The Millions

Reimagining and Remaking: On Healing from Workshop Trauma with Matthew Salesses’ ‘Craft in the Real World’

I need to admit something right up front: I am a product of the Creative Writing Industrial Complex.

I use this term because I came of age in the 1990s when creative writing classes, clubs, and summer camps began to flourish, thus creating a pathway towards the MFA program. It speaks, of course, to my upper middle class upbringing because many of the programs that I participated in cost money.

My earliest creative writing memory is when I competed in the Power of the Pen, where students undertook timed writing prompts, in eighth grade. My English teacher Mrs. Rinn drove me and my friend (who I felt incredibly competitive with since we were both Indian American and into writing) from Centerville, Ohio to Columbus. It was an overnight trip, and we had qualified at the regional level; it felt important. In high school, I attended several summer programs dedicated to creative writing including the Kenyon Young Writers program, where I met glamorous girls from the coasts who I stayed pen pals with for years. During my senior year at my private college prep school, I did a special independent study with a retired English professor from a local university. I spent the spring bringing him pages of an angsty play where the characters chain-smoked cigarettes, talked about sex, plotted crimes, and made a lot of Star Wars and Godfather references. (I may have been going through a Quentin Tarantino phase then. Weren’t we all in 1996?)

In October 2008, one year after finishing my MFA, I sat in a cottage on Whidbey Island at the Hedgebrook residency for women, ready to revise my thesis—a collection of short stories entitled and felt an utter sense of panic. I realized I had no idea how to revise a story. I felt as though the stories had become impenetrable, echoing with endless comments and suggestions from

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