$35 – $315

2019 StoryStudio Writers Festival

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Columbia College Chicago

1104 S. Wabash Ave

Chicago, IL 60605

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We planned a long nap after last year's Festival, but then thought - wait a second! We should do this again! After gathering our second wind the staff decided to second that idea and the Second Annual Writers Festival in the Second City was born.

StoryStudio Chicago is thrilled to present our 2nd annual Writers Festival hosted by Columbia College Chicago!

Curated by Artistic Director Rebecca Makkai, the two-day Festival features an amazing line-up of authors led by Keynote Speaker Garth Greenwell. Our second year will focus on exploring and developing the craft of writing along with key information on the publishing world. For those ready to take their work to the next level the Festival offers agent and editor meetings tailored to both our advanced and ongoing writers. We'll round it all out with evening activities, roundtable lunch conversations, and gatherings over coffee.

Where and When: Saturday, October 5th (10am-6pm) & Sunday, October 6th (10am-5pm) at Columbia College Chicago (1104 S. Wabash Ave, Chicago IL 60605).



Festival Schedule

(Note: All workshops and panels can be chosen anytime during the Festival weekend, but some sessions may have limited capacity and access isn't guaranteed. The schedule below is subject to change before October 5th.)

Saturday, October 5th

  • 8:30am-9:30am - Coffee and Registration

  • 9:30am-9:50am - Welcome from Artistic Director Rebecca Makkai


10:00am - 11:15am BLOCK 1 (Choose one session)

A. Panel: What We Wish Our Writers Knew: Agents on the Industry moderated by Joseph Scapellato

What really goes on behind the scenes in the publishing world? How do I land an agent - and what do they do? From querying to editing to selling, the process of working with an agent can be mystifying. In this panel five literary agents will offer practical advice to help writers navigate the inside world of publishing. Panel participants include: Marya Spence, Anjali Singh, Renee Zuckerbrot, and Alex Weiss.

B. What's in a Character with Vu Tran

Writers can approach characterization very differently, just as readers can react to those characterizations in very personal and subjective ways. There’s no doubt, however, that certain characters in literature come to life more than others. What is the difference between those that are dynamic and memorable and those that are flat and forgettable? What, more importantly, gives a character humanity? What makes them convincing or unique? What does it even mean to be unique? This session will be a conversation on these very questions and how answering them requires us to move beyond the page, beyond the craft itself, and look first at our own humanity and what fascinates and mystifies us about each other. We’ll explore how we can look within ourselves to create not only characters who resemble us but also those who are nothing like us.

C. Not Your Pretty Little Pixie: Women Writing the Modern Short Story with Dipika Mukherjee

In this mini-workshop led by author Dipika Mukherjee (Ode to Broken Things; Shambala Junction), you will read two pieces of short fiction written by fierce women (one a piece of flash fiction, the other a short story). You will re-evaluate the modern writer’s role in a gendered, ageist, urbanized and postcolonial world, and discuss writing rage with craft and persuasion in mind. You will be encouraged to begin at least one piece of your own writing. This course is suitable for both beginners and more experienced students.

11:30am - 12:45pm BLOCK 2 (Choose one session)

A. Panel: Reconceptualizing the Editor: Editing as Creative Collaboration & Practical Act moderated by Amanda Goldblatt

Having your work edited can be terrifying or thrilling or freeing, or all three at once. Sometimes the editorial process feels like a useful intrusion. Often it’s a challenge. But ultimately it’s a chance for writers and editors both to interrogate the small and large craft decisions of a given text, to find deeper insight, to make the text more of itself. In this panel, writers who edit and editors who write will discuss the various ways developmental editing, copyediting, and proofreading can work as a process of creative collaboration. Panelists will provide insights into the editorial process for books and periodicals, and the various tasks and micro-tasks within, while sharing what it’s like to edit, what it’s like to be edited, and what these experiences can teach you about writing and reading both. Participating panelists include: Laura Adamczyk, Richard Thomas, and Dan Smetanka.

B. Tell, Don’t Show: Interiority, Intertextuality, and Reflection with Kate Harding

“Show, don’t tell” is one of the most commonly offered pieces of writing advice, but it is not necessarily the best approach for every story or essay. A lot of popular, well-reviewed prose relies on long, reflective passages, intertextuality, and deeply interior narrators—think The Elegance of the Hedgehog, The Friend, or The Argonauts. Much of the pleasure of reading these books comes from watching the author/narrator’s mind at work; the story resides as much in the way they think through problems as in the actions they take. In this workshop, we’ll discuss how to keep reflective prose lively and compelling, then practice with exercises.

C. What is it? A Play? A Movie? A TV Show? with Mary Ruth Clark

Do you…

  • ...have a memoir, novel, short story, or work of nonfiction you long to adapt so it can spring to life as a performance art, and aren’t sure if it would best be a play, movie, or fit into the exciting new landscape of streaming and TV shows?

  • ...have a play you think might do well as a movie or a TV show?

  • ...have story ideas you would like to explore in these different drama delivery systems?

  • ...want a greater understanding of what the requirements are for each discipline?

This breakout session dives into the groundwork of what constitutes all drama, and then an exploration into the mechanics and strengths of each discipline. Participants should bring a logline or brief synopsis or the broad strokes of story ideas, along with an open imagination to unearth discoveries about your material.


LUNCH BREAK 12:45pm - 2:00pm

Enjoy lunch on your own or join us for a Lunch Roundtable! Authors will be hosting a variety of 50 minute roundtables designed to spark conversation and delve deeper into your favorite writing genres. Topics include: YA, poetry, MFA programs, speculative fiction, screenplay, and many more! Author participants include: James Klise, Richard Thomas, Mary Ruth Clarke, Todd Summar, and Kenyatta Rogers. Full descriptions coming soon.


2:00pm - 3:15pm BLOCK 3 (Choose one session)

A. Panel: Research and Imagination moderated by Rachel Dewoskin
This panel will explore the relationship between research and imagination for writers of fiction. We will ask and complicate questions about our own work and the work of others, including: from what kinds of research (observing, listening, reading, interviewing) can projects begin or benefit, and in what ways do we combine what's "real" with what we dream, imagine, wish, or fear? How do writers use research to create works that are propulsive and beautiful, that feel true? And what are the overlaps and divergences between factual truth and artistic truth? Most writing is part real truth and part made up truth; we will define some of the useful boundaries between the two, and examine the ethics and outcomes of the combining that fiction both inspires and requires. Panel participants include: Dipika Mukherjee, Mary Ruth Clarke, Vu Tran, and Nami Mun.

B. Social Media for Your Writing Life with Ines Bellina

For many writers, social media can be overwhelming because we’re too focused on likes, retweets, follows, engagement and other metrics we barely understand. But what if we used social media as a tool that actually nurtured our writing life, instead of sapping the energy out of it? In this breakout session, writer Ines Bellina will show you tools and tricks that can help you use Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram to: a) build a supportive online community, b) elevate your profile WITHOUT chasing numbers and c) find actual, legit, professional writing opportunities including calls for submission, requests for pitches, and information on contests, fellowships, scholarships, and more. This is NOT a session about creating or growing author platforms. It is however a session about using social media for your own goals, regardless of whether you have 5 Facebook friends or 5,000.

C. A Whole Mood: On Humor & Horror with Juan Martinez
We neglect the importance of affect when working on our drafts. We build characters, we engage imagery and plot and language, but we forget to exploit the comic or horrific possibilities in what we're building. In this session on affect, we'll talk about how to tune a piece so that it's funnier, or scarier, or sadder. Mostly, we'll re-engage with one of our earliest, most primal early reading experiences, when we sought stuff out because it made us feel a particular way (remember R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike? Beverly Cleary? Madeleine L'Engle? Garfield?). We'll talk about how to deliberately aim for a general effect, and how you can choose to revise to actually heighten that effect or altogether reverse it (turn something sad into something comic, for example, or mix the horrific with the humorous), and I'll share some tricks and theories to help you make your readers cry, shudder, and laugh.


3:30pm - 5:00pm Keynote Speech with Garth Greenwell: The Relevance of Art

  • 5:00pm - 6:00pm Author Book-signing

  • 6:00pm - After party hosted by StoryStudio Chicago. Location TBD



Sunday, October 6th

  • 9:00am-9:50am - Coffee & Registration

10:00am - 11:15am BLOCK 4 (Choose one session)

A. Panel: The Working Writer moderated by Jac Jemc

Historically, the creative writer has had a variety of jobs, but now it can seem as though teaching creative writing is both a necessity of the profession and an impossibility. In this panel, we’ll talk about the variety of paths a writer might take to incorporate their own creative practice into their working life. Participating panelists include: Diego Báez, Lindsay Hunter, Lily Be, H. Melt.

B. Sprung From Necessity: On Urgency and the Personal Essay with Megan Stielstra
This workshop starts with the gut—what do you need to tell, the memories and questions that live not in your head but in your bones—and then moves into craft—how to tell your own stories in ways that are equally urgent to an audience. Pulling from both literary and oral storytelling traditions, we’ll engage in a series of activities to get our stories out of the body and onto the page, encouraging risk and discovery and examining literary craft in new ways. How does telling a story aloud heighten our understanding of its movement and structure? How does the presence of an immediate audience influence the rewriting process? How the hell do we start this stuff, and how do we keep it going when we get back home and alone at our desks?


11:30am-12:45pm BLOCK 5 (Choose one session)

A. Panel: Building Your Memoir moderated by Nadine Kenney Johnstone

Do you have ideas for a memoir but feel overwhelmed by the process of writing and publishing? Never fear, your memoir dreams CAN come true. In this panel, instructor and memoirist Nadine Kenney Johnstone will chat with four Memoir in a Year graduates about their writing experiences and publication journeys. They will discuss how they stayed motivated, honed their craft, overcame setbacks, approached the querying process, and ultimately found a home for their books. Come with questions and leave inspired! Participating panelists coming soon.

B. Path to Publication with Amina Gautier

You've perfected your short story/novel/short story collection--now what? You could send your manuscript directly to an editor, find an agent first, or even go the contest route. What are the pros and cons of these paths? This 75- minute workshop led by award-winning author Amina Gautier (The Loss of All Lost Things; Now We Will Be Happy) will explore guidelines, procedures, and pitfalls to avoid on your journey to publication.

C. From Where I Stand: Positionality and POV in Worldbuilding with Jac Jemc

When you’re creating another world in your fiction, how does race, class, gender, sexuality and ability determine your character’s understanding and outlook on the world? How do those dynamics influence and escalate the action? Who is telling the story and how does that change the story that’s being told? In this workshop we’ll explore the roles of native, tourist and conqueror before diving more deeply into the way the balance of these types can drive narrative and the way nuance can create vivid and complex cultures and worlds as rich as our own.


LUNCH BREAK 12:45pm - 2:00pm

Enjoy lunch on your own or join us for a Lunch Roundtable! Instructors will be hosting a variety of 50 minute roundtables designed to spark conversation and delve deeper into your favorite writing genres. Topics will include YA, poetry, MFA programs, speculative fiction, screenplay, and many more! Full descriptions coming soon.


2:00pm - 3:15pm BLOCK 6 (Choose one session)

A. In Conversation: James Klise and Natasha Tarpley

Edgar Award nominee and bestselling author Natasha Tarpley (I Love My Hair!, The Harlem Charade and others) in conversation with StoryStudio core faculty member James Klise, in which the two authors discuss motivation, process, writing for a young audience, maintaining a career over time, and a few of the things they really wished they'd known way before they ever got published.

B. Trusting your Inner Weirdo with Lindsay Hunter
Join author Lindsay Hunter for a workshop on writing with constraints, flash fiction, and trusting your inner weirdo. Writing with constraints enables one to focus on overcoming the constraint itself—the challenge of writing a complete world in two paragraphs versus staring at a blank page with no discernible starting or end points. And the innate constraint of flash fiction offers an urgency in story and in practice that can help a writer trust the fun. In this session, you’ll be exploring various types of constraints that help you get actively writing, and Lindsay will provide prompts for an in-class writing exercise that will dare you to be in the moment and let your pen do its thing.

C. Do It Yourself Publicity with Nadine Kenney Johnstone
Is it possible to promote your writing without being a professional publicist or seeming too self absorbed? Yes and yes. Author Nadine Kenney Johnstone will share insider tips that she used in the six months leading to her memoir's publication. By honing in on the things she loved and asking for the help of her community, she was able to promote her work in a way that felt authentic and manageable.


3:30pm - 5:00pm Keynote Panel: The Ins and Outs and Highs and Lows of Publishing, moderated by Vu Tran.

We all got into writing to write: to tell stories, to indulge in words, and to live in the worlds that words create. The world of publishing—of editors, agents, publicists, publishers, booksellers—often feels separate from the act of writing itself. For many of us, it also seems intimidatingly complex and inaccessible. This panel of writers—from diverse backgrounds, genres, and interests—will discuss their own experience in getting published and staying published. They’ll discuss their successes and failures, stories unique to them and also stories common to us all. And they’ll offer advice for navigating this world effectively, in a way that ultimately enables them to focus on what really matters: the words on the page. Panelists include: Megan Stielstra, James Klise, Nadine Kenney Johnstone, and Amina Gautier.

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Agent and Editor Sessions

This year we're offering two add-on sessions designed for both advanced and ongoing writers. Is your manuscript or short story collection ready to publish? Sign up to pitch to a literary agent! Looking for guidance on your writing project? Take the opportunity to get face to face feedback from an editor. Interested in both? There is no limit on the number of agent or editor sessions you can sign up for.


Agent Pitch

Skip the query letter and pitch your novel directly to a literary agent in our 5-minute pitch sessions. You’ll have a one-on-one meeting with the agent of your choice for a chance to share and receive feedback on your pitch. (Note: Agents will not receive pages or queries beforehand for this session.)

Participating agents include: Marya Spence (Janklow & Nesbit), Anjali Singh (Pande Literary), Renee Zuckerbrot (Massie & McQuilkin Literary Agents), Alexandra Weiss (The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency), and more coming soon!


Meet an Editor

This is a 10-minute one-on-one meeting with a small-press book editor at the Festival. Even if you don’t think you’d like to publish with a small press, this is an excellent opportunity to see how a publishing professional would read your opening pages. Before the Festival you will have the opportunity to send a 10-page (maximum) submission to the editor you've been paired with.

Participating editors include: Richard Thomas (Gamut Magazine), Dan Smetanka (Counterpoint Press), and more coming soon!


(Note: Agent and Editor meetings will take place throughout both Festival days. We'll be in touch soon with information on choosing your agent/editor and timeslot.)



For questions or concerns contact us at storystudiowritersfestival@gmail.com.

Note: After registration you’ll receive a follow-up email confirming your place at the Festival and any add-on sessions you have requested. Please note that registration and add-on sessions will be offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Still more notes: Registration and add-on sessions are fully refundable through September 5th, 2019, and refundable at 50% of the original total through September 28th, 2019. Charitable contributions cannot be refunded.

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Columbia College Chicago

1104 S. Wabash Ave

Chicago, IL 60605

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