The Clarion West Writers Workshop was founded on the belief that writers from diverse backgrounds need an opportunity to be heard — and to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Clarion West has historically been successful in reaching women writers and LGBTQIA+ writers, and many of our graduates are actively publishing in the field.
With 744 graduates from the Six-Week Workshop, Clarion West has played a significant role in shaping the careers of speculative fiction writers, and our work continues. As we explore our own efforts to further equity and inclusion, we see an ongoing disparity between the writers we serve and the greater community of published writers in speculative fiction who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), People of the Global Majority, LGBTQIA+, or disabled. As such, we are now seeking to do better at following our mission to help new and emerging voices in speculative fiction through an examination of our workshop techniques, workshop and organizational culture, community programs, and internal processes.
As a result of feedback and community forums with our alumni described in the report we’ve linked below, Clarion West has undertaken the process of making lasting structural changes that promote a Six-Week Workshop culture distinctive to Clarion West’s mission of equity, empowerment, and innovation — by providing a safer space for participants to explore concepts of race, class, nationality, disability, neurodivergence, gender, and sexual orientation within and beyond the genre of speculative fiction. We hope to expand the focus of this process to every program presented by Clarion West over the next few years.
Clarion West workshop staff and our project consultant and advisor, Rachelle Cruz, created the Overall Report on Evolving Workshop Culture, which details the changes undertaken from 2020–2022. We are excited to share our process, goals, and findings. While this part of the project is complete, we anticipate continuing to update our workshop methods and expectations for students, staff, and instructors each year.
A few findings:
- The role of a workshop facilitator serves as an an advocate for our students and a resource to our instructors. All staff should be trained in workshop facilitation in order to help coach instructors and students in our new workshop models.
- Elements like author statements and author-centered workshop models created excitement and engagement. One participant in testing the Lerman/Huang workshop model said: “I felt excited for a community driven toward building the story toward the author’s intent.”
- Instructors may bring us new models that inspire us! Fonda Lee introduced a model to the 2022 Six-Week Workshop in Week 3 based on Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process. It proved so successful we continued using it the rest of the summer. A few key elements of this model include giving authors the opportunity to briefly describe their intentions for their work and the feedback they wish to receive, allowing participants to share what they admired about the work and to ask thought-provoking questions, and creating opportunities for full-group discussion.
These, and more, are discussed in our report.