The MFA in Creative Writing Program at Manhattanville College

The 30th Annual Summer Writers’ Week


FICTION: Karen Yamashita (National Book Award finalist, 2010)
FICTION: Tayari Jones
CHILDREN’S/YOUNG ADULT: Thanhha Lai (National Book Award winner, 2011)
POETRY: Kazim Ali

Summer Writers’ Week at Manhattanville College also features keynote readings and book signings by each of our guest faculty; afternoon “Master Classes” that focus on a particular aspect of the creative process; including our annual “Agents & Editors” panel with panelists from some of New York’s most well-respected literary agencies; “Tweet This!,” a roundtable discussion on the best uses of social media for authors; and a special “Speed Submissions competition hosted by Chris Fischbach, the publisher of Coffee House Press. Summer Writers’ Week concludes with a reading by student writers who have participated in the week-long workshops.

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FICTION // Karen Tei Yamashita // Politics of Genre and Narrative Voice
Edward Said wrote in Culture and Imperialism about narrative and the cultural work of the novel as conceived in the 18th century and its relationship to imperialism, and therefore to expressions of colonialism and slavery. Narrative experiments in multiple genres and voices by authors such as Italo Calvino, David Mitchell, Percival Everett, and Steve Tomasula play with and expose assumptions of power and politics. What do writers assume when we make choices to speak in genre and narrative voice?

Karen Yamshita

KAREN TEI YAMASHITA is the author of Through the Arc of the Rain Forest, Brazil-Maru, Tropic of Orange, Circle K Cycles, and I Hotel, all published by Coffee House Press. Most recently I Hotel was selected as a finalist for the National Book Award and awarded the California Book Award, the American Book Award, and the Association for Asian American Studies Book Award. She is currently a US Artists Ford Foundation Fellow and Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

FICTION // Tayari Jones // Free your Voice and your Prose Will Follow
Voice is the DNA of fiction. It’s how we establish character and dialogue from which will get plot, movement, and action. A memorable voice makes for a memorable story. In this workshop we will complete a variety of exercises along with roundtable critique to discover how crucial decisions regarding characters, point of view, and dialogue can strengthen your voice and make for fiction that is distinct and unforgettable. *


TAYARI JONES is the author of three novels: Leaving Atlanta, The Untelling, and Silver Sparrow (which was included in O Magazine‘s Favorite Things for 2011, Library Journal’s and Atlanta Magazine‘s Top Ten Best Books of 2011, and the best books of the year at and Of her most recent novel, the Village Voice wrote, “Tayari Jones is fast defining black middle-class Atlanta the way that Cheever did for Westchester.” Jones spent the 2011–12 academic year as a Radcliffe Institute Fellow at Harvard and is presently Associate Professor in the MFA Program at Rutgers University.

CHILDREN’S & YOUNG ADULT // Thanhha Lai // Voice & Narrator: Crafting an Authentic Match
Often young adult literature is written in first person from a present-day perch, meaning a narrator of a certain adolescent age only knows what a person of that age would know. This might seem confining, but within such realm a limitless variety of voices beckon. There are as many voices as there are characters. The trick in matching voice to character lies in the details. This workshop will dissect the character you bring to class then rebuild that protagonist by grafting a voice that fits like skin over thus character. By the end of the week, we will attempt to reveal your character’s physical, aural, emotional and psychological worlds in half a page. Notice the word “attempt.” Finding an authentic voice is usually the last step in gluing together plot, setting, character, tone, theme. The search may take five years or may take five days … let’s find out.

lai author pix

THANHHA LAI was born in Vietnam and now lives in New York City. Her novel, Inside Out & Back Again, winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and a Newbery Honor, is based on her first year as a war refugee in Alabama.

POETRY // Kazim Ali // Poetry in the Body
Poetry lives in the body and in the breath. We will look at poems by others and our own, in terms of their sounds, silences and physicality of both image, structure and form. Through inhalation, exhalation, recitation, performance and movement, we will think about ways poems move in both internal and external spaces and develop revision strategies and writing exercises grounded in physical practice. Some experience in poetic rhythm or meter is suggested but not required. Suggested readings: chapter on meter in A Poetry Handbook, Mary Oliver; The Sounds of Poetry, Robert Pinsky; chapters on meter in A Poet’s Craft, Annie Finch.


KAZIM ALI was born in the UK to Muslim parents of South Asian and Middle Eastern descent. His books include four volumes of poetry, The Far Mosque, The Fortieth Day, the mixed genre Bright Felon: Autobiography and Cities and Sky Ward. He has also published two novels Quinn’s Passage and The Disappearance of Seth, two collections of essays, Orange Alert: Essays on Poetry, Art and the Architecture of Silence and Fasting for Ramadan: Notes from a Spiritual Practice as well as translations by Sohrab Sepehri, Marguerite Duras and Ananda Devi. Recently he edited the essay collection Jean Valentine: This-World Company. In addition to being associate professor of Creative Writing and Comparative Literature at Oberlin College and founding editor of Nightboat Books he teaches in the Stonecoast MFA program and is a certified Jivamukti Yoga instructor.

CREATIVE NONFICTION & MEMOIR // William Ayers // Writing as if Your Life Depended on It

This will be an interactive workshop focused on the perils and possibilities of writing the personal essay, memoir and autobiography, with several prompts and provocations and opportunities to make a splash on the page along the way. We will wrangle with the challenge of creating an “I” character in dialogue with a narrator who is wiser without being a wise-ass, credible but not credulous, knowing and convincing without insisting on knowing it all. We will also take up matters of honesty and authenticity, craft and discipline, as well as key issues that emerge from the work of participants themselves.


WILLIAM AYERS, formerly Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), and founder of both the Small Schools Workshop and the Center for Youth and Society, is a graduate of the University of Michigan, the Bank Street College of Education, Bennington College, and Teachers College, Columbia University. His many books include To Teach: The Journey, in Comics (Teachers College Press, with Ryan Alexander-Tanner), Teaching Toward Freedom: Moral Commitment and Ethical Action in the Classroom (Beacon Press), A Kind and Just Parent: The Children of Juvenile Court (Beacon Press), Fugitive Days: A Memoir (Beacon Press), and On the Side of the Child: Summerhill Revisited (Teachers College Press).


Esther Cohen (aka, “The Book Doctor”) will meet daily with students for one-on-one manuscript consultation sessions. To sign up for an Individual Manuscript Consultation, you must submit 20 pages of your manuscript with your registration.


At the final class of Writers’ Week, students seeking graduate credit will be required to submit a piece of revised work-in-progress to the workshop leader.


Manhattanville offers a 36-credit MFA in Creative Writing degree for writers and aspiring writers. Credits for Writers’ Week are applicable toward the degree. For more information, call (914) 323-5239 or e-mail