CWW Summer in Granada Writing Retreat Faculty Alexander Chee featured in The New York Times

Last year author Alexander Chee joined the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop as our fiction instructor for our 2016 Summer in Granada, Spain Writing Retreat. Now Chee has been chosen as one of four authors to share stories of how love and travel intersect for The New York Times’s debut Love Issue. The his essay, “In Spain, Secrets and a Possible Betrayal,” Chee recounts traveling to Granada during the summer with a former boyfriend, referred to as M. in the piece. In the essay, Chee writes:

M. loved poets, wrote poetry, sometimes wrote me poems, and his favorite poets all seemed to have met violent or tragic deaths, including Lorca. The day we visited Lorca’s house in Granada, we found the whole of it kept much as it was when he was there. I noticed the roses in the vases were almost gone, ready to be replaced, while roses bloomed outside. I imagined the poet had planted them, or at least tended them, but I didn’t want to ask in case it wasn’t true. I can still see the shrug as the tour guide said, “Yes, he was the son of a wealthy man,” a detail I wrote down in my notebook, along with how we all then looked at the beautiful wooden desk that seemed like a boat. I didn’t know why the guide said that and still don’t. Just as I don’t know why a book of his poems on the desk that day was open to “Poet in New York” — his other city.

Lorca’s murder had made him Granada’s presiding ghost. If his body had vanished at the hands of fascist murderers, he was everywhere there now, his face and words on mugs, T-shirts, restaurant menus and graffiti nearly anywhere you looked.

Unlike M., I already spoke Spanish. I needed to go to Paris and London to research my second novel, so we planned a summer trip across Europe to combine our aims, beginning with me in London and Paris, where he would join me, then Granada, beginning in July and concluding in late August…

M. had chosen our apartment because it was opposite the Alhambra, the magnificent historic Moorish palace on the hill across from our neighborhood, the Albaicín. The Darro ran between us. Our roof patio was opposite a simple mirador with a fountain, where there always seemed to be people playing guitar and smoking marijuana, with whom we exchanged waves. The apartment was simple and clean, its magnificence concentrated in the patio view of the palace and the city. Each room was on a different floor off a spiral staircase, the apartment as winding as the hill it was on. We left and returned by climbing a series of winding footpaths and side streets, and if I was confused, at night, I was always able to follow the guitar music home…

M.’s days at the school began early and were long, and left to my own devices, I would write for a few hours and then walk through the side streets, where I mapped the ancient cathedrals, most of which had been mosques before the expulsion of the Muslims, and then had the traditional breakfast of bread with tomate, a fresh tomato purée on toast, and olive oil. In Granada, there are usually two kinds of olive oil on the tables to put on, it seemed, anything you ate, but especially for this.

Read Alexander Chee’s full essay on his summer spent writing in Granada here.

The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Summer in Granada Writing Retreat will take place from August 2-6, 2017.  Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Andalucía, Granada is one of the gems of Spain and has inspired writers from Washington Irving to Salman Rushdie to Ali Smith. Let the old city stimulate your writing with its winding streets, Moorish history, and evocative landscapes.  Work on your existing manuscript, or look to the beauty and warmth of Granada to inspire all-new projects.  During the retreat, we will be staying at the Hotel Guadalupe, just a short walk from the Alhambra.  The retreat offers multi-genre workshops, as well as craft seminars and time to write. The faculty includes award-winning writers Tim Horvath, Alexandria Marzano-LesnevichRita Banerjee, and Diana Norma Szokolyai. Genres include fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.  The cost of the retreat is $2950, which includes tuition, lodging, and daily breakfast.  Apply at by May 1, 2015!

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee: A Review by Alex Carrigan

QueenoftheNightWhat makes a great opera? Is it the music? The costumes? The story? Or can it become great for the performer who helms the leading role? Novelist and CWW 2016 Summer in Granada Writing Retreat faculty member Alexander Chee’s latest work, The Queen of the Night is a historical fiction novel that follows Lilliet Berne, a Parisian opera sensation in the late 19th century. Lilliet receives an offer for an original role, an honor most opera performers only dream of. However, when she discovers that the opera is based heavily on her past, she embarks on a journey to discover how the work came to be. The novel traces Lilliet’s journey, beginning with her childhood as an American frontiersman’s daughter. Readers watch as Lilliet joins a circus and a brothel, serves the Empress of France, studies under opera legends, and ultimately arrives at her current status as one of France’s most famous opera singers.

Chee’s novel is a historical epic, and Lilliet is a character in the vein of a Dickens protagonist. Her life takes so many turns, and she is forced to navigate using her wit and talent for assuming new roles.

alexandercheeThough this shape-shifting proves convenient, Lilliet struggles to discern how much control she has over any one of her personas. While she cycles easily through roles, she finds herself influenced, even dominated, by others, and most of the conflict in the book comes from run-ins with authority figures. The most dangerous is a tenor singer who tries to morph Lilliet into the opera legend of his fantasies. Lilliet, dubbed a Falcon soprano due to her unique and potentially temporary style of singing, is often associated with falcons and other avian imagery. Lilliet is a master at “flying” from dangerous people and situations and finding a way to survive.

It is true that Chee’s novel is a hefty read, but I never found myself losing interest. I found Lilliet fascinating–multidimensional and endowed with a unique voice.  She is strong and clever, but she also possesses very human faults.

I also admire the way Chee conveyed opera in the story. It can be difficult to communicate performance, which relies so heavily on visual and audio, in prose. However, Chee’s book manages to convey all the operas and performances via detailed imagery and clever diction. Even the more abstract operas were so well fleshed as to remind me of a George Méliès film.  I only wanted to see them realized on the stage.

Overall, The Queen of the Night is a wonderful novel. Liliette is a strong and fascinating character, and Chee tells her story in precise, rich prose. I am very excited to read more Alexander Chee, and I am very excited for the Historical Fiction course he will be teaching at our Granada retreat.

–Alex Carrigan, CWW Managing Intern

For more information on Alexander Chee and The Queen of the Night, visit his website here.

Apply to Barcelona & South of France & Granada, Spain Writing Retreats by May 30!

Rolling submissions for our Summer in Barcelona & South of France (July 18 – 26, 2016) & Summer in Granada, Spain (July 28 – August 5, 2016) Writing Retreats will be open until May 30, 2016 on!

The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Summer in Barcelona & South of France Writing Retreat  will take place from July 18-26, 2016, and the cost of the workshop is $3950, which includes lodging and breakfast in Barcelona, Spain and Narbonne, France, transportation from Barcelona to Narbonne, craft of writing seminars, and writing workshops.  Writers can also enjoy the full retreat program for $2950 with a shared lodging option. Writers can also attend the program for a retreat & manuscript consultation-only option (with private room) for $2150.

The retreat allows writers, both new and experienced, the opportunity to learn from and work alongside award-winning authors and editors. Participating writers will find themselves honing their craft and expanding their writing skills as they work on existing or brand new projects.  The retreat will be held at the Sercotel Amister Art Hotel Barcelona (Avinguda Roma, 93-95, 08029 Barcelona, Spain) and Hotel Novotel Narbonne Sud (130 Rue de l’Hôtellerie, 11100 Narbonne, France). Faculty includes Bret Anthony Johnston(fiction), David Shields (nonfiction, book-length essay), Diana Norma Szokolyai(poetry, nonfiction), and Rita Banerjee (poetry, fiction).

Join the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop on our summer writing retreat to the cultural oasis of Granada, Spain. Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Andalucía, Granada is one of the gems of Spain and has inspired writers from Washington Irving to Salman Rushdie to Ali Smith. Let the old city stimulate your writing with its winding streets, Moorish history, and evocative landscapes. Work on your existing manuscript, or look to the beauty and warmth of Granada to inspire all-new projects.

The retreat offers the opportunity for writers of all genres and levels to work alongside award-winning authors & editors to hone their craft and expand their writing skills, while working on new or existing projects. Our Andalucían writing retreat will take place from July 28-August 5, 2015, and the cost of the workshop is $3950, which includes lodging and breakfast, a tapas tour of Granada, craft of writing seminars, and writing workshops.  Writers can also enjoy the full retreat program for $2950 with a shared lodging option. Writers can also attend the program for a retreat & manuscript consultation-only option (with private room) for $2150.

The retreat will be held at the Hotel Guadalupe (Paseo de la Sabica, 30, 18009 Granada, Spain). Faculty includes David Shields (fiction, book-length essay), Alexander Chee (fiction), Rita Banerjee (poetry, fiction), and Diana Norma Szokolyai (poetry, nonfiction).


Cambridge Writers’ Workshop feat. in VIDA’s “In & Around 2016 AWP in Los Angeles”


The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop was recently featured in VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts’ article In and Around 2016 AWP in Los Angeles. The article lists events during AWP from VIDA friends and other events that help support women in the arts.

Listed in this article is our reading at Sabor y Cultura on Friday, April 1st from 4 pm- 7 pm. The event features fifteen readers from all over the world, including Rita BanerjeeJess BurnquistJulialicia CaseAriana KellyGwen E. KirbyKatie KnollEllaraine LockieOndrej PazdirekHeather Aimee O’NeillBrenda Peynado, Esther Pfaff, Jessica PiazzaJonathan ShapiroEmily Skaja, and Emily Smith.

The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop will be Table 1157 from March 31st-April 2nd. Come to our table to learn about our upcoming writing retreats in Newport, Rhode Island (April 22-25, 2016) , Barcelona & the South of France (July 18-26, 2016), and Granada, Spain (July  28-August 5, 2016). We’ll also have information on our internships and our CREDO Anthology, as well as some other goodies at our table. We’ll also be tweeting our AWP experience @CamWritersWkshp, so be sure to check that out during the week.  We can’t wait to see you all there this week!

Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Writing Retreats featured in Poets & Writers Magazine

1455965954_poets-writers-march-april-2016-1The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop was featured in the March/April 2016 edition of Poets & Writers magazine! The retreats were published under the Conferences & Residencies section of the magazine in the Poets & Writers 2016 Guide to Stress-Free Writers Retreats. The CWW is honored to be a part of the 2016 guide.

The feature included three of our 2016 retreats: Spring in Newport, Rhode Island Writing & Yoga Retreat (April 22-24, 2016), Summer in Barcelona & South of France Writing Retreat (July 18 – July 26, 2016), and Summer in Granada Writing Retreat (July 28 – August 5, 2016).  The retreats offer the opportunity for writers of all genres and levels to work alongside award-winning authors & editors to hone their craft and expand their writing skills, while working on new or existing projects.

Faculty includes Bret Anthony Johnston (Barcelona & Narbonne), David Shields (Barcelona & Narbonne, Granada), Alexander Chee (Granada), Jade Sylvan (Newport), Rita Banerjee (Barcelona & Narbonne, Granada), and Diana Norma Szokolyai (Barcelona & Narbonne, Granada, Newport).

If you’d like to join us, please apply online at by March 15, 2016, and include a $5 application screening fee, along with a writing sample of either five pages of poetry or ten pages of prose. (Due to limited seats, early applications are encouraged, but check for rolling admission after deadline, depending on availability).

The Queen of the Night, new novel by CWW Fiction Faculty Alexander Chee, debuts Feb 2

QueenoftheNightCongratulations to novelist Alexander Chee, our featured fiction faculty member on our 2016 Summer in Granada Writing Retreat, for his new novel The Queen of the Night, which debuts in bookstores on February 2, 2016! Alexander Chee will be teaching during our Summer in Granada, Andalucía, Spain Writing Retreat (July 28-Aug 5, 2016).

Alexander Chee was born in Rhode Island, and raised in South Korea, Guam and Maine. He is a recipient of the 2003 Whiting Writers’ Award, a 2004 NEA Fellowship in Fiction, and residency fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the VCCA, Ledig House, the Hermitage and Civitella Ranieri. His first novel, Edinburgh (Picador, 2002), is a winner of the Michener Copernicus Prize, the AAWW Lit Award and the Lambda Editor’s Choice Prize, and was a Publisher’s Weekly Best Book of the Year and a Booksense 76 selection.

In The Queen of the Night, Lilliet Berne is a sensation of the Paris Opera, a legendary soprano with every accolade except an original role, every singer’s chance at immortality. When one is finally offered to her, she realizes with alarm that the libretto is based on a hidden piece of her past. Only four could have betrayed her: one is dead, one loves her, one wants to own her. And one, she hopes, never thinks of her at all.

Read an excerpt from the first chapter of the novel below, and the full first chapter on Longreads:

“…I seemed a stranger to myself, a changeling placed here in my life at some point I couldn’t remem­ber, and the glass of the mirror at the entrance to the palace seemed made from the same amber of the dream that surrounded me, a life that was not life, and which I could not seem to escape no matter where I went or what I sang.

And so their celebration of me that night at the ball, sincere as it was, felt as if it were happening in the life neighboring mine, visible through a glass.

I tell you I was distracted, but it was much more than that. For I was also focused intensely, waiting for one thing and one thing only, my attention turned toward something I couldn’t quite see but was sure was there, coming for me through the days ahead. I’d had a premonition in accepting the role of Marguerite that, in returning to Paris this time, I would be here for a meeting with my destiny. Here I would find what would transform me, what would return me to life and make this life the paradise I was so sure it should be…”

Here is Chee reading an excerpt from the novel at Franklin Park Bar and Beer Garden in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Read more here. Join Alexander Chee for his talk at the PEN/Faulkner Reading Series at Bus Boy & Poets on February 11, 2016!

Robin Lindley interviews David Shields on the New York Times Glamorization of War


Bestselling author and our featured nonfiction faculty David Shields argues in his new book, War is Beautiful: The New York Times Pictorial Guide to the Glamour of Armed Conflict (Power House Books), that The New York Times glamorized acts of war by using images that softened the terror of battle. The book grew out of Shields’ concern with the paper’s compelling front-page war photos. To better understand how the Times portrayed war, he analyzed thousands of front-page photographs, and particularly full-color photos since 2001 of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. David Shields discusses this process and topic in the following excerpt of his interview with History News Network Features Editor Robin Lindley. 

David Shields will teach during our Summer in Barcelona & South of France Writing Retreat (July 18 – 26, 2016) and during our Summer in Granada Writing Retreat (July 28 – August 5, 2016). To apply, visit by March 15, 2016.

Robin Lindley: You make a case that The New York Times is complicit with power, particularly with the wars in the Middle East. You compare some of the photos you feature to recruiting posters. How is the Times’ relationship with power revealed in its history?

David Shields: That’s a complicated argument, but I ask what is the Times doing here, and what is the context of that? A good book about the history of the Times is called The Trust, and I quote the coauthors throughout the book.

The Times was founded in 1851 by a German-Jewish family. Anti-Semitism in the U.S., which was much more virulent than it is now, was visited against The New York Times, and it was accused of being “too Jewish” a newspaper.

There’s a strong argument to be made that the Times during the Holocaust, under this German-Jewish family, deliberately underreported the full extent of the atrocities. Afterward, the Times was properly criticized for underreporting those crimes against humanity.

My argument is that the Times has wildly overcorrected. The Times always wants to be at the dead center of American culture—to be complicit with American power and American government and to be always at the center of the conversation. That’s the Times’ brand.

With only a very few exceptions, the Times has rather aggressively supported every American military misadventure since World War II, to the point of having their editorial columnists like James Reston advising John F. Kennedy and at the same time editorializing in favor of the man who he was advising. This continued with Thomas Friedman who still advises Obama. And there was William Safire who advised Bush and editorialized in favor of Bush and Reagan.

So the point is that the Times underreported the Holocaust and was widely criticized for hugely failing in that coverage. Over the last 70 years, the Times has taken a rather bellicose, American masculine, militaristic posture toward war. It supported the Korean War, to a large extent the Vietnam War, and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. LBJ said, “I can’t win this war without the support of The New York Times.” Only very late in the Vietnam War did the Times join people like Walter Cronkite and express some skepticism.

That provides a socio-historical contextfor why the Times, founded by German Jews and being the victim of a lot of anti-Semitism from say 1850 to 1950, then overcorrected after World War II, and ever since has made sure it does not stray from a complicit bargain with the powers that be. For example,they’ll bury an article on page 27 that may have a slightly negative information about the war, but that front page, A1 photo, has huge power and sets the entire argument that the war is a sacrifice worth making, that the war is noble and dignified, and in a way a beautiful cultural enterprise.

I don’t know how conscious all of this is, but it seems almost a willful visual gesture that sends an unmistakable message to the powers that be and the culture as a whole that the war is a worthy sacrifice.

Robin Lindley: Stephen Colbert called the press, like Times’ reporter Judith Miller, “stenographers” for Bush and Cheney at a White House gala.

David Shields: That’s a point I try to make in the book. The reporting of [Times’ reporter] John F. Burns was disastrously credulous on the Iraq invasion, and with Judith Miller, he carried water for Bush-Cheney. These pictures are the visual equivalent.

My beef is less with the photographers and far more with the photo editors and page A1 editor. Photographers have told me off-the-record that they’re sending hundreds if not thousands of photos every week to the Times and every other institution. These pictures are criticized often for being “too violent,” of all things. Most people know that war is violent. Or pictures may be seen as “in bad taste.” But, as Picasso said, “the enemy of great art is good taste.” What I try to point out is how ludicrously tasteful these pictures are. It’s as if they’re covering war through a thick film of Vaseline—there’s very little war here.

I think some of the photographers are struck by how predictable it is that their less revelatory pictures and their more blandly compositionally beautiful pictures are the photos that get chosen, rather than the photos that more faithfully document the actual horror of war. It seems the Times is looking for pictures that aestheticize war rather that those that show what war is like.

Robin Lindley: I’ve interviewed some combat photojournalists, such as Michael Kamber, who edited an anthology of Iraq War photos called Photojournalists on War, and Peter van Agtmael on Disco Night 9/11, his book of photos on the Middle East wars abroad and at home. They both noted that photographers were frustrated by censorship at both ends—by the military abroad and by editors at home who seem to want to shield readers from the human reality of modern war.

David Shields: Exactly. I’ve been doing readings of the book around the country, and quite a few veterans and photographers come up to me and express gratitude for the book, and say the idea that these pictures say anything about war is so ludicrous, and it’s important to point out what an absolute horror storm war is. Some of them show me photos on their phones or physical photographs.

General Sherman said, “War is Hell,” and it would be good if these pictures pointed that out. The underlying message of the photos that the Times ran is that war is a very pretty and very distant event. There’s no hell here; just a mild heck. That seems to me worth pointing out because who knows when the next run up to the next war is, and who knows what country the U.S. will invade.

It would be good if we knew by what process we get sold the next war. One of the many ways war gets sold is in prominent magazines and newspapers. The New York Times disseminates a certain image and it really matters—unlike USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, or Fox News—because the Times is understood as being in the center or center-left, and the Times carries important cultural symbolism so it seems an important task to pull out these images from the so-called “Paper of Record” that is sending out unmistakably flag-waving, cheer-leading, pro-war messages through these pictures.

You mentioned censorship. A crucial part of the censorship and self-censorship is the military’s brilliant, Machiavellian move to embed and keep journalists and photojournalists from direct battle and to get the agreement of the media to, for example, not show pictures of caskets coming back from war.

These [policies] have created censorship as well as self-censorship for journalists and photojournalists sending material back home. They don’t have access to stories or situations that are terribly revelatory.

Robin Lindley: The Times seemed particularly reluctant to show images of wounded or dead American troops, whereas such images of Iraqis or Afghanis have been run. That reluctance may be an issue in every war. In World War II, Life magazine didn’t show images of dead Americans until 1943, with a photo of dead soldiers on a beach in New Guinea. And more recently, a Seattle photographer was officially reprimanded for photographing flag-draped coffins of American dead from Iraq.

David Shields: It’s a military policy I guess not to allow the media to show caskets coming back from war. And you have the embedding of journalists and photojournalists, and then you get the censorship. And then the Times is working overtime to access the highest levels of government and to deepen its brand as a quasi-Paper of Record.

Adding up all of these things, there’s almost nothing left. There’s no war there. There’s no attempt to document reality. It’s basically the war as screen saver, as wallpaper—a very distant aesthetic experience. Certainly, part of that is not to show the American dead except in a posture of composed relief. It seems the grief is kept out of frame in any true sense of agony or viscera or blood.

Some people criticize media outlets for showing gruesome images, and then there’s the Times at the other end in which there is a highly aestheticized and “dignified” war that is fought. It’s not that I have it all figured out or have found a newspaper or magazine that has embodied a perfect duration of these photographs. Certainly, after the Paris attacks, the BBC website and the Daily Telegraph of the U.K. showed more direct images. A Danish blogger also showed strikingly more revealing images than the Times with its self-periodically and comically glamorizing photos of Paris post-bombing.

In the book, the last few images are of a dead Iraqi soldiers left behind.

I think what’s so insidious is that it’s not as if the Times is overtly disseminating the most obvious propaganda by only showing dead soldiers of the enemy. The Times is much more subtle, and that bears mentioning. These pictures are not overt propaganda, as you might have seen in World War II, but I argue they are a not too oblique propaganda with the beautifying, sanctifying photographs.

Robin Lindley: Do you believe your book may prompt a change in how the Times and other publications decide on the images of war to carry—photos that capture the human consequences of war?

David Shields: That would be interesting. I saw the book as a long letter to the editor. I don’t read the Times anymore. I had read it for more than 40 years.

I ask that the Times think about the kind of power it has. It’s not what it had 30 or 40 years ago, or even ten years ago, but it has a certain power. So on some level this is an attempt to urge the Times to rethink its role, and to urge other similar newspapers and magazines to rethink their roles. I urge them also to depend less on complicit institutional journalism and more on independent thinkers and journalists and authors who are not beholden to institutional powers.

Read the full interview on History News Network here.

Robin Lindley is a Seattle-based writer and attorney, and the features editor of the History News Network ( His articles have appeared in HNN, Crosscut, Salon, Real Change, Documentary, Writer’s Chronicle, and others. He has a special interest in the history of conflict and human rights. His email:

David Shields is the internationally bestselling author of twenty books, including Reality Hunger (named one of the best books of 2010 by more than thirty publications), The Thing About Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead (New York Times bestseller), and Black Planet (finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award). Forthcoming from Knopf in February 2017 is Other People: Takes & Mistakes. The recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, Shields has published essays and stories in the New York Times Magazine, Harper’s, Esquire, Yale Review, Village Voice, Salon, Slate, McSweeney’s, and Believer. His work has been translated into twenty languages.  He is teaching at the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Summer in Barcelona and South of France (July 18-26, 2016) and Summer in Granada (July 28 – August 5, 2016) Writing Retreats.

“All Roads Lead to Rome” feat. Erica Buettner

EricaBuettner-CWWBack in February 2012 when the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop opened our office in Brooklyn, New York, singer-songwriter Erica Buettner came to help us inaugurate our workshop and move to Brooklyn.  Erica also joined the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop on August 3, 2015, when many of members of our writing faculty and participants of our Summer in Paris Writing Retreat read at SpokenWord Paris.  This past August, Erica performed her new song, “Rome,” which celebrates the victories and challenges of being a wandering bard.

In honor of our upcoming Summer Writing Retreat in Barcelona & Narbonne, France (July 18-26, 2016) and Summer Writing Retreat in Granada, Spain (July 28 – August 5, 2016), we’d like to feature the debut of Erica’s new song, “Rome.”  Come join us in Europe this summer on all our roads to “Rome.”  Our summer writing retreats in France and Spain offer opportunities for writers of all genres and levels to work alongside award-winning authors & editors.  Past faculty include Kathleen Spivack, David Shields, Peter Orner, Diana Norma Szokolyai, Stephen Aubrey, Rita Banerjee, Jessica Reidy, and Elissa LewisStay tuned for information on our retreats and registration deadlines!