Black Lawrence Press

Issue #95 — September 20, 2011

Tin House Summer Writers’ Workshop

We’re excited to bring you the next installment in our series of summer writing conference profiles. Sapling friend David Wojciechowski shares the highlights of his summer journey to Oregon’s own Tin House Workshop.

By David Wojciechowski

David_WojoThe Basics:

Location: Reed College Campus, Portland, OR

Dates: July 10-17, 2011 (I expect 2012’s dates to be quite similar)

What’s offered: Workshops in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry; daily readings; craft talks; shop talks; participant readings; mentor services; agent meetings; and social events

Cost: In 2011, tuition, room, and board (3 meals/day) ranged from $1,575 – $1,675 for participants staying on campus. Tuition and board ranged from $1,000 – $1,100 for participants not requiring lodging.

Funding: Full and partial scholarships are offered, but are highly (and I do mean very highly) competitive. Although I have no statistics, more information can be found here.

Application Process: This is pretty much the norm for workshops: the application includes a form, which can be filled out online or mailed, and a writing sample. Applicants are notified via email upon acceptance, but scholarship winners aren’t notified until mid-March. I have no statistics, though I recall hearing at orientation that there were around 300 applications, and Tin House accepts roughly two-thirds of them. This makes it a large conference with workshops containing no more than 12 participants, which is both a blessing and a curse (large variety of backgrounds and experience, but also less class time to devote to your manuscript).

Retreat option: Tin House offers the conference experience without the workshop (though I’m not sure if you can still sign-up for lodging). A pass to all seminars and readings is available for $250. Evening readings only are $20—I assume this is one sum for all of them—individual seminars are $15, and individual readings are $5. This being said, I don’t think I ever saw this enforced (or even mentioned once during the week), so it seems like you could just show up and go for it.

The Inside Scoop:

The workshop experience: Clearly this would vary from instructor to instructor, but I only heard great things from everyone involved. I signed up for Kevin Young’s poetry workshop and I am glad I did. You meet 6 times as a group, and Kevin runs it so that each day you cover 2 manuscripts. With workshops lasting about 2 hours, you don’t get to go through every poem in your manuscript, but Kevin tries to concentrate on just one and draws in others as they relate to the discussion. He also tried to start and end each workshop with some sort of writing exercise, which for me is the best part about attending a conference. As with most things, your workshop’s success depends on the other people in it, and by the end I had 12 writers return my poems to me with comments that varied so incredibly it has given me a dizzying amount to consider.  

The campus: The Reed Campus is simply gorgeous. There is a lake/stream that cuts through the center of it, and an amphitheater that overlooks said lake. There is also a trail that circles the lake and stream and cuts along the back edge of the amphitheater stage (which is interesting during readings when someone runs or walks by and doesn’t expect to have an audience). There is a coffee shop that is open until about 4 or so on the main quad area. Most importantly, there are countless wide-open spaces to just lie down and relax.

The “scene”: Every night the conference turns into a party. This is not an exaggeration. There is a hall on the quad that becomes a bar and a social place nightly. Here you will find the instructors, the staff and the participants all hanging out together. Each night it was common to see people hanging out until the bar closed at 11, then the festivities were typically moved to local bars or to the dorms (one night an impromptu reading broke out). The only issue is the first talk begins at 9 in the morning with your workshop beginning at 10, so essentially I did not get much sleep during the week. (Not a complaint!)

The room & food: Every participant gets a single room on campus in one of the student dorms, but that’s as much as I can say. I chose to find a room in Portland ( so that I could arrive early, leave a day late, and also explore more of a city I’d never been to. This was both good and bad. Good that I got to see so much of Portland and really experience the city, bad that I was often leaving the late-night festivities early so I could bike back to my bed. Food is provided 3 times a day, and was quite fantastic (even if you’re not staying on campus, a pass is easy to acquire). There are vegetarian and vegan options (the dessert selection included many vegan baked goods, and I just have to pause to marvel at how vegans can make such a delicious chocolate chip cookie). It was never hard to find something you wanted to devour.

The wrap-up: The faculty is so giving, the participants are all excited, the workshop offers you so much inspiration, and the city of Portland is not to be missed.


To learn more about the Tin House Summer Writers’ Workshop, visit:


David Wojciechowski lives and dies in Syracuse, NY where he is a Poetry Editor for Salt Hill.