I’ve been a professional writer for nearly twenty years, and one of the best writing experiences I’ve ever had in that time was a class taught by award-winning author Steve Almond, whose upcoming Workshops for Democracy you would be an absolute lunatic not to attend.
Steve has taught at Harvard and Wesleyan, and his work’s appeared in the New York Times and GQ, among many many others. Now, working with Hugo House, Grub Street, and Lighthouse, Steve has arranged for his upcoming writing workshops to be steeply discounted, with the expectation that attendees will donate to a political cause of their choosing.
“When democracy starts to erode,” Steve says, “there’s a reflexive ‘who’s going to save us?’” With his Workshops for Democracy, the time has come for that question to be definitively answered.
“Like a lot of people, I certainly followed what was happening in 2016 obsessively,” Steve says, “but in a way that was anxious and passive, refreshing the browser to see what the latest poll said.”
That, he says, was a mistake, and still is as we doom-scroll through Twitter today, waiting for the notification that will soothe our nerves. But nobody’s going to appear on the timeline to save democracy, Steve says; instead, it’s up to us as individuals.
“Ultimately, the idea of citizenship is that you are invested in this whole project,” he says.
After 2016, Steve tried to make sense of the election with a book of essays about how the country’s been corrupted by the terrible stories that Americans tell. Not content simply to be an observer, he began tailoring writing classes to have more of an impact, holding special events at which he asked attendees to contribute to candidates of their choice. Now, that process has been streamlined with a series of workshops in October.
As a former student of Almond’s, I can attest to the incredible value of his classes. “I see a lot of manuscripts, and I see the same kinds of struggles,” he says, like creating nuanced characters and interesting narrators and strong heroes. “I’ve thought about that stuff for three decades ... and I’ve figured out ways to very effectively and concretely communicate that to students.”
Attendees can expect lots of practical examples and writing exercises — anything to make the lesson actionable — and a demystification of common dilemmas. Topics include “How to Write Riveting Scenes,” “Define Your Hero and Find Your Plot,” “How to Create an Irresistible Narrator,” and more.
“A lot of time writers are struggling,” he says. “They know something’s not working, but they haven’t figured out why it is that a scene isn’t dramatically satisfying.”
Among the techniques that he helps students hone: Making deliberate choices, interrogating your decisions, and resisting the urge to succumb to what he calls “the opera of self-doubt.”
And in truly democratic fashion, the classes are open to writers of any experience and skill level. “It can be beginning writers, or people with two or three or four books under their belt,” Steve says. “I have people who signed up who have sold far more books than me. … My classes are designed to teach whoever comes into the room.”