Craft in the Real World: Rethinking Fiction Writing and Workshopping (Paperback)
Craft in the Real World by Matthew Salesses is a breath of fresh air. As a person of color and a writer, I found Salesses’ takes on craft and the workshop relieving and hopeful for the future, a sensation that I did not think would apply an institution so deeply rooted in tradition. He brings about aspects of craft that I’ve never thought about in the context of colonialism and imperialism, points that serve as good reminders of fiction writers that the rules are made up; who makes up the rules means that they have the most power (mwahaha).
Though I am not yet in an MFA program, I have witnessed the result of the MFA in published works and even in some aspects of the workshops that I have participated in. Salesses seemed to take the questions from my subconscious and explain the necessary changes that must be made to the modern workshop in order for it progress and survive. He makes clear throughout the text that in order for the workshop to be as inclusive as our world, we must break down the foundations dominated by whiteness for so long and challenge aspects that have not been challenged before.
With this book, I find not only hope but power. Though I know that change doesn’t happen every night, this book allows me to ask the necessary questions when I need to. Along with great craft exercises, and an emphasis of mindfulness in workshopping fiction and the imagination, I’ve learned that I never have to go through a workshop thinking that I am not suited for it.— Jazmine
This national bestseller is "a significant contribution to discussions of the art of fiction and a necessary challenge to received views about whose stories are told, how they are told and for whom they are intended" (Laila Lalami, The New York Times Book Review).
The traditional writing workshop was established with white male writers in mind; what we call craft is informed by their cultural values. In this bold and original examination of elements of writing—including plot, character, conflict, structure, and believability—and aspects of workshop—including the silenced writer and the imagined reader—Matthew Salesses asks questions to invigorate these familiar concepts. He upends Western notions of how a story must progress. How can we rethink craft, and the teaching of it, to better reach writers with diverse backgrounds? How can we invite diverse storytelling traditions into literary spaces?
Drawing from examples including One Thousand and One Nights, Curious George, Ursula K. Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, and the Asian American classic No-No Boy, Salesses asks us to reimagine craft and the workshop. In the pages of exercises included here, teachers will find suggestions for building syllabi, grading, and introducing new methods to the classroom; students will find revision and editing guidance, as well as a new lens for reading their work. Salesses shows that we need to interrogate the lack of diversity at the core of published fiction: how we teach and write it. After all, as he reminds us, "When we write fiction, we write the world."
About the Author
Matthew Salesses is the author of three novels, Disappear Doppelgänger Disappear, The Hundred-Year Flood, and I'm Not Saying, I'm Just Saying, and a forthcoming essay collection. He has taught at Coe College, the Ashland MFA program, the Tin House and Kundiman summer workshops, and writing centers like Grub Street and Inprint, among others. He has edited fiction for Gulf Coast, Redivider, and The Good Men Project and has written about craft and creative writing workshops for venues like NPR's Code Switch, The Millions, Electric Literature, and Pleiades. He was adopted from Korea and currently lives in Iowa.
Esquire, A Best Book of the Year
"Salesses is clearly a generous instructor, willing to share ideas for syllabus design, grading techniques and writing exercises. He brings to this work many years of experience as a writer and professor, along with palpable frustration at what he has witnessed or endured in these roles . . . Craft in the Real World is a significant contribution to discussions of the art of fiction and a necessary challenge to received views about whose stories are told, how they are told and for whom they are intended." —Laila Lalami, The New York Times Book Review
"A real eye opener . . . It unpacks the seemingly ‘universal’ lessons we learn about what makes fiction good to reveal how whiteness and maleness have shaped those values." —Kumari Devarajan, Code Switch, NPR
"In this firmament-shattering examination of how we teach creative writing, Salesses, a novelist and professor, builds a persuasive argument for tearing up the rulebook. Tracing the traditional writing workshop to its roots in white, male cultural values, Salesses challenges received wisdom about the benchmarks of 'good' fiction, arguing that we must reimagine how we write and how we teach. Only then will our canon and our classrooms be the inclusive, expansive spaces we want them to be." —Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire, A Best Book of the Year
"A call for revolution . . . For those interested in teaching creative writing, particularly through an anti-racist lens, Salesses provides not only the what and the why but the how. His book is a compendium of essays, enumerated thoughts on craft, a glossary of redefined craft terms, a catalogue of alternative workshop models, sample syllabus language, writing and revision exercises, and other forms—the full generosity of an experienced teacher saying, 'Here, you’re welcome to everything I have.'" —Keri Bertino, BOMB
"An analytic investigation into the racialized history of craft and the ways BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and other underrepresented voices are erased in creative writing workshops . . . An essential read to any writer or creative writing instructor, regardless of genre . . . Craft in the Real World feels like a literary microcosm for the current global state of affairs. There is the sensation that readers are at once learning and unlearning, doing and undoing . . . It encourages writers, readers, and teachers to get uncomfortable in order to create more inclusive realities." —Candace Eros Diaz, CRAFT
"The world has changed, and the writing workshop must catch up. An essential addition to the bookshelf of anyone interested in creative writing, Salesses’ text provides a compassionate approach sure to bring a new generation of authentic voices to the page." —BookPage (starred review)
"This book is a stunning conflagration, and I wish I had it with me for the past twenty plus years of navigating writing workshops, both as student and teacher. It is a blueprint for a way forward to build better writing programs, and thus a new kind of writer and teacher who can imagine beyond a structure that often hurt them and left them in need of repair . . . Salesses has offered both a torch to light the fire, and a safe path to the new world that we can now start to build." —Neelanjana Banerjee, The Millions