wrap-up. Clarion West workshop staff will take part in these workshops in various roles to gain further insights into each process.


At the conclusion of these sessions, Rachelle Cruz will create a report for Clarion West detailing findings from the experiential sessions, surveys, and other feedback or comments received in this process. Clarion West will strive to remain abreast of the literature on effective workshop methods and continue updating our processes each year to address the needs of our students.

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

Ongoing Core Committee

Andy Duncan (CW 94)

Andy Duncan’s fiction honors include a Nebula Award, a Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award and three World Fantasy Awards, the most recent for Wakulla Springs, a 2013 Tor.com novella co-written with Ellen Klages. His third collection, An Agent of Utopia: New and Selected Stories, was published in 2018 by Small Beer Press. A South Carolina native and Clarion West graduate, he teaches writing in the Maryland mountains at Frostburg State University, which promoted him to full professor in 2019.

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.

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.

Spring 2022 Working Committee
  • Fawaz Al-Matrouk (CW 21)
  • Celeste Rita Baker (CW 19)
  • Jana Bianchi (CW 21)
  • December Cuccaro (CW 21)
  • Joel Donato Ching Jacob (CW 21)
  • Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas (CW 19)
  • Georgina Kamsika (CW 12)
  • Monte Lin (CW 19)
  • Lue Palmer (CW 21)
  • Stefan A. Slater (CW 21)
  • Amanda Song (CW 21)
  • Eugenia Triantafyllou (CW 19)
  • Sagan Yee (CW 21)
  • Joule Zelman (CW 21)
  • María Alejandra Barrios
  • Marnee Chua
  • Amy Hirayama
  • 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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