WRITING HOME: a recap of the 2015 Storycatcher Workshop

StorycatcherposterOur fourth year of the  Story Catcher Writing Workshop and Festival has just concluded, focusing on the theme of “WRITING HOME: Capturing Your Place in the World.” We tried some new things this year: a weekend format, a beefed-up advanced “pre-session” workshop, and a greater emphasis on the RETREAT element of the workshop. Initial reports are that these innovations worked quite well this year–we had a great group of writers and writing faculty, and–based upon the readings we heard at the “mandatory mic” that capped the Festival on Sunday, some really EXCELLENT work emerged from these sessions. It was very inspiring for all of us to hear the writing that came out of the workshop this year.

Between our workshop faculty and the writers who attended, we covered a lot of geographical territory this year! From the Faculty: Anna Keesey, our writer in residence, hails from Oregon; Sean Prentiss, almost to the other coast, from Vermont; Alison Stine from Ohio; our emerging writer Rori Hoatlin from Michigan–and our local talent Steve Coughlin and Poe Ballantine, from Chadron–but previously from far-flung places across the country. There was a strong Nebraska/South Dakota alliance in our participants this year, with most of the writers coming to us from communities small and large within these two states. We learned that our attendees have lived and written and read in many unique places over the years, however. What an interesting and diverse group this year!

Our workshop continues to grow, and if you follow the blogs and recaps posted here for the past several years, you will see that we have been able to attract some major talent to lead our sessions–and we have been able to provide a wide variety of activities and workshops for participants. And, as so many of our attendees told me this year, it is all offered at an incredible value.

Those of you who participated this or previous years, PLEASE share some of your thoughts and comments at the end of this blog entry. We would love to hear from you!

Come join us next June for our FIFTH workshop (details follow at the end of this post). Follow this blog and website for information and updates.

Meanwhile–here is a recap of the 2015 Workshop:

Day One: Thursday, June 11th

While the General Workshop started on Friday, this year we offered a PRE-SESSION focused on more advanced writers who had completed work ready for critique and revision. They met with our writer in residence, Anna Keesey. Her advanced sessions were capped at eight writers, and were all full. She was impressed with the work that her writers brought to the sessions–and I heard reports from the participants that they were given tough, detailed and extremely helpful advice for further development and revision of their work. You can learn more about Ms. Keesey and viewing her profile from our workshop PROGRAM. Ms. Keesey met with her writers as a group in the morning, and then divided them up for one-on-one meetings throughout the rest of the day (and into the next):

That night, many of the workshop participants gathered for dinner at our favorite local hangout, the Bean Broker Coffee House, and we were then treated to a “sneak preview” of what was to come in the General Workshop when session leaders Sean Prentiss and Steven Coughlin gave an enthusiastic reading from their recently published books to a very receptive Bean Broker Crowd:

— CSC English/Hum (@outsideyourself) June 12, 2015

Day Two: Friday, June 12

The “official” start to the Storycatcher Workshop was Friday morning. All of the workshop participants, advanced and general, gathered in the atrium of the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage center for a wonderful Craft Lecture by our writer in residence, Anna Keesey. Referencing her experiences writing and publishing her recent novel, Little Century, Ms. Keesey encouraged participants to make time for their writing, and make it a priority in their lives.

The title of her presentation was “Lollygagging: Emerson and Me and You.” What wonderful advice to emerging writers looking to complete their projects and to seek ways to share their work with a broader audience:

After a fun lunch break downtown with more mixing and mingling, writers returned to afternoon sessions focusing on Literary Nonfiction (with Sean Prentiss), Poetry (with Steven Coughlin) and Fiction (with Alison Stine). You can learn more about our writing faculty this year, and details about these sessions, by viewing their profiles from our workshop PROGRAM. The afternoon sessions met in a classroom on campus, where all the writers could roll up their sleeves and get to work:

We capped the first night of the workshop with a reception and keynote address from Anna Keesey, where she read from her novel and discussed her writing process. The event was held in the Sandoz Center Atrium, and was open to the public. We had a great turnout from workshop participants and folks in the community interested in hearing about her historical novel which centers around the homesteading experience of characters in turn of the century Oregon:

Day Two: Saturday, June 13, WRITING RETREAT!

Based on the success of our outdoor sessions in previous workshops, we scheduled a FULL DAY RETREAT this year, set in the scenic pine-ridge forests south of campus at Camp Norwesca and Chadron State Park. We met, appropriately, outdoors for the morning session on Environmental Writing with Sean Prentiss:

After the morning session, writers had several hours to commune with nature and write whatever came to mind. Some of the workshop participants even found time to try out some of facilities geared towards the youngsters who attend Camp Norwesca:

After the long break, however, it was all work–as writers sweated it out in the camp lodge and worked on sessions focused on young adult fiction (with Alison Stine) and Creative Nonfiction (with Rori Leigh Hoatlin, winner of the 2015 Mari Sandoz Emerging Writer Instructorship). These were productive sessions for our writers, with lots of work being generated form the activities Ms. Stine and Ms. Hoatlin set up:

After the hard work of the afternoon sessions, all of the workshop participants headed over to nearby Chadron State Park for a cookout in the pines. In addition to some great food, we were all treated to a reading from Alsion Stine from her recently published Young Adult novel Supervision, a ghostly tale that was appropriate for our campfire evening. What a wonderful conclusion to an instructional and inspiring day!

Day Three: Sunday, June 14, FESTIVAL!

Our last (half) day of the workshop was focused on a CELEBRATION of writing and writers. What an appropriate time to have local literary legend Poe Ballantine stop by and share with the workshop participants, and several people on hand from the general public, a retrospective of his prolific and critically-acclaimed work as a writer in both fiction and nonfiction. His talk was entitled “At Home in the World–My Writing Life,” and featured excerpts from several of his works along with commentary on his life and writing experiences:

While we are certainly proud of all the wonderful programming we are able to offer at the Story Catcher Workshop, the focus of all we do will always be on the WRITERS who come from far and wide to develop and share their own stories–this is why we conclude each workshop with a day to celebrate the writing of our participants. This year we had a great turn out for volunteers to read at the open mic that concluded the festival. What impressive work emerged from the workshops in just two or three days–and how inspiring to hear these selections shared with the writing community that gathered this year:


For a PDF version of this flyer: storycatcher16