Photos by communications intern Liubov K. '25 and program leader Mitch Kohn
Iowa Writers' Workshop
In 2015, Buckley partnered with the prestigious non-fiction Iowa Writers’ Workshop at Iowa University, led by English teacher Mitch Kohn. “I asked John [D’Agata, head of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop Non-Fiction Program and author of The Lifespan of a Fact, which was recently an off-Broadway play, and other critically acclaimed books] if he would come to speak to Buckley kids," says Kohn. "He responded, ‘Why don’t you come here?’”
The first year was a huge success, and every March since then, during Buckley’s pupil-free days for prose writing, Kohn takes a group of about 20 Upper School students to cozy, snowy, collegiate Iowa City for two days of non-fiction writing workshops.
All Buckley Fellows are second-year graduate students in the Non-Fiction Writers’ Workshop, a three-year program. Of the 10 graduate students in Iowa’s Non-Fiction Writing program, four are selected to lead “Buckley Master Classes,” based on ideas they pitch to Bonnie Sunstein, the current head of the Nonfiction Writing Program. This year, the workshops were led by Carrie Dunne, Georgie Fehringer, Jonathan Gleason, and Tatiana Schlote-Bonneand.
Art and culture writing is all about observation and interpretation, crucial skills that every writer needs to craft compelling prose. And it’s not always just about the art itself— as we contextualize a work within broader social and political conversations, we often discover more about both ourselves and the world around us. In this class, we’ll read writers who have written artfully about art, from Hilton Als to Olivia Laing to John Berger, and learn how to craft our own critical essays along the way. We’ll discuss how to avoid the type of overwrought art-speaky gibberish that might come to mind when we think about “art criticism,” opting instead for clear, elegant prose that draws meaning out of even the most inscrutable works. We’ll pay particular attention to the ways that we translate images, sounds, and emotions into words — a valuable skill both on and off the page.
Carey Dunne is a third-year MFA Candidate in the Nonfiction Writing Program and former editor at Hyperallergic, an arts and culture magazine. She has written for The Guardian, The Baffler, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.
Horror, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance: why have these genres traditionally been thought of as less worthy of literary merit than realism, and how can the structure and fantastical features of these genres expand our work in new ways. In this master class, we will scare, tantalize, mystify and impress each other by taking our nonfiction to impossible places. We will read short works in which authors use horror as a metaphor for their own troubled pasts, science fiction as a way to illuminate the difficulty of caring for a sick loved one, and mystery as a structure to narrate the inexplicable death of a family member. We will write our own nonfiction essay using genre conventions that push the limits of what is “true.” And as we write and read, we will consider how the conventions of other genres can enhance nonfiction and what stories can be better told when freed from the constraints of strict realism.
Jonathan Gleason is a third-year MFA student in the Nonfiction Writing program where he is working on a thesis that explores genre conventions and problems of memory of accuracy in memoir. His work has previously appeared in the New England Review, Kenyon Review, Michigan Quarterly, and others.
Want to make that time you were rejected to homecoming or lost your PowerPoint presentation the day of the big project the most nail-biting narrative? In this master class, we’ll take seemingly mundane anecdotes from our lives and turn them into thrilling stories. To pull this off, we’ll be examining key aspects of storytelling, asking ourselves questions like “what does my protagonist have to lose?” We’ll practice narrative structure, dialogue, and in-scene action, all while honing the tension that makes the reader ask, “What happens next?”
This course is taught by Tatiana Schlote-Bonne, recipient of the 2020 Speculative Literature Foundation Diverse Worlds grant and finalist in the 2021 Narrative 30 Below Contest. Her first novel, about teenage ghosts mastering their haunting powers to save the afterlife from a soul-eating monster, is currently on submission to publishers.
As the first North American UNESCO City of Literature and a touchstone for celebrated writers, Iowa City is a world of books––more books than people, and maybe more books than bushels of corn. Bookstores are the lifeblood of essayists, authors, and poets, and the city boasts some of your favorite writers’ favorite haunts, hosting internationally-renowned reading series along with an amazing selection of books. Join us for a tour of the city’s independent booksellers, from the historic Prairie Lights Books & Café to the Haunted Bookstore, a kingdom of secondhand books. Along the way, we’ll use our notebooks to practice the art of found writing, using texts that we find off the shelves to inspire our own writing projects.
Do you want to learn to write in a way that focuses on play and experiment?
Playing with Poetics is not a class in the typical sense of the word. I will not be standing in front of you lecturing or simply offering writing prompts. In this class, we will play! We will use action and movement as a way to write into active spaces. We will attempt to write the sounds of inanimate objects. We will roll and run and move to obtain new vantage points and ways of seeing. We will think about the action of moving through space and, through doing so, will practice filling our writing with the essentials of human existence often overlooked.
C. A. Conrad explains Somatic poetry as a physical practice used “to more fully engage the everyday through writing.” They go on to say that “the aim of (soma)tic poetry and poetics is the realization…[that] everything around us has a creative viability with the potential to spur new modes of thought and imaginative output.” In this class, we will learn to harness the creative potential inherent in everything around us.
You do not have to be interested in poetry or write poetry to take this master class in poetics. We will define poetics as a form that can incorporate and enhance every type of writing and try and begin to craft a writing practice that listens, moves, and speaks.
Georgie Fehringer is a second year in the Nonfiction Writing Program, originally from Seattle, WA. They write with the spirit of play and creation. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming, in The Black Warrior Review, The Chicago Review, and TIMBER Magazine, among others.
“The Iowa program allowed for me to further explore a genre of writing that had never before been of interest to me. Before the program, I was under the impression that nonfiction writing could never be fun. However, this experience has opened my eyes to a whole world of creative writing, for which I am incredibly grateful.”
-Caitlin K. '24
Buckley Upper School English teacher Mitch Kohn and director of the Iowa’s Non-Fiction Writers’ Workshop John D’Agata piloted the partnership in 2016
Iowa Trip Itinerary
Fly to Iowa City
Buckley Fellows, Iowa Writers’ Workshop graduate students selected to lead Buckley’s master classes, along with author/playwright and Non-Fiction Writers Program head John D’Agata, arrive at hotel to greet students at the Iowa House Hotel.
8:30 a.m.: Fellows meet Buckley students at hotel and walk them over to the English/Philosophy Building, where they break into groups for their first session
11:00 a.m.: Lunch in the town of Iowa City
1:00 p.m.: Workshops continue with writing and sharing
4:00 p.m.: Walking tour of Iowa City, including former residence of Kurt Vonnegut and the renowned Prairie Lights bookstore
7:00 p.m.: Buckley Fellows give readings of their own work at Gerber Hall.
9:00 p.m.: Dinner/dessert in town
Students check out of hotel and meet Fellows again to walk over for Day 2 of workshops
9:00 a.m.: First session of Workshop 2 begins, with readings and discussion
10:45 a.m.: Lunch in town
12:30 p.m.: Second session of Workshop 2, writing and sharing
2:00 p.m.: Reception in Non-Fiction Writing Program office, with Fellows. Buckley students receive notebooks with inscriptions from Fellows