Anthony Cardellini, ‘21: New York State Summer Writers Institute
Originally, I was hoping to attend the New York State Summer Writers Institute at Skidmore College for a fiction writing workshop. Due to COVID-19, I ended up attending Strikethrough Workshop, a virtual creative writing workshop at the University of Houston, and learned from Gulf Coast Journal fiction editor Obi Umeozor.
About the Project
Initially, I applied for funding to attend the New York State Summer Writers Institute, one of the best summer fiction workshops in the country. I hoped to enroll in an advanced short fiction class to study writing under the author Garth Greenwell, a brilliant writer who has published two critically acclaimed books. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the workshop was canceled, and my admission was deferred to next year.
Because of this cancellation, I was able to use my Benenson funds to attend the University of Houston’s Strikethrough Workshop, a virtual summer writing workshop hosted in part by the university’s literary magazine. I chose to participate in Strikethrough’s “Shape of Stories” workshop, which focused on different methods and techniques for crafting pieces of short fiction. My workshop instructor was Obi Umeozor, a fiction editor at Gulf Coast Magazine, one of the nation’s best literary magazines.
Throughout the workshop, we discussed how exactly to write meaningful and evocative short stories. We focused on formulating engaging plots, developing strong and well-rounded characters, using imagery to create setting, and moving through time by switching off between summary and scene.
We read several excellent short stories from masters of the craft both old and new, such as James Baldwin and Otessa Moshfegh. We shared wisdom from our own writing backgrounds as to what story-writing practices work best for us. The workshop also gave me the opportunity to get extensive feedback on one of my short stories, both from Obi and from the other members of the class. I was also able to provide others with feedback on their own stories. Overall, the workshop taught me a great deal about formulating plots and characters for my stories, and about giving feedback to and receiving feedback from other writers in a professional workshop setting. I am certainly a better writer for having participated in the workshop.
Once the workshop was over, I was able to use my remaining Benenson funds to purchase books Obi had recommended that I read to make myself a better writer, and to submit stories to literary magazines for feedback and perhaps even publication. The generosity of the Benenson program allowed me to focus my summer on becoming a better writer, from attending the workshop to reading excellent works of fiction to seeking out feedback for my own work. I’m incredibly grateful to Duke Arts and to the Benenson program for granting me the opportunity to become a better writer this summer.
Reflecting on Art Amidst Covid-19
The Benenson program helped me grow tremendously as a writer during the COVID-19 pandemic. I believe that the most important thing a writer can do is read, followed by writing as often as one can. The pandemic afforded me plenty of time to do both, but the Benenson is what helped me focus my free time on these disciplines.
With Benenson funds, I was able to make myself a summer reading syllabus, with books I thought would be important to my formation as a writer, without worrying about the cost of the books. Reading these books helped me greatly by both teaching me the practices of some of the greatest writers in history, and inspiring me to work on my own stories.
As a result of the workshop I participated in through the Benenson, I felt constant inspiration to write over the summer, and wrote more words that I have before in a single period of time. Thanks to the Benenson and to the workshop, I was able to think about my writing in new ways, and to finish several important writing projects over the summer. I am now well on my way to completing my creative writing thesis and working to get into a masters of fine arts in creative writing program for graduate school.