On Our Shelves
"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," this manifesto and practical guide challenges current models of craft and the writing workshop by showing how they fail marginalized writers, and how cultural expectations inform storytelling (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
"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
"Required reading for creative writing teachers, Matthew Salesses’s Craft in the Real World is an argument and a guide for upending the traditional workshop model and our conceptions of craft." —Literary Hub, One of the Most Anticipated Books of the Year
"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)
"A critical addition to the pedagogical canon, laying out how the traditional workshop form and many ideas about 'craft' have been envisioned largely by and for white male writers. The book includes exercises and advice for revision and editing and guiding teachers through reimagining what it is to teach and encourage writers." —The Millions, One of the Most Anticipated Books of the Year
"The MFA and its traditional workshop model have long been criticized and challenged, but rarely does it ever change—until now . . . This book forces people to ask, What have we been centering in the MFA world? What do we value—and who is 'we,' by the way?—in workshops and how does this affect diverse writers? How can we change the landscape of creative writing? This book is a start, and I hope it winds up in every writing teacher and MFA instructor’s hands as required reading." —Jaime Herndon, Book Riot
"A fresh view of teaching craft to writers of diverse backgrounds . . . An insightful guide for readers, writers, and instructors from all walks of life." —Kirkus Reviews