Water~Stone Review Summer Writing Workshop

At the center of Buntrock Commons on St. Olaf College, there is a memorial. It is a lovely wood tower with a huge wind chime. It is a magnificent structure made all the more meaningful by what it represents. The memorial is for the students that pass on while attending St. Olaf before they can graduate. It anchors the campus and makes one feel gratitude for life and the privilege of being able to learn.

That was the theme of this year’s Water~Stone Review Summer Writing Workshop, gratitude. Every student I spoke with was so pleased to be writing and learning with people who were as passionate as they were about the craft. Everyone was in a genre cohort that they work closely with for the week. The visiting faculty was incredibly impressive and also surprisingly warm. For a student embarking on a career filled with rejection letters, the workshop is a place where writers can feel a sense of community and place.

Our Creative Nonfiction visiting faculty this year was Sven Birkerts. His class focused on the memoir and the past. Students were instructed to bring a photograph with them to class, (challenging for some of our more technologically advanced students), and to focus their writing on something about this photograph. Sven is the kind of writer and teacher that wants to focus carefully on a subject to find insight. He used the Flaubert quote; “Anything becomes interesting if you look at it long enough.” This is a perfect encapsulation of his class. Students were given writing prompts to find the locus of their projects, the place of revelation.

Chinelo Okparanta our visiting Fiction faculty ran her workshop with razor sharp focus. Each student writer had a piece workshopped. Chinelo used classical examples to improve the work by referencing Chekov’s assertion that if there is a gun present in the first act that it must go off by the second. She used this to point to particular places in student’s work where there were “guns” that failed to go off. Using a more contemporary analogy Chinelo referenced Lan Samantha Chang by using her bucket analogy. It is the concept that states that a story has a series of buckets from beginning to end and the author must fill the bucket with information otherwise no matter how the piece ends it will not be complete. This simple analogy can be incredibly helpful for revision. Her guidance to the students was focused on eliminating the unnecessary omissions from the work. After one student’s work was workshopped the other writers were given writing prompts to improve the main character. It was an interesting prompt that Chinelo described as a “gift to the writer.” Having an entire class help you with flushing out a character was truly a gift.

Rebecca Lindenburg ran the poetry cohort and she was universally admired by her students. She ran each class in small workshops. In intimate groups the poets were able to read each other’s work and have casual craft conversations about, at times, sensitive subjects. Rebecca was the best kind of mentor, thoughtful and protective of her students.

And then there was The Contented Cow. A waterfront three-story patio attached to a small Irish pub in the city of Northfield, MN. The students had some wonderful late nights there. If you want details you’ll just have to attend next year and join us.

The Water~Stone Review Summer Writing Workshop was not just about taking classes. It was also about making connections with other writers and constructing a space where we exchanged ideas, talked about challenges, and celebrated each other’s successes. As one student said, it felt like family. Another student described the experience as being uplifting and necessary. We as writers are solitary by virtue of our work and it is necessary for us to collaborate and connect.

Thank you Water~Stone Review Summer Workshop faculty, students, and the lovely Northfield for a week of fun, joy, and gratitude.

It Could Have Been Fireworks, by Danielle Bylund

storm (1)

Here in Saint Paul, MN we’ve just weathered a storm. On Tuesday, July 5, a fast moving, surprising thunderstorm hit. It changed the blue sky to black and whipped the trees with a vicious wind. My little house is on high ground. We overlook a small, triangular park and because we face north we can watch as the big storms roll in. Through the enormous branches of our old oak tree my partner and I will often sit with our dog, Tula, and see the oncoming weather. On Tuesday, Tula, who is fearless, sat on the screened in porch, mesmerized by the radical changes in the sky from blue to green to orange to black.

By Wednesday the branches had fallen, we lost a bit of siding, but were relatively unscathed. We had seen fallen trees and we had heard stories of the ruined gardens, the close calls, and the electricity still out. We sat on the porch and felt the cool breeze blow through the screens and felt lucky to have the old oak intact. Because of Independence Day, the firecrackers started up in early evening. Because we live in a quiet neighborhood, tucked away in one of the labyrinthine blocks of Saint Paul, the sound had to travel over railroad tracks and parkways to arrive at our porch.

Falcon Heights falls less than three miles from our front door. It falls less than two miles from the Hamline University campus, where the Water~Stone Review makes its home. Wednesday, while I sat with my dog and the love of my life, feeling grateful and safe, Philando Castile, was shot to death in front of the woman who loved him and the child he fathered. He was shot to death by a police officer. I wish I knew which of the sounds that carried across the railroad tracks and parkways to my porch was the gunshot that killed him. I wish that it had some characteristic that could make it discernible from the fireworks that accompany our Independence Day. I wish that I could take that sound and set it apart from all of the other sounds of the day and point to it and say, “Here is the sound. We have isolated it. Now we can fix its cause.” But I can’t because this sound mingles with all of the others: the house finch that calls constantly for a willing mate, the quiet hum of the highway sounding like a great sea of machinery, the record floating sparkling notes to the street, the neighbor’s happy commentary on the grand summer weather, the thud-thud-thud of my terrified and mourning heart. 

My Year with Water~Stone Review

I’m Chelsea, a second-year MFA student here at Hamline. Months after graduating from Central Michigan University, I packed up my bags and moved 700 miles away from home. I was a 22 year old with big dreams, no job, little knowledge of the Twin Cities. Flash forward two years later, and I’m delivering my Water~Stone Review swan song.

One of the reasons I applied to the Hamline MFA program was because of the opportunities they offer with Water~Stone Review. I had long abandoned the idea of becoming a teacher, so I set my sights on working in the publishing industry. When I arrived to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, I still didn’t know what to expect. I knew that there was Graywolf Press, Coffee House Press, and Milkweed Editions. Oh, and that F. Scott Fitzgerald once lived here. I didn’t really know where to start, but I knew that I wanted to kick down the door to the literary world.

WSRchelseablogI have now worked with Water~Stone Review as a fiction editorial board member (Vol. 18), the production assistant (Vol. 18), a screener (Vol. 19), and most recently, as the general operations assistant (Vol.19). Each opportunity granted me a unique look in the the industry that only intensified my drive and determination to succeed in the daunting, wild, and beautiful world of publishing.

As first a fiction editorial board member, I found so much value as a writer to read another’s labor of love and look at it with a critical eye. I imagined the human behind the words, which only improved my own work and submissions. It was only the beginning.

Executive Editor Mary Rockcastle pitched the production assistant position, which included the opportunity to work with MCAD and, while I knew I wanted to apply for it, I barely knew what the job entailed. As I quickly learned, the behind the scenes world of W~SR and other literary journals is a balance of administrative decisions, connections and social promotions/marketing in the virtual world. I learned the importance of tagging and linking to others in the community. I created our Instagram to increase our visibility and I increased our followers and grew our virtual W~SR community.

I was a screener for Volume 19. When I read submissions I discovered how many hours we put into every single submission. We don’t just read one paragraph— we read it all to realize the potential in every submission. This is somebody’s hard work— and Water~Stone Review treats it as such.

I learned the most about how literary journals operate as a general operations assistant— the communication between contributors and editors, managing the submission process, and the general maintenance of a journal. Not only have I found the path I plan to follow, I’ve become a better reader, writer, and understand the importance of literary journals. Without my time on Water~Stone Review, I doubt I would have gotten my first publication in Five2One magazine’s #sideshow.

I have now experienced the lifecycle of an entire volume, from slush pile to launch party, and the biggest takeaway from my time with W~SR is admiration for the people who make it run, who made me run.Time spent scheduling social media posts, live tweeting classes, attending production meetings, managing submissions, meeting editors, editorial board members, and working closely with our Managing Editor, Meghan, is something I’ll carry forward in my life and career. I’ll always know where my publishing love is rooted.

Thank-you Hamline University, thank-you to the Creative Writing Program’s professors and staff, thank-you Water~Stone Review, and thank-you Meghan for giving me a chance to find out why I’m here, where I belong, and what I love to do.


Chelsea DeLong

Chelsea DeLong

W~SR General Operations Assistant

Chelsea DeLong is a 2nd year graduate student at Hamline University in St. Paul pursing her MFA in fiction. Originally from Michigan, Chelsea has found her home in the Twin Cities and all of its rich literary history. She’s worked with Water~Stone Review for a year and can usually be found writing her novel, cooking, and running around Hamline’s campus.

Announcing 2016 WSR Fiction Prize Winner: Saba Waheed

Saba Waheed
Here’s what judge, Nami Mun had to say about winner Saba Waheed’s piece, “World Cup”:
“When I finished reading “World Cup,” I immediately wanted to read it again. I wanted to see how the writer, in only a few pages, got me to think about Kate Chopin, Grace Paley, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Essentially, the story had me thinking: How can a person be when a personhood is filled with so many beings? Or to recycle a bit of Sartre: this story of sharp dialogue and artful compression reminds us that the “others”—with all of their silent and not-so-silent judgments—have given us the means (possibly the only means) for how we judge ourselves. 
In “World Cup” hell isn’t other people. Hell is realizing that there is no escaping aunts or parents or a nation of expectations; that it’s nil-nil, no matter how one keeps score. I could go on about “World Cup” and its merits, but I think that’s my point. A good story never ends. A good story, in the right reader’s mind, can only expand.”  (Nami Mun, author of Miles from Nowhere)

Confessions of a Former Fence-Sitter: Why You Should Attend The WSR Writing Workshop This Summer, by Sarah Howard

wsr summer writing workshopIt’s almost summer in Minnesota and everyone’s already busy trying to jam as much as they can into our few habitable months each year. But in between barbecues, vacations, and family get-togethers, why not take a little time for yourself and help jumpstart your writing?

This year, The Water~Stone Review Writing Workshop will be held from Sunday, July 24 – Friday, July 29 on the campus of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. An easy 45-minute drive from the Twin Cities, the WSR Summer Writing Workshop provides a great opportunity to work with nationally-renowned authors close to home while also having some relaxation and fun.

Sold? Great. Head on over to the official web page and sign up! But maybe you’re more like I was before I decided to do it: indecisive, skeptical, not fully committed. If that’s you, let me offer some more concrete reasons why you should attend. 

Being in a new environment.

Wherever you do your writing now—desk, table, secret cave—have a look around. It’s easy to get stuck in a writing rut when staring at the same surroundings day after day. Plus, if you’re anything like me, a number of distractions surround your writing space, like Netflix, and the internet right there on your computer whispering to you to check if anything’s happened on Twitter in the past five minutes. If you’re having trouble writing, or even just having trouble finding time to get a project done, a solid week-long block of time can give you the fresh start you need to get going on a new project or continue an existing one. If you’re inspired by nature, the lush, wooded campus of St. Olaf will be a perfect place to write. If you’re not the outdoorsy type and prefer the comfort of tall buildings and city lights (hi), there’s still plenty of interesting things on campus to help get your imagination going. Your friends will be impressed that you’ve been in the actual place they named Rose Nylund’s hometown after on The Golden Girls. (And if your friends don’t like The Golden Girls, time to make new ones.)

Hearing new voices discuss your work.

Whether you’re in an MFA program or not, it’s always good to have someone who hasn’t seen your work before give a fresh perspective. And there’s no better local opportunity this summer than to participate in one of the WSR workshops. It’s a star-studded list once again this year: Sven Birkerts in creative nonfictionChinelo Okparanta in fiction, and Rebecca Lindenberg in poetry. Take a look at those great names, check out their websites, figure out which one fits your style best, and go for it. The advice and new ideas you’ll learn from these talented authors is invaluable.

Hanging out with other writers.

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to attend AWP, you already know how cool it is to be in a place where everyone is doing the same thing you do. If you didn’t, no better time than now to find out! People who “get” the writing thing can be so rare in everyday life. You’ll be in a workshop with other writers who all want to focus only on writing for a week, just like you, but that’s not the only place you’ll see them. At meals, at events and panels, hanging out in the dorm, and most especially at the offsite events at The Contented Cow and other places in the Northfield area, there will be a group of people you can talk craft with and not have them look at you strangely. It’s great! There will also be an opportunity this year to hear panels of publishing professionals and WSR staff talk about topics vital to today’s writing world.

It’s not a summer camp. It’s so much better.

This was my biggest concern going into last year’s workshop. I’m a person that likes to have all the comforts of modern society close at hand. Staying in a dorm on a wooded college campus for a week sounded suspiciously to me like summer camp, a nightmare for indoor kids like me who have grown into indoor adults. But let me tell you, the reality was not at all like the nightmare I anticipated. Everyone gets their own room, and there’s a sink in each one, a luxury my dorms in college did not have. And if you’re worried you’ll be trapped without amenities, Northfield has both a Target and a liquor store, so you will be OK. And the rest of the workshop is nothing like summer camp. No three-legged races or canoe trips or whatever else we’ve all tried to forget. Just writing and hanging out with other people who like writing. Sounds pretty good, right?

If I’ve managed to convince you, here’s that link to the registration again. If not, just keep thinking about it. Did I mention there is a pizza farm?

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