Teaching Clarion West 2017

In a few weeks I’ll be teaching the first week of Clarion West. This means a lot to me. It feels like coming full circle.

I went to Clarion (the original Clarion, sometimes called Clarion East, which at that time was being held in East Lansing, MI) back in 1988, and the experience was hugely important to me, one of the landmark moments in my writing life. There’s B.C. — Before Clarion — and everything after.

Before Clarion, I’d never talked to a writer more than a couple minutes, and I’d never met a published science fiction writer. I didn’t know about cons, or how to submit to magazines–and forget about novels. Becoming a writer was like choosing a career as an alligator wrestler: I knew the job existed, and I’d seen it done on TV, but where do you get the alligators?

I had wonderful teachers for those six weeks–Tim Powers, Lisa Goldstein, Samuel R Delany, Kim Stanley Robinson, Kate Wilhelm, and Damon Knight. I learned a lot from them, and learned even more from reading them constantly in the years since. Stan and Tim have become friends.

I also learned a tremendous amount from my fellow students.  Here’s a pic of us goofing off, courtesy of pal and fellow student Mark Tiedemann. I’m in yellow, juggling. Yes, it was the 80s.


L-R: Lou (L.A.) Grinzo, John Brazier, Daryl Gregory, Kimberly Rufer-Bach, Kelly McClymer, Mark Tiedmann, Peg Kerr Ihinger, Brooks Caruthers, Sharon Wahl,Nicola Griffith, Kelley Eskridge, George Ruefener, Glenda Loeffler, Sue Ellen Sloca, Mark Kehl,   Paula Robinson,  Andrew Tisbert. (Paula Robinson not shown.)

I’ve been lucky enough to stay in contact with a lot of these folks over the decades, and some are friends for life.  Lou and I trade emails all the time. I saw Mark last week at the Nebula Awards. I went to Andrew’s wedding a few weeks ago. Kelley & Nicola live in Seattle, and I’ll see them when I go teach. I love them all, even the ones I haven’t seen since 1988, because of how important they were to me then.

This past week I’ve been reading through the 2017 students’ submission stories and personal essays, and one thing is clear: These students are more accomplished, on average, than my class was. Most of them have already published short stories, and one submission story was already in a year’s best collection. They’re also more diverse, and come from countries around the globe. They all belong at Clarion.

My job is to give them a  supportive but challenging first week. I know I’ll do a little damage to them–because that’s what workshops do, they break you down a bit and dent your ego so you can see how far you need to improve — but I’ll try not to damage them permanently.

It’ll be fun.



3 thoughts on “Teaching Clarion West 2017

  1. I’m beginning to believe there is some weird sort of linkage between our respective life paths. In 1988 while waiting tables at The Pantree in East Lansing I was thunderstruck when the party seated in my section included Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm. (Truth be told I recognized him from pictures in magazines and book covers but not her though I knew her name when she introduced herself.) I had met Harlan Ellison at a book signing a couple of years prior but meeting Damon Knight whose In Search of Wonder and Turning Points I had only recently discovered was a much bigger thrill. All this is only be tangential to you being a student at Clarion East that year and not particularly notable if it weren’t for the fact that just five years later I was living in Darien Illinois and five years after that I became Program Director at SOS Children’s Village in Lockport which provided some inspiration, I think, for The Village that plays a role in Afterparty. So what’s up with all this? Should I be worried if I meet someone named Harrison Harrison?

    • You should definitely be worried.

      Did we talk a few years ago about the Village? But I didn’t know that about East Lansing. That’s funny. I’m happy to report that Damon Knight was a mensch, and Kate was wonderful.

      • At the Nebula Awards mass autographing a couple of years ago, yes. I was Program Director at SOS Children’s Village in Lockport for several years. Been moved on from there for quite some time but the shock of recognition when I read Afterparty for the first time was palpable.

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