Day 4 of our Paris Retreat: Tour de Workshop


For Sunday’s class, our participants engaged in the first of our retreat’s writing workshops. Led by CWW directors Rita Banerjee and Diana Norma Szokolyai, our participants shared samples of their writing with the class. The participants came to the meeting having read six short pieces sent out the previous evening and with notes for critique.IMG_1369

The workshop was based around the Liz Lerman method of writing workshops. In this method, the critiques are done in three stages. The first is to discuss what is at stake in the piece. The second is to offer any notes and positive feedback. The third is where the constructive critique is offered, as well as where the author can answer any questions.


Our writers will hopefully take this feedback and apply it to their work, whether it is a revision on the piece critiqued or for any of their other writing. The Tour de France may have concluded today, but this workshop offered the beginning of some new creative work.IMG_1480

Day 3 of our Retreat: Wandering the Gardens of Versailles

Today we took a break from our writing and yoga workshops. The CWW arranged an excursion to the Chateau de Versailles. Our staff and participants headed outside Paris to the former home of Louis XIV to view the palatial gardens. While wandering around the expansive grounds, our team saw some sculptures by world famous artist Anish Kapoor. Tonight was a special Musical Garden show, where all the fountains and gardens were lit up and timed with classical music to create illuminating and creative shows. The evening ended with a fireworks show, bringing an explosive end to a wonderful day.

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Day 2 in Paris: Building Character and Practicing Yoga


Day 2 of our summer Paris retreat began with our usual congregation on our hotel patio. Today, CWW directors Rita Banerjee and Diana Norma Szokolyai led a workshop on character development. Szokolyai shared a few tips for making believable and memorable characters, even sharing a few writing exercises from authors like Rachel Basch, Cai Emmons, and Edie Meidav. Banerjee discussed the differences between dynamic and flat characters, and even talked about how both can be useful for a story. IMG_1267


The class also shared some of their favorite dynamic characters, ranging from novels like Invisible Man to shows like The Sopranos. The lecture ended with participants by writing short prompts based on the exercises, using their own characters or people they noticed walking around the Rue Daguerre.



Some of our students also went to Elissa Lewis’ yoga classes today. Hosted at a nearby yoga studio, Lewis led two 45 minute sessions, using a variety of yoga styles and practices, including the use of aromatherapy.


It was a quiet day today, but most of our participants are taking it easy. Tomorrow, some of our participants will be heading to Versailles to see the palace and the events there, so be sure to check back to see how that goes.





First Day of our Paris Retreat Offers a Lesson in Brevity and a Special Reading from Our Guest Teacher

davpic The first day of our summer yoga and writing retreat began with an excellent workshop from our guest lecturer, David Shields. Shields presented a lecture on the art of brevity. This was to help our participants practice writing less words than they normally would, but still managing to be effective with what they did write. IMG_1184 After reading some examples from authors like Amy Hempel and Jerome Stern, the participants took some time to try and write their own brief pieces before sharing them with the group. IMG_1185       IMG_1220
Later that evening, our participants gathered at Shakespeare and Company, one of the oldest and most famous bookstores in Paris. IMG_1244 IMG_1245There, Shields read excerpts from his most recent book, I Think You’re Totally Wrong, a novel he co-wrote with his friend and former student, Caleb Powell. Reading for Powell was Charles Recourse’, Shields’ French translator. IMG_1227IMG_1230IMG_1242The two were introduced by CWW director Rita Banerjee, and answered audience questions following the reading. The event concluded with some complementary wine from the Shakespeare and Company staff and an author signing by Shields. IMG_1254IMG_1249IMG_1222

Just the beginning of our retreat in lovely paris…

We were thrilled to begin our writing and yoga retreat in Paris today! People trickled in the hotel Daguerre with their luggage throughout the morning and afternoon. Some crashed in their comfy room after a long voyage. Other people explored the vastness of rue Daguerre, a street bustling with brasseries, book shops, artisan chocolateries, patisseries, a very tempting massage parlor, an accordion shop and so on.  


The group got together for the first time at 5pm for orientation. We followed that up with a game of literary taboo, a writing exercise where you must omit any ‘taboo’ words that are listed on your card. We followed that up with a champagne toast to Cambridge Writers’ workshop. 
We didn’t have to walk far to enjoy a delicious dinner at the restaurant on the 1st floor of our hotel. We loved the gorgeous moroccan decor, the thriving plants, the comfortable bench seats you can sink into decorated with bright pillows, and the family’s cat, canelle, who apparently loves to snuggle. The diner was to die for, fluffy couscous and tender chicken complimented with raisins and harissa. We’re off to a good start! 

Join us at the Brooklyn Book Festival (September 20, 7-9pm at Muchmore’s, Brooklyn, NY)


Join the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop for a Brooklyn Bookend Reading at Muchmore’s (located at 2 Havemeyer Street) on September 20 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The event will be moderated by Diana Norma Szokolyai and includes writers Rita Banerjee, Jonah Kruvant, Brandon Lewis, Elizabeth Devlin, Lisa Marie Basile, Gabriella Rieger Lapkoff, Jessica Reidy, Gregory Crosby, Matty Marks, and Emily Smith. Some of the writers are emerging on the literary scene with a bang, and many other writers have recently published their first or second books, and have received prestigious awards. Enjoy a drink and a bite to eat in the heart of Williamsburg as you hear from some of New York’s most exciting, new voices, many of whom are faculty members for the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop.

The Brooklyn Book Festival is the largest free book event in New York City and presents established as well as emerging writers each year. The Bookend Events kick off the week’s festivities each year with literary themed events at clubs, bookstores, parks, etc.


Featured Readers:

DianaNormaDiana Norma Szokolyai is a writer/interdisciplinary artist/educator and Executive Artistic Director of Cambridge Writers’ Workshop. She frequently records her poetry with musicians and has collaborated with several composers, such as Jason Haye (UK), Sebastian Wesman (Argentina), Peter James (UK), Julie Case (US), Jeremie Jones (Canada), Claudio Gabriele (Italy) and David Krebs (US). Her poetry-music collaboration with Flux Without Pause led to their collaboration “Space Mothlight” hitting the Creative Commons Hot 100 list in 2015, and can be found in the curated WFMU Free Music Archive. Her writing on literary communities was the subject of a monthly feature on HER KIND by VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts and an interview on the same topic was featured in Quail Bell Magazine in May 2014. Author of the poetry collections Parallel Sparrows (honorable mention for Best Poetry Book in the 2014 Paris Book Festival) and Roses in the Snow (first runner-­‐‑up Best Poetry Book at the 2009 DIY Book Festival), she has also been published in Quail BellInternational Who’s Who in Poetry 2012, Lyre Lyre, The Boston Globe, Dr. Hurley’s Snake Oil Cure, Polarity, The Fiction Project, Up the Staircase Quarterly and elsewhere. Her writing has been anthologized in Always Wondering, The Highwaymen NYC #2, Other Countries: Contemporary Poets Rewiring HistoryThe Cambridge Community Poem, and Teachers as Writers. She co-­curates a poetry-music series, performs in CHAGALL PAC, and is an interdisciplinary performance artist with the Brooklyn Soundpainting Ensemble. She lives in Brooklyn, NY and holds an Ed.M degree in Arts in Education from Harvard, as well as an M.A. in French literature from UConn.

Rita Banerjee is a writer, and received her PhD in Comparative Literature from Harvard University. She holds an MFA in Poetry and her writing has been published in Poets for Living Waters, The New Renaissance, The Fiction Project, Jaggery, The Crab Creek Review, The Dudley Review, Objet d’Art, Vox Populi, Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure, and Chrysanthemum among other journals. Her first collection of poems,Cracklers at Night, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2010 and received First Honorable Mention for Best Poetry Book at the 2011-2012 Los Angeles Book Festival. Her novella, A Night with Kali, was digitized by the Brooklyn Art-house Co-op in 2011. She is a co-director of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop, and her writing has been recently featured on HER KIND by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and on KBOO Radio’s APA Compass in Portland, Oregon.

Jonah Kruvant is one of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop’s  NYC area program organizers and is also a teacher, performer, writer, and student of the world.  He used to live in Costa Rica, where he wrote a popular blog, “From Gaijin to Gringo: Living Abroad in Costa Rica.”  His writing has been published in Digital Americana, and you can read about his adventures in Latin America here:


Lisa Marie Basile is the author of APOCRYPHAL, along with two chapbooks, Andalucia (Poetry Society of NY) and War/lock (Hyacinth Girl Press, February, 2015). She is the editor-in-chief of Luna Luna Magazine and her poetry and other work can be seen in PANK, the Tin House blog, Coldfront, The Nervous Breakdown, The Huffington Post, Best American Poetry, PEN American Center, Dusie, and the Ampersand Review, among others. She’s been profiled in The New York Daily News, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, Poets & Artists Magazine, Relapse Magazine and others. Lisa Marie Basile was the visiting poet at Westfield High School and New York University, and she was a visiting writer at Boston’s Emerson College. Her work was selected by Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Olen Butler for inclusion in the Best Small Fiction 2015 anthology and was nominated for inclusion in the Best American Experimental Writing 2015 anthology. She holds an MFA from The New School and works as an editor and writer.

BrandonLewisBrandon Lewis lives and teaches in NYC. He received an MFA in poetry at George Mason, and his writing has appeared or is forthcoming in such places as The Missouri Review, The Massachusetts Review, Salamander, Drunken Boat, American Poetry Review, and Spork. This year he won the Sundog Lit Poetry Contest and was recently a finalist for The Brittingham Prize and the Crab Orchard Review Series.

Elizabeth Devlin is a modern day renaissance woman.  If she is not composing music for the solo, autoharp wielding, singer-songwriter act, ELIZABETH DEVLIN, she can be found crafting Illustrations/Graphics at DEVLIN DESIGN AND ILLUSTRATION, playing electric bass and singing as front woman for Brooklyn based rock band, VALVED VOICE, or curating a fresh new line-up for the THE HIGHWAYMEN NYC, a Brooklyn based, monthly, poetry reading series that meets on the full moon.

Jessica Reidy earned her MFA in Fiction at Florida State University and a B.A. from Hollins University. Her work is Pushcart-nominated and has appeared in Narrative Magazine as Short Story of the Week, The Los Angeles Review, Arsenic Lobster, and other journals. She’s a staff-writer and the Outreach Editor for Quail Bell Magazine, Managing Editor for VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts, Art Editor for The Southeast Review, and Visiting Professor for the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop retreats. She teaches creative writing and is a certified yoga instructor and Reiki Master. Jessica also works her Romani (Gypsy) family trades, fortune telling, energy healing, and dancing. Jessica is currently writing her first novel set in post-WWII Paris about Coco Charbonneau, the half-Romani burlesque dancer and fortune teller of Zenith Circus, who becomes a Nazi hunter. You can learn more at

Gregory Crosby‘s poems have appeared in Court Green, Epiphany, Copper Nickel, Leveler, Ping Pong & Rattle, among others. He is co-curator of the long- running EARSHOT reading series and is co-editor, with Jillian Brall, of the online poetry journal Lyre Lyre.  He has served as a host and panelist for several Cambridge Writers’ Workshop events, including 2012 & 2013 Brooklyn Lit Crawl, the 2012 Mass Poetry Festival, and  our live radio shows.

Matty Marks is a 30 yr old musician, writer and sports enthusiast.  Creating art has been a lifelong endeavor that is a constant source of fun and pride.  Dunks is his first and only novel.  It combines many elements of his own life to create a rated R young adult novel that today’s teenagers can relay relate to.  However, it’s also a fun book for anyone of any age who can relate to the wild side of life, resulting from pushing boundaries to find yourself.

eb8tc9Emily Smith is an Editing and Communications Intern for the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop. Originally from Sarasota, Florida, she currently attends school at the New Hampshire Institute of Art where she studies Creative Writing and Art History. She writes for Opposing Views, Highbrow Magazine and a number of health websites run by Deep Dive Media. Her poetry has been published in Walleyed Press, Essence Poetry, and Ayris.

CWW Artistic Director Diana Norma Szokolyai for VIDA: Report From The Field – The Defensive Male Writer

[ Originally published as an Op-Ed on VIDA Women in the Literary Arts: Report from the Field ]

There are so many very important articles on the victimization of women in society.  And this is not one of them. Nope. This is an altogether different take—this is about when the male writer feels threatened by the empowered female writer.  Is it because he does not understand her?  Is it because she does not fit his mold of the iconic “writer” model, complete with a tweed jacket and dark-rimmed glasses, and —of course—a penchant for craft beer?  It could be one of many reasons, including the simultaneous exoticizing and diminution of women who write.

Being a female and a writer has its interesting twists (I purposely am not saying “woman writer” or “female writer” because we rarely make the distinction “man writer” or “male writer”).  Women need to have their voices heard, but they don’t need their voices to be ghettoized into a special bookstore category of “women’s writing.”  This suggests that men’s writing is the default and that women’s writing is some sort of sub-category, or—worse—something that happens far off on the exotic island where women write, certainly not on the main continent of male writing.

I am one of the founders and Executive Artistic Director of a literary organization, the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop.  We have been leading writing workshops and retreats since 2008, and coincidentally, the founding co-Director and Executive Creative Director, Rita Banerjee, also happens to be female.  We are always surprised when, occasionally, people assume that we are a women’s-only organization simply because the directors are women.  Something tells me the same would not apply if the directors were male.  In fact, we have a balanced ratio of men and women on our executive board and our summer writing retreat in Paris this summer, for instance.  Also, there are men as well as women who serve as our faculty members on our retreats. The anthology that several members of the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop are editing, CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing, also has a balanced representation of genders.


When we share about our programs, we mostly get positive responses.  However, sometimes we get some strange responses (mainly from male writers) that show a distinctly defensive tone. Could it be that they somehow feel threatened?  Their responses never cease to amuse the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop team.  Recently, we shared about our writing retreats in Paris and Granada on a community forum.  One of the responses was to our Granada Writing Retreat Poster (which prominently features a painting of a female flamenco dancer) from the group moderator (a middle-aged male writer who shall remain un-named). He wrote,

 “Yeah, we do Flamenco dancing here all the time. You don’t need to go to Spain.” Later, there was a sardonic joke about how his “more serious” writers’ group would vote on “whether to have a Flamenco dance-off or to drink beer…I believe the beer vote carried the day.”

There are several problems I have with ridiculing a female Flamenco dancer image.  Is it the figure of a powerful female dancer, or the Romani (Gypsy) heritage that is being mocked?  The commenter assumes that this image cannot be associated with serious writing. What of Lorca and countless other writers who have been inspired by Flamenco and Andalucia?  The thing that strikes me is that this same commenter had nothing to say of the iconography of a lighthouse on our Newport retreat poster or the Eiffel Tower on our Paris retreat poster, which was also posted to the forum.  But the female Romani Flamenco dancer on our Granada poster…for him, this seemed an easy target!  I am going to make a suggestion—one that, I admit, makes an assumption.  I am going to assume that he simply could not process the power of this image, and perhaps it even threatened his limited world view. Yes, the body of a beautiful woman of color dancing can exist in a non-sexualized context—in the context of a serious writing workshop, with serious faculty committed to the writing process.

This same commenter completely wrote-off the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop program, citing a desperate comparison that his writing group was not for the likes of us, not “for aspiring writers” but rather “a real-world writer’s workshop now in its tenth consecutive year, moderated by two professional, multi-credentialed, traditionally published authors. I’m one of the moderators…the other is best-selling author, XX. We meet every Monday evening at 7 PM from 10 PM in XX.”  I immediately saw that this man, this apparently well-established writer (of low-brow thrillers and graphic novels) was feeling defensive!  I thought that perhaps he saw the CWW as a competitor, so I immediately took the higher road and apologized for infringing on his territory, writing “We apologize for the postings. We misunderstood and thought your group was an open platform for the community of writers to post. Just FYI, we are also a professional writers’ workshop that has been meeting regularly for the past eight years and hosting retreats for the past four years, with best-selling faculty members such as David Shields, Kathleen Spivack, and Peter Orner, etc. Please accept our apologies. Now that we understand the nature of your group, we see why posting other opportunities (that may be competition to your model) poses a problem. It won’t happen again! Best regards, Diana Norma and the CWW Team.”

Publically, on the forum, he accepted my apology, but in a private message to me he wrote: “Well…since our workshops focuses on actually producing work rather than retreats, there’s really not that much competition.”  More defensiveness covered in seeming nonchalance. Poor man, I thought. Did he not know what a retreat could do for a writer?  So many of us writers are holders of day jobs, with family responsibilities.  A retreat, as any serious writer would know, can afford the necessary space and time to complete a project and move our writing goals forward.  Many of our writers have finished novels, poetry manuscripts, screenplays, and more on our retreats.

Another male writer ridiculed the yoga component to our retreats, asking, “Why yoga? What does it have to do with writing?” He questioned the seriousness of the workshop, but later expressed that he really wasn’t that flexible.

That being said, I want to be clear that I’m not generalizing about the attitude of all male writers.  Many are sane and perfectly normal human beings, of course.  Some are on our faculty (such as David Shields, Peter Orner, and Steve Aubrey).  We recently had one commenter from another writing group out in Portland who said that they wished their writing group had yoga, like ours, saying “That would probably help us a lot.”

If you’re reading this and thinking…hmm…I need a writing retreat myself, we are offering scholarships to serious writers in three categories (Diversity, Student, and Parent) for our Paris (July 22-30) and Granada Writing Retreats (August 3-10).  Apply at

Recommended Reading: Celebrating the LGBT+ Community in Literature

In honor of the US Supreme Court’s decision on June 26 to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states, here are a few literary works that celebrate the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. – Emily Smith, Curator

“Brokeback Mountain” appears as a short story in Annie Proulx’s Close Range: Wyoming Stories. It follows the sexual tension between two ranch hands, Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, as they care for sheep at a seasonal grazing range. The two finally share an intense night in an isolated tent on the range, then carry on with their lives. Despite both marrying women and starting families, Ennis and Jack sporadically reunite over the course of twenty years. Reflecting on the story, Proulx mused that it explores the difference between who people think they are and what befalls them.


The fairy tale of Peter Pan is retold in Sassafras Lowrey’s Lost Boi – a world in which the orphaned, abandoned and runaways find common ground. Most importantly, the lost bois are trans* kids who were abandoned by their parents or by the failed social services system. In this retelling, Peter Pan is the savior of transgender children. Lowrey, a transgender author, has noted that the story works as part of the transgender civil rights movement in reclaiming mainstream and cultural touchstones.


In Nancy Garden’s controversial novel Annie on My Mind, Annie and Liza meet during a rainy day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and instantly become friends. Though Liza goes to a private school in an upscale neighborhood and Annie attends a public school “far uptown,” the two grow close and eventually fall in love. Because the book was written for young adults and many copies reside in public school libraries, it is often criticized by parents. During one incident, copies of the book were actually burned; however, the novel is so popular that’s it’s never been out of print.


The Hours, a novel by Michael Cunningham, explores the lives of three different women in three different time periods who are affected by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. The first is Woolf herself, the second is a closeted housewife reading Mrs. Dalloway in 1949, and the third is socialite and bisexual Clarissa Vaughan who plans a summer party in 2001. The story structure mimics Woolf’s famous stream-of-consciousness style in that the narratives of each woman often flow into each other in unpredictable ways.

Nightwood is a Modernist novel by Djuna Barnes and one of the first to ever explicitly portray gay sex. The story follows Robin Vote and the characters that fall in love with her: her husband Baron Felix Volkbein, as well as her lovers Nora Flood and Jenny Petherbridge. It becomes increasingly obvious throughout the novel that Robin will never settle down, instead radically favoring polyamory. Many of the characters often seek out advice from Matthew O’Connor, a transgender medical student who acts as more of a spiritual doctor than a physical one.

Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms is a Southern Gothic that follows the life of Joel Harrison Knox and his experience on an isolated Mississippi plantation. Joel struggles to come to terms with his sexual identity, but finds acceptance to be a liberation and not a surrender.

In 1970, Audre Lorde published Cables to Rage, which featured one of her most famous poems: “Martha.” The poem detailed Lorde’s experience coming out as a lesbian and the recovery of a former lover following a car crash. In the poem, Martha’s family arrives and the narrator sends them away, since both women have sacrificed their traditional family lives to have a relationship with each other. The poem also appeared in Coal.

One of Gertrude Stein’s most notable works on sexuality is “Lifting Belly,” which originally appeared in Bee Time Vine and again in The Yale Gertrude Stein. The substantial poem was heralded as a “lesbian classic” and a gift to women who love women. The poem is most notable for its unabashed approach to lesbian eroticism; however, much of the poem consists merely of dialogue between two women.

Giovanni’s Room focuses on the life of an American man in Paris, especially his relationship with an Italian bartender named Giovanni who works at a gay bar. The tragedy, written by James Baldwin, is remembered by the narrator on the day that Giovanni is executed in France. The novel is often lauded for its complex examination of gay and bisexual men; Baldwin himself was an inspiring gay rights figure, since he was considered the leading literary voice of the civil rights movement.

The Dream of a Common Language is a collection of poetry written by poet and activist Adrienne Rich. The book was published in 1976 following Rich’s announcement that she identified as a lesbian; the second section, “Twenty One Love Poems,” addresses love between two women and the cultural need to recognize that love as valid. Rich’s poems also discuss the alienation and disintegration of lesbian relationships in a social climate that regards them as shameful.

Report From The Field: The Defensive Male Writer | VIDA: Women in Literary Arts


Our Executive Artistic Director, Diana Norma Szokoyai, has a new Op Ed in VIDA called “The Defensive Male Writer.”

Originally posted on DIANA NORMA SZOKOLYAI:

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I’d like to thank the editors at VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts for publishing my Op-Ed “The Defensive Male Writer.”

You can read it here:

Report From The Field: The Defensive Male Writer | VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.

And here are a couple of excerpts:

Being a female and a writer has its interesting twists (I purposely am not saying “woman writer” or “female writer” because we rarely make the distinction “man writer” or “male writer”).  Women need to have their voices heard, but they don’t need their voices to be ghettoized into a special bookstore category of “women’s writing.”  This suggests that men’s writing is the default and that women’s writing is some sort of sub-category, or—worse—something that happens far off on the exotic island where women write, certainly not on the main continent of male writing.

Yes, the body of a beautiful woman of color…

View original 22 more words

The Munich Readery Presents “An Evening with Peter Orner” – June 30, 2015 * 8 – 9 pm

peter-ornerAn Evening with Peter Orner
Moderated by Rita Banerjee
The Munich Readery * 8 – 9 pm
Augustenstr. 104, Munich, Germany

The Munich Readery is proud to host Guggenheim fellow and American fiction writer, Peter Orner on Tuesday June 30 for “An Evening with Peter Orner.”  Orner be reading from the novel Love and Shame and Love as well as from the story collection, Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge.  “I am very happy about coming back to Munich, a city I’ve always admired for its sense of calm, its architecture, food, and kind people. It’s a city I also love to wander around in and have been happily lost on its streets a number of times….” – Peter Orner

Peter Orner is an American writer and the author of four books of fiction. His first book, Esther Stories was a Finalist for the Pen Hemingway Award and Winner of the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and has been recently re-issued with a new introduction by Marilynne Robinson. His novel, The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo, set in Namibia, has been translated widely, including in German by Hanser. Love and Shame and Love, Orner’s second novel, has also recently been published in German by Hanser. Orner’s most recent book, a collection of stories, Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge was named a New York Times Editor’s Choice Book last year. Orner has also published two books of non-fiction, a book on immigration in the U.S. and another about political violence in Zimbabwe. Orner is a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient, and has taught at The University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Bard College, The University of Montana, and teaches in the MFA Program at San Francisco State University. He lives in Bolinas, California where he is a proud member of the Bolinas Volunteer Fire Department.