Students in Classroom

Summer Writers Institute heats up July

Entering its 22nd year this summer, the Washington University Summer Writers Institute (SWI) is a two-week long program featuring different workshops or “institutes” focused on different genres of writing. The workshops include topics in fiction, microfiction, modern humor, personal narrative, playwriting, and poetry. Held in the evenings to accommodate work schedules, classes usually consist of writing, proofreading drafts, peer-editing, and detailed discussion about how participants can make their written work more rich and immersive.

“It's really some of the most enjoyable teaching I get to do,” says David Schuman, director of the creative writing program at WashU. “The students arrive with a range of career backgrounds and experiences and with the enthusiasm of writers who have devoted themselves to this intense two-week experience. So it's a lot of fun to be a part of helping them tell their stories and advancing their knowledge of craft.” Schuman has taught both fiction and microfiction at the SWI since 2006.

Each institute has one professor—usually published authors and considered experts in their field—and includes a supportive, non-competitive format that “allows for personalized attention and constructive feedback.” Classes start on July 14, and end with a student reading and open mic reception on July 28. Professors include WashU faculty members Kathleen Finneran (advanced personal narrative), David Schuman (microfiction), and Heather McPherson (modern humor writing). Also returning are visiting faculty members Kent Shaw from Wheaton College in Massachusetts (poetry) and Deborah Taffa (personal narrative).

And there are two new faces this year, as well. Renowned theater director Joan Lipkin, who is the artistic director of That Uppity Theatre Company, will lead the workshop in playwriting, and WashU alumna Kea Wilson will teach a section in fiction. Kea’s novel We Eat Our Own was published by Scribner in 2016.

Beth Landers, director of the summer school, expressed excitement over the new faculty, as well as this year’s featured speakers. “We are delighted that two poets from WashU’s innovative International Writers Program in Comparative Literature, Aaron Coleman and Baba Badji, have agreed to address participants.” She says that the SWI extends “the vibrant literary community for which WashU is known.”

The SWI is a chance for both beginner and advanced writers to work on their craft in a supportive and nurturing writing environment. Kent Shaw, who has been teaching poetry and creative writing for 15 years, says that at the SWI, writers have a safe space to express their vulnerable side and get involved with their writing. “This is always a constructive space for anyone to work from, whether that’s for writing, or for just being a human. To my mind, the course is typically encouraging people to dwell in that creative space.”

Shaw also expressed his surprise at the fact that writers can make significant leaps in a short span of two weeks. “I’ve found that having this tight time schedule gives students in the workshop a chance to see just how far they can push themselves into writing. It’s students learning what they value in their own work, and then recognizing there could be even greater potential in what they’ve written.”    

Schuman seconds this sentiment. “It’s always amazing to watch the SWI summer community from inside such a brief period of time. Students forge really important relationships with their peers, the new work they discover, and their own writing.”

This year the institute kicks off with a reception and keynote address on July 14 and concludes with an open mic reading on July 28. Registration remains open until July 13. Participants enroll in one genre-based workshop and earn three units of credit (no application is required). All burgeoning and experienced writers are welcome to join! More information can be found at the following website:

Biographies of new professors and speakers:

Joan Lipkin
Joan is Artistic Director of That Uppity Theatre Company and well known as a playwright, director, educator, activist and social critic who divides her time between St. Louis and New York City. Her award-winning, widely-produced work includes Some of My Best Friends Are...Small Domestic ActsHe's Having Her Baby, and many others. Select theatres include the Old Vic, Finborough and Jacksons Lane (London), Lincoln Center, Nuyorican Cafe and The Wild Project (New York), Place des Arts (Montreal), and Centene Center for the Arts (St. Louis). Her many honors include the Award for Leadership in Community-Based Theatre & Civic Engagement and a Visionary. Her plays are widely anthologized, including in several volumes of Best American Short Plays, and will be included in two upcoming collections, "Every 28 Hours" and "After Orlando."


Kea Wilson
Kea is the author of the novel We Eat Our Own (Scribner, 2016). She holds an MFA from Washington University in St. Louis and has taught creative writing at the university since 2012. She's also served on the faculty at the Martha's Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing and her work has appeared in Playboy, LitHub, PANK, Diagram, and others.



Aaron Coleman
Aaron is the author of St. Trigger, which won the 2015 Button Poetry Prize and Threat Come Close (Four Way Books, forthcoming 2018). A Fulbright Scholar and Cave Canem fellow from Metro-Detroit, Aaron has lived and worked with youth in locations including Kalamazoo, Chicago, St. Louis, Spain, and South Africa. A graduate of the WashU MFA Program and former Public Projects Assistant at Pulitzer Arts Foundation, his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in ApogeeBoston Review, Fence, Southern Humanities Review, and elsewhere. Winner of the Tupelo Quarterly Poetry Contest and The Cincinnati Review Robert and Adele Schiff Award, Aaron is currently a Chancellor’s Graduate Fellow in the WashU Comparative Literature PhD program.


Baba Badji
Born in Senegal, West Africa, Baba Badji is currently a Chancellor’s Fellow and third year Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature, with the Track for International Writers at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. He holds a BA from the College of Wooster, Ohio and received his MFA in poetry, fiction and translation from Columbia University, New York City. His first Chapbook, Owls of Senegal was a finalist for The Seattle Review judged by Claudia Rankine. His translation has appeared on The 2014 Pen World Voice Festival. He is working on Ghost Letters and Museum of Exile books of poem in epistolary form exploring up-rootedness, exile, American-ness, Blackness, and African-ness.

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