Just because classes are out for the summer doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to do. The summer offers writing conferences and retreats like Skidmore and Sewanee. The NEOMFA has close ties to two such writing conferences: the Imagination Conference and the Juniper Summer Writing Institute.
I’ve been to and have enjoyed both!
Imagination was very cool. If you are a NEOMFA student, you will see a bunch of familiar faces, and you might be in workshop with fellow NEOMFA students. However, there is a good mix of NEOMFA and non-NEOMFA participants, and Imagination is a great opportunity to meet new people.
The faculty is top-notch. I took workshop with Anthony Doerr last summer, and it was one of the best workshop experiences I’ve ever had. We looked at the stories that we’d brought to class, but we also spent time generating new material and learning how to defamiliarize ourselves in regards to our own work. We thought about how we generally approach our writing, and then we tried to think of different ways, spawning different ideas. It was fantastic, refreshing, and energizing. The faculty readings that closed out every evening wowed me, and the informational sessions throughout the week were . . . informative!
Most of the conference-goers are from the Cleveland area. It’s totally convenient that I, a person of Akron persuasion, can drive 30 minutes up I77 and attend an amazing conference. But Imagination is a conference that’s well worth flying to. There were several out-of-state students, including one in my workshop, and she had a great time.
I was also one of the very lucky students to be sent to the Juniper Summer Writing Institute. Every summer, the NEOMFA sends a handful of students to the University of Massachusetts in Amherst to work with and interact with and writers like Amy Hempel, James Tate, Mark Doty, Charles D’Ambrosio, Dara Wier, Rikki Ducornet, Paul Lisicky, Noy Holland, Matthew Zapruder, Heather Christle, and more, during workshops, craft sessions, and readings. Amazing!
I was in workshop with Noy Holland. It was a generative, detailed experience. We looked very closely at the elements of a short story: the first line, syntax, and adjectives and adverbs. If thinking intensely about adjectives and adverbs for a few days in a small cabin with ten other intensely intelligent people sounds boring to you, you haven’t met Noy Holland. That week changed the way I looked at my writing, and continues to inform my fiction every time I sit down at the computer.
One of the best aspects of Juniper was meeting new writers from all over the country who cared deeply and enormously about writing. I was offered new perspectives and inspired and motivated by the people I met there. The town of Amherst, Massachusetts, is now also one of my favorite towns on Earth, and the home of my favorite pizza place.
I was lucky and grateful to be one of the students the NEOMFA nominated to Juniper for a scholarship, but even if you don’t receive such a nomination, I would highly recommend applying to Juniper next summer. It was a wonderful experience that changed my writing for the better.