Highlights 2020 Workshops

IMG_2108Just the other day, I was thinking fondly of the Highlights workshop I led in Honesdale, PA, with Cynthia Leitich Smith and Sean Petrie, all of  two years ago!

This year, the Highlights Foundation’s offering yet another terrific roundup of workshops, retreats, and symposiums for writers across genres, forms, and experience levels.A handy filtering tool has been added to the site to help you sort through the list and find the one that’s right for you.

Here are just a few examples:

Be sure to make time to walk in the woods as well.

Illustrator Magic

I will confess it. I have illustrator envy.  As a picture book writer teaching other writers to write picture book text, I am painfully aware of knowing only half the form. So it’s always like seeing magic unpacked when I watch writer-illustrators in action.

Square+-+DebbieOhi-PhotoAnnieTruuvert-201807-flat500.jpgLast month at VCFA’s picture book workshop, Debbie Ridpath Ohi was a joy to behold. She was energetic, funny, honest, passionate about the picture book form, and more than generous in sharing her experience and knowledge with us.

And she was an empath! She managed to get at the heart and soul of what each student was trying to reach in every single manuscript, yet offered clear perspective on what was needed (or not needed) in each work in progress.

The questions flew. Light-bulb moments flared into being. We laughed a lot, talked a lot. It hardly felt like work to be digging this intensely into the form we all loved.

The day after I got home from residency, this arrived in the mail.


What joy! My very own portrait, swirling yarn in the thought department, or maybe ideas, or both? I’ll treasure this gift.

And there will be more. Watch this space for a guest post from Debbie on thinking visually, the form of the picture book, and anything else that strikes her dancing visual and storytelling mind.

Write Like a Unicorn With Minal Hajratwala

Photo credit: Preston Merchant

Poet, essayist and memoirist Minal Hajratwala teaches an online workshop titled Write Like a Unicorn. Designed to “ease the isolation” and help you to “get a TON of writing done: the writing you want and plan and hunger to do anyway.”

Minal herself recently completed a residency at the Cill Rialaig Arts Centre in southwest Kerry, Ireland. In this brief interview I asked her about the residency, which sounds magical, and the workshop, which kicks off this month.

[Uma] Tell me more about your residency at the Cill Rialaig Art Centre. What did you work on there? How did the experience fulfill your expectations and how did it surprise you?

[Minal] Ireland is a true writer’s country: the landscape, the people’s respect for writers, and the deep literary history all conspire to make it an amazing place to create new work. The southwestern coast is incredibly stark and gorgeous, and Cill Rialaig is a tiny amazing village, from the pre-famine era and recently restored for artists, perched on a cliff. It felt like being on a retreat at the edge of the world. ​

I worked on a poem sequence and some sections of my novel, and I also immersed myself in reading Irish poets and writers.
The big surprise was how their work and the landscape seemed to make its way into my own writing almost immediately. I love the deep structure and linguistic agility that is so amazing in Irish poetry, and as a result I’ve been writing much more formally, which sounds stodgy — but actually is very playful and fun. It’s about moving closer into language and the way words and lines relate to one another to make meaning, instead of letting image do all the work of the poem.

[Uma] That makes sense. I’ve always Why like a unicorn? What’s the connection for you between magic and writing?

[Minal] Oh, writing IS magic. Don’t take my word for it! “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic” (Albus Dumbledore). 
In every workshop that I teach, I notice there are some writers who have trouble just carving out the time in their busy lives. Writing with other people is so helpful for focus, and so is writing to specific prompts that aren’t just generic, out of a book, but designed for your particular project or style. So I wanted to build a class around those basic concepts: Writing, together, with customized prompts.
I was inspired by Cheryl Strayed’s advice: “Write like a motherfucker!” But that wording is a bit too tough for my style of teaching — I’m more of a fairy godmother than a drill sergeant. I’ve been working with unicorn imagery for a while now (see  http://minalhajratwala.com/writer/operation-unicorn/​) ​so “Write Like a Unicorn” was a natural choice.  Unicorns are gorgeous and productive and not stressful.
[Uma] What part does silence and listening to silence play in the writer’s mind?

[Minal] Silence is incredibly important.

For me it’s an experience of listening. Silence allows something to emerge from a deeper place.
Maybe it’s better not to say too much about it?