The 2014 Desert Writers’ Retreat

Dates: May 11-16, 2014
Faculty: Sayantani Dasgupta; Jordan Hartt
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Cost: donation

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Class Description

I’m black. I’m white. I’m Armenian. My father’s family is Filipino and my mother’s family is Chinese. I grew up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’m Chicano. I was born on a tractor. I’m a New Yorker. I’m in the WIC program. I live in Bel Air. I’m a southerner (bless her heart). I’m from Philly. I live on the Upper East Side. I’m a Montana fly-fisherman. I’d like to use my EBT card to pay for this purchase. I live in South Central LA. I’m Ted Turner. I’m a member of the Yakama Nation. I’m Salvadoran. I’m a snowbird. I’m a military brat. That’s my Lexus. I’m nisei. I’m Texan. I fled Cuba for Miami in 1959. I moved to South Beach in 1988 for the cocaine. I’m saddled with student loans. I’m from Reseda.

As writers we’re often told to “write what we know.” However, very often what we know is10443411_653206198088392_7970924545597606630_n confined to our own limited racial, class, or geographical experiences, resulting in characters who are either thinly veiled versions of ourselves or are flat, lifeless stereotypes of other people. Is it possible to step fully into different experiences in order to create fully realized characters and work that approaches the condition of literature? How does a writer create honest, true characters from different racial, socio-economic, or geographical backgrounds? Is there a difference between cultural appropriation and the creation of character? What stories do we have, or have not, the right—and the responsibility—to tell?

In this week-long, generative-writing workshop, limited to seven writers, these are the questions we’ll ask and explore. We’ll begin by telling three true stories that will serve as fuel for discussion—and as raw material for fiction. We won’t be evaluating the experiences of each others’ lives. Rather, we’ll tell and listen to this stories and then attempt to incorporate their emotional gravity into our fiction. We’ll tell one another a story informed by our own racial background, a story informed by our socio-economic background, and a story informed by our geographical background. Finding inspiration in these stories, we’ll then write a short piece set in Las Vegas and under 1,000 words. We’ll then workshop this piece as a group.

Since fiction doesn’t necessarily have to be factual, but always emotionally truthful and accurate, we’ll try to determine which elements of the stories we hear seem to best lend themselves to fiction, and how the transformation from life to fiction might most effectively or artfully occur. Finally, we’ll be doing what we always do as fiction writers—struggling to find the story and to reveal our characters as complex, messy, contradictory human beings.

Schedule:

Sunday, May 11: 6-9 pm
Monday, May 12: 9 am-12 noon
Tuesday, May 13: 9 am-12 noon (Evening: optional discussion of Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif”)
Wednesday, May 14: 9 am-12 noon (Evening: optional discussion of T.C. Boyle’s novel “Tortilla Curtain”)
Thursday, May 15: 9 am-12 noon (Evening: optional discussion of the anthology “Under Our Skin”)
Friday, May 16: 9 am-12 noon

Faculty:

Sayantani Dasgupta is an alumni of St. Stephen’s College and JNU. She worked for four years in publishing before acquiring her MFA in creative writing from the University of Idaho. She has taught writing for eight years. Her work has appeared in Hindustan TimesTehelka, and several American literary journals. She has thrice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. The essay “On Seeking Answers” received a 2010 Pushcart Prize Special Mention and the essay “Oscillation” was the first runner-up for Phoebe magazine’s 2014 Creative Nonfiction Contest.

Jordan Hartt is a reader, writing, and writing retreat leader who has led the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference since 2008. Work has appeared in about thirty literary magazines and journals, including Another Chicago Magazine (ACM), the Crab Creek Review, and Prose Poem.