Clarion West Workshop Methods


Clarion West Workshop Core Values

  • Centering and Empowering the Author: The goals of the author are the focus of the workshop. The author is the expert on their own work. Workshop participants offer supportive feedback that considers the strengths of each other’s story. Questions about the work come from a place of curiosity, and recommendations are tailored to achieving the author’s intentions. Authors leave the workshop feeling empowered and excited to continue work on their piece.
  • Equity: The workshop consciously and actively works against models that uphold white supremacy and other forms of oppression. Furthermore, through a set of community agreements, workshop classes can decide how they wish to address grievances like microaggressions.
  • Community: The workshop functions as a community that takes into account the needs of the individuals within the group. The health of the community matters. Adjustments and accommodations are made for the sake of the mental health and physical wellbeing of participants. The workshop sees and respects the wholeness and humanity of each writer.
  • Collaboration: The workshop is framed as a collaboration between the author and participants as opposed to a one-way relationship in which participants give the author prescriptive feedback on how to improve their writing. Instructors are also invited to join this collaborative group from week to week. While they bring a valued perspective, it is just one piece of the overall feedback an author will receive on their story.
  • Innovation and Creativity: The creative writing workshop is not limited to traditional models. Creative forms of feedback and workshopping are welcome as long as they serve the best interests of the author and the community. Innovative writing and innovative workshopping go hand in hand.

Learn more about how our core values are present in our workshop models.

Workshop Methods

The workshop space is paramount in establishing community, discussing and unpacking craft, and focusing on student work. It also serves as a microcosm, reflecting the culture and community Clarion West promotes in its Six-Week Workshop and beyond. 

As a result of significant and generous feedback from alumni, Clarion West has moved toward developing and beta-testing workshop models that move away from a “one-size-fits-all” Milford Model into an author-centered approach.

We are open to models suggested by our instructors so long as they demonstrate elements of our core values. The models Clarion West developed in our experiential sessions are described here, as well as new models we have developed or added in recent years. (This document also includes a model Fonda Lee introduced to the 2022 workshop!)

Additional New Elements

Workshop Facilitator: The Workshop Facilitator is 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.

Review of critique methods: Students are expected to read through the recommended critique models in advance and be ready to identify the methods that will best suit their personal needs and goals.

Community guidelines and expectations: Classes will have an opportunity to review existing Clarion West guidelines and be ready to add to these sets of guidelines and expectations at the beginning of the workshop. Each class will develop a unique culture that meets the needs of the individual writers in the class. 

Mentors: Clarion West has added an opportunity to be connected to a mentor from the alumni or greater Clarion West community who has a similar background and experience to the participant.

Our Process: The Evolving Workshop Culture Project

Clarion West’s renowned Six-Week Workshop operated under the same model for many, many years, primarily employing the Milford peer workshop model. From the outside, it seemed to be working — every year, after a grueling six weeks, alumni went on to write and publish notable works. What’s more, as part of our mission, we were focused on serving women and LGBTQIA+ writers. If some of our alumni fell through the cracks, that seemed to be the normal attrition that happens with writers. Not everyone meets with success, and not everyone keeps at it.

A closer examination, however, revealed that while many of our alumni met with success, we were failing some of our writers, most especially our BIPOC alumni and other marginalized alumni. As traditional peer critique methods recently came under scrutiny in the broader writing and workshopping field, we saw a need to review our workshop methods and design. This process started with conversations and surveys of all of our alumni, focusing on the experiences of BIPOC and other marginalized alumni.

Between 2020–2022, Clarion West underwent an extensive review in which we learned how key components of the Six-Week Workshop, including critiquing methods and social interactions, have limited the experiences of writers from a broad range of underrepresented communities — especially those whose voices are still emerging in prominent speculative fiction outlets and who continue to face barriers to entry into the field.

We outline here key aspects of the project, undertaken with the guidance of project consultant and advisor Rachelle Cruz, a Core Committee of Clarion West alumni and instructors, and our workshop staff. 

For a full description of the project, see our Overall Report on Evolving Workshop Culture

Throughout the project, we posted detailed updates about our process here (November 2020-March 2021) and here (April 2021-April 2022).

Process, Goals, and Key Principles

Under guidance of Rachelle Cruz and in coordination with the workshop staff, Clarion West moved forward with developing the following goals: 

  • 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. 
  • Create a plan for ongoing evaluation and training. 
  • Document the process. 

Conclusion

The main goals of this project — providing a safer space for participants to explore concepts of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation within and beyond the genre of speculative fiction — will continue to evolve, but is now centered in everything the organization does.

Through changes to our workshop models, community building goals, staff training in addressing microaggressions and conflict, and new staff positions like that of workshop facilitator, we hope to offer students a six-week workshopping experience that is supportive, inspiring, connecting, and empowering.

Finally, Clarion West will continue to evaluate workshops based on participant and instructor surveys and hold sessions for marginalized writers to provide more detailed feedback over time. The workshop facilitator will continue to train staff and instructors each year, holding virtual sessions prior to each workshop.