Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping
Author: Matthew Salesses
Publisher: Catapult (2021)
The traditional writing workshop was established with white male writers in mind; what we call craft is informed by their cultural values. In this bold and original examination of elements of writing—including plot, character, conflict, structure, and believability—and aspects of workshop—including the silenced writer and the imagined reader—Matthew Salesses asks questions to invigorate these familiar concepts. He upends Western notions of how a story must progress. How can we rethink craft, and the teaching of it, to better reach writers with diverse backgrounds? How can we invite diverse storytelling traditions into literary spaces?
Drawing from examples including One Thousand and One Nights, Curious George, Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, and the Asian American classic No-No Boy, Salesses asks us to reimagine craft and the workshop. In the pages of exercises included here, teachers will find suggestions for building syllabi, grading, and introducing new methods to the classroom; students will find revision and editing guidance, as well as a new lens for reading their work. Salesses shows that we need to interrogate the lack of diversity at the core of published fiction: how we teach and write it. After all, as he reminds us, "When we write fiction, we write the world."
"This book is a stunning conflagration, and I wish I had it with me for the past twenty plus years of navigating writing workshops, both as student and teacher. It is a blueprint for a way forward to build better writing programs, and thus a new kind of writer and teacher who can imagine beyond a structure that often hurt them and left them in need of repair . . . Salesses has offered both a torch to light the fire, and a safe path to the new world that we can now start to build."
"An analytic investigation into the racialized history of craft and the ways BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and other underrepresented voices are erased in creative writing workshops . . . An essential read to any writer or creative writing instructor, regardless of genre . . . Craft in the Real World feels like a literary microcosm for the current global state of affairs. There is the sensation that readers are at once learning and unlearning, doing and undoing . . . It encourages writers, readers, and teachers to get uncomfortable in order to create more inclusive realities."
–Candace Eros Diaz
"A call for revolution . . . For those interested in teaching creative writing, particularly through an anti-racist lens, Salesses provides not only the what and the why but the how. His book is a compendium of essays, enumerated thoughts on craft, a glossary of redefined craft terms, a catalogue of alternative workshop models, sample syllabus language, writing and revision exercises, and other forms—the full generosity of an experienced teacher saying, 'Here, you’re welcome to everything I have.'"