Summer 2023 Workshop Report

The Six-Week Workshop moved back online this summer, with a cohort that embraced the flexibility of working from their homes and making global connections remotely. Our 15 students joined from Brazil, Ghana, the U.K., Mexico, the Bahamas, and the U.S., with a high concentration of East Coasters! Although the group was faced with the challenge of creating community over Zoom, they connected quickly and delighted us with their warmth, talent, and generous feedback.

“I got so lucky that CW went online in 2023 because it made this invaluable experience accessible to me, but it also had the surprise benefit of making my cohort, as Cat Rambo noted, not just the best writers who could pick up and travel to Seattle for six weeks, but the best writers from all over the world.”

Kiran Kaur Saini

Our returning workshop staff included our workshop facilitator María Alejandra Barrios, workshop administrator Amy Hirayama, and workshop coordinator Jae Steinbacher (CW ’14). The trio split up the duties of assisting instructors during workshop and checking in with students. We continued to implement our updated workshop methods, which meant flexibility with critiquing formats, and despite the changes — and the occasional difficulties presented by workshopping online — our six weeks flowed along smoothly.

The superb instructor lineup this year opened with Mary Anne Mohanraj (CW ’97) and Benjamin Rosenbaum (CW ’01) teaching as a team, and then included Cat Rambo (CW ’05), Samit Basu (who flipped his schedule to join from India!), Karen Lord, editor Arley Sorg, and N. K. Jemisin. In addition to their excellent guidance of each student’s workshop, instructors held talks on a range of topics from writing for games to writing as a member of the diaspora to an interactive worldbuilding session.

Despite the busyness of the workshop, the students and instructors found the time to gather at the end of each week to socialize and say their goodbyes. The closing socials included activities like Codenames and other social games, a showcase of student readings, and a discussion with special guests in the field of speculative fiction featuring Amal El-Mohtar, Sheree Renée Thomas (CW ’99), and Shingai Njeri Kagunda. Most importantly, these socials gave the students and instructors an opportunity to strengthen their connections to each other. During Week 3, Samit led the group in sharing personal stories that were poignant and funny, which made for a great bonding experience.

We also continued our mentor program this year, in which we match each student with an alum or former instructor with whom they can connect throughout the workshop for support and encouragement. Other class visitors included Stephen Graham Jones, Neil Clarke, Kij Johnson (CW ’87), John Joseph Adams, Ruoxi Chen, Kelly Link, and Ted Chiang.

On our final day, we celebrated graduation with photos of the students and their diplomas, and a brief presentation of the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship to Kiran Kaur Saini by Nisi Shawl (CW ’92). (Click here to read more about the Butler scholarship and our Worldbuilder Scholarship recipient, A. M. Barrie.) At the close of the workshop, Week 6 instructor N. K. Jemison told the students that she now considers them her colleagues in the field. From the staff perspective, we are confident that this cohort is full of incredible writers. Watch for these names!

The class of 2023 with workshop staff and Week 6 instructor N. K. Jemisin: (Top row, L to R) Allison Thai, workshop coordinator Jae Steinbacher (CW ’14), workshop administrator Amy Hirayama, Dante Luiz, (second row, L to R) Lowry Poletti, D. K. Lawhorn, Kiran Kaur Saini, F. E. Choe, (third row, L to R) Jo Telle, Ivana Akotowaa Ofori, Jason A. Bartles, Mae Juniper Stokes, (fourth row, L to R) Alexia Tolas, Fatima Taqvi, N. K. Jemisin, Liza Wemakor, (fifth row, L to R) Tania Chen, workshop facilitator María Alejandra Barrios, A. M. Barrie

More from our students:

“The community and relationship-building was such a fulfilling part of the workshop! Reflecting back on the experience, I realize that this is perhaps the first time I’ve felt like a valued, seen member of a larger writing community (and treated like a working professional with potential and something interesting to say!). I know those moments of connection and the candid wisdom and advice from instructors and colleagues in the field will hearten and sustain me for years to come. They have really made all the difference as I try to build a sustainable, long-term career from here as well as look for opportunities to pay it forward. And I can’t wait to cheer on my classmates as they continue to light up the specfic world!”

– F. E. Choe

“I started dreaming about Clarion West in 2018, when Henry Lien (CW ’12) raved about his experience in a panel at Worldcon San Jose. But in 2019, my elderly mother took a turn for the worse, and I abruptly pulled up stakes and relocated to become her full-time caregiver. The idea of going anywhere for more than two hours, let alone six weeks, became a near impossibility. I attended a few online workshops wherever I could, but always retained the feeling that Clarion West was the right match for me as a writer and a person. So when CW announced that the 2023 workshop would be online, I jumped at the chance. I can say that my feeling that I needed to attend Clarion West was absolutely right, and in the environment CW created, I was able to break through productive and creative boundaries that had been in a holding pattern for a long time. I got so lucky that CW went online in 2023 because it made this invaluable experience accessible to me, but it also had the surprise benefit of making my cohort, as Cat Rambo noted, not just the best writers who could pick up and travel to Seattle for six weeks, but the best writers from all over the world. The quality of writers in my cohort was stunning, and the opportunity to push myself to meet their level of excellence was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

– Kiran Kaur Saini

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