Taking the Plunge as a Writing Teacher

There are hundreds of reasons I love the Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA Program at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. First, there are the forty other students enrolled there, about double that number of alumni, the dozen or so faculty and staff, and the droves of guest faculty who teach at the residencies twice a year. Then there are the thousands of beautiful and inspiring words I’ve read while a student there—many of them written by classmates and teachers. Those are all cause enough to boast about this unique low-residency program, but there’s more. Started by writers, for writers, the Whidbey Writers Workshop is willing to tap its students and alumni to teach classes at the residencies. I’m honored to be included on the schedule in August (writers have until June 15 to register for the residency-only option) as Guest Faculty and to respond to NILA’s…  

1.  What’s your favorite thing about teaching writers?
Unlike the Polar Bear Plunge (see the BONUS Question at the end), I’m just dipping my toe in the water of teaching writers. The little bit that I’ve done so far has been invigorating and inspiring, and teaching pushes me to dive deep into the content. Plus, writers are generous and adventurous; I end up learning a ton from them.

2.    How would you suggest students approach a writer, agent, or editor they admire?
Scott Russell Sanders

Plunge in! That’s the advice I received at the very first Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA residency I attended; I was testing the waters (sensing a theme here?) as a residency-only student before I’d applied to the MFA program. Another student encouraged me to talk to guest faculty Scott Russell Sanders, an essayist whose work I adore, and even prompted me about what to say. I was sincere in my questions about writing in this genre, and he was equally sincere (and supportive) in his response.

3.    How about a sneak peek of what we can expect to learn from you in your sessions at Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA?
Throughout history, people have explored questions of faith through music, painting, dance, photography, and writing. In the session Writing About Faith, Spirituality, and Religion, classmate Cynthia Beach and I will examine characteristics of this subgenre, described by Philip Zaleski, editor of America’s Best Spiritual Writing series, as “poetry or prose that deals with the bedrock of human existence.”

We’ll explore examples and publishing opportunities across a wide range of spiritual traditions. The session also will include time for writing and contemplation—something we expect people will welcome on Day 6 of the 9-day residency.

4. Tell us what “literary community” means to you. 

If we’re lucky, there’s a ripple when we cast our words to readers. A literary community, like the one we have at Whidbey, sometimes is a net that gathers us close. Sometimes, it’s a life preserver.

5. When not teaching or working at your day job,” you can be found…

walking my yellow lab/German 
shepherd, Buddy

           making hand-bound journals and

           artists’ books 

                     picking, procuring, preparing and sharing meals with friends and family.


The MFA residency includes a FREE POLAR BEAR PLUNGE in which we all jump into the lovely, refreshing waters of the Puget Sound. On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the most likely, how likely are you to participate?

1 – The way I’m most likely to be in “the lovely, refreshing waters of the Puget Sound”is snug in my kayak, wearing a spray skirt and neoprene gloves. 

However, I rank a 5 on the scale of how likely I am to be on the dock, cheering the swimmers on and handing out dry towels.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s