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Due to COVID-19 and the ongoing concerns over the health and safety of our students and faculty, the Tomales Bay Workshops will be hosted ONLINE over Zoom for 2020. We hope to be back in person at the Marconi Conference Center in Marshall, CA in 2021.

Faculty & Workshops


The Writing By Writers Tomales Bay Workshop brings aspiring writers into close community with nationally known poets and writers. Classes are limited to 12 participants for manuscript critique workshops and 15 for generative workshops to ensure an intimate setting. 

When:  October 21 - 25, 2020 over Zoom.

Tuition:  $950 includes one four-day workshop, admittance to all panels and readings.

Format:  In 2020 we will hold the Tomales Bay Workshop online over Zoom. Workshops are held each morning for four consecutive days. The workshops allow participants to work closely with a nationally known writer, to receive constructive feedback from their peers, and to spend four intensive days dedicated to creativity. Afternoons are reserved for panels on craft and evenings will feature readings by our faculty.  

Faculty:  Our faculty includes Kaveh Akbar, Samantha Dunn, Pam Houston, Paul Lisicky, Tommy Orange and Luis Alberto Urrea.


Faculty & Workshops

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Crushed Glass and Medusa's Veil: Exploring The Revelatory Break a Poetry Workshop

Kaveh Akbar

In his A Year With Swollen Appendices, Brian Eno talks about experiencing the crack in a blue’s singer’s voice or the static of a grainy film as being “the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them.” If we accept as American writers that our medium, the English language, is one of the deadliest colonial weapons ever invented, then its breaking becomes a political urgency. How do we undermine our language’s inherent corrosiveness, turn a violent technology against itself to speak to things—doubt, sex, identity, justice, rage—it would rather us leave unspoken? This course will look at writers—including Robert Hayden, Jean Valentine, M. NourbeSe Philip, and Jos Charles—who use revelatory breaks in idiom, form, and syntax to render with clarity what is too urgent, too momentous, for mere rhetorical speech. We will then apply those techniques to our own imaginings of what might be possible outside the inherited strictures of our inherently imperialist medium. 

Kaveh Akbar's poems appear recently in The New Yorker, New York Times, Paris Review, Poetry, Best American Poetry, and elsewhere. His newest book, Pilgrim Bell, will be published by Graywolf in 2021; he is also the author of Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Alice James 2017). Kaveh was born in Tehran, Iran, and teaches at Purdue University and in the low-residency MFA programs at Randolph and Warren Wilson Colleges. 


Finding the Bones: A Story Generator Workshop

Samantha Dunn

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass,”Anton Chekhov supposedly said. Whether you are a beginner or prolific writer, come gain a better understanding of the structural elements that underpin any kind of compelling narrative, whether it be fiction, nonfiction or spoken word. This workshop will use a multitude of exercises to tap into and enhance your own deep sources of creativity. Develop new techniques for creating characters that come alive, creating vivid worlds with your words, and generating story ideas. Come prepared to ask the question “What if?” and deeply imagine new possibilities. By the end of the week, you will have at least one well-honed story ready for public consumption.

Samantha Dunn is the author of Failing Paris, a finalist for the PEN West Fiction Award in 2000, and the memoirs Not By Accident: Reconstructing a Careless Life (Henry Holt & Co.), a BookSense 76 pick, and Faith in Carlos Gomez: A Memoir of Salsa, Sex and Salvation.  Samantha’s work is anthologized in a number of places, including the short story anthology, Women on the Edge: Writing from Los Angeles, which she co-edited with writer Julianne Ortale. Other recent collections showcasing her work include the Seal Press releases Dancing at the Shame Prom: Sharing the Stories That Kept Us Small and Drinking Diaries: Women Serve Their Stories Straight Up.  Samantha’s essays have appeared in numerous national publications including the Los Angeles Times, O (Oprah) Magazine, Ms., and Shape. In 2000 she received the Maggie Award for Best Personal Essay in a Consumer Publication. A widely published journalist, her bylines are regularly featured in InStyle, Glamour, SELF, Men’s Health and a variety of other consumer magazines. She has also written for the stage, as a co-creator of the show “American Ese,” and has taken a few turns screenwriting as a member of the Writers Guild of America. Samantha teaches in the UCLA Extension Writers Program and at the Idyllwild Arts Center in California, and was a longtime writer-in-residence at the New York State Summer Writers Institute.  A former specialty features writer for The Orange County Register, Samantha lives in Orange, California, with her husband, musician/politico Jimmy Camp, and their son, Ben.


The Shape of Your Story

Pam Houston

This will be a prose workshop open to writers of both fiction and memoir/personal essay. We will talk about form and structure, maybe even a bit about geometry. About each of the pieces that are turned in to class we will ask, has this story found its truest, most evocative shape yet, and if not, how can we help it get there?  We will also talk about all the other elements that can make or break a story: scene, dialogue, beginnings and endings, character, narrative tension and narrative arc. We will also of course talk about courage, honestly and compassion as it applies to the stories before us. Please, in preparation for class, read There, There by Tommy Orange, and The Book of Delights by Ross Gay. Manuscripts limited to 5000 words.

Pam Houston is the author of the memoir, Deep Creek: Finding Hope In The High Country, as well as two novels, Contents May Have Shifted and Sight Hound, two collections of short stories, Cowboys Are My Weakness and Waltzing the Cat, and a collection of essays, A Little More About Me, all published by W.W. Norton. Her stories have been selected for volumes of The O. Henry Awards, The Pushcart Prize, Best American Travel Writing, and Best American Short Stories of the Century among other anthologies. She is the winner of the Western States Book Award, the WILLA Award for contemporary fiction, the Evil Companions Literary Award and several teaching awards.  She teaches in the Low Rez MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts, is Professor of English at UC Davis, and co-founder and creative director of the literary nonprofit Writing By Writers, which puts on between seven and ten writers gatherings per year in places as diverse as Boulder, Colorado, Tomales Bay, California and Chamonix, France. She lives at 9,000 feet above sea level on a 120-acre homestead near the headwaters of the Rio Grande. A book of letters between Pam and environmental activist Amy Irvine will be published by Torrey House Press in October of 2020.

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Paul Lisicky

What does it mean to write memoir and creative nonfiction in 2020? How to write out of our personal urgency while also asking questions about community, power--all that is wrong with the world and all we'd like to make better? How does it feel to be alive right now? We'll think about those questions alongside all the matters of craft: voice, structure, focus, sonics, description, polarity, openings, closings. We'll do this through the lens of your own manuscript while also looking at short examples of outside work. There will be time for exercises. Along the way we'll work hard and make sure that play and seriousness share the same space. Manuscripts limited to 5000 words.


Paul Lisicky is the author of six books including Later: My Life at the Edge of the World, The Narrow Door, Unbuilt Projects, The Burning House, Famous Builder, and Lawnboy. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, BuzzFeed, Conjunctions, The Cut, Fence, The New York Times, Ploughshares, Tin House, and in many other magazines and anthologies. He has received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the James Michener/Copernicus Society, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, where he has served on the Writing Committee since 2000. He has taught in the creative writing programs at Cornell University, New York University, Sarah Lawrence College, The University of Texas at Austin and elsewhere. He is currently an Associate Professor in the MFA Program at Rutgers University-Camden and lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is at work on a memoir Animal Care and Control.


Considering the Reader: A Fiction Workshop

Tommy Orange

​We live in a distracted, brutally fast world now and there are countless other things to do than read, so I like to focus on the experience you’re facilitating for the reader, how to think about the writing in terms of making sentences either shine or disappear—always keeping pacing in mind, and increasing readability without sacrificing voice. That being said I believe the workshop as a whole is more important than the individual facilitator, so I try to help facilitate a kind and generous shared experience. I believe the most helpful kinds of feedback in a workshop are as kind as they are considerate. Manuscripts limited to 5000 words.


Tommy Orange is a graduate from the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts. He is a 2014 MacDowell Fellow, and a 2016 Writing by Writers Fellow. He is an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma. His novel, There There won the PEN/Hemingway Award, the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize, the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, and the American Book Award. He was born and raised in Oakland, California, and currently lives in Angels Camp, California.


The Land of Your True Voice: A guided journey to your creative center

Luis Alberto Urrea

How do you mine your own personal story? Whether you write fiction or nonfiction or certainly, poetry, you tap into the deep mines of your own cherished details. It doesn't matter if you write science fiction, mysteries, memoirs or travel books, the ground beneath your writing must be real and true. In our workshop, we will discover and recover those things that will bring story to life in a way that only you can tell.  Manuscripts limited to 5000 words.


Luis Alberto Urrea is the best-selling author of 17 books, including The House of Broken Angels, The Devil’s Highway and The Hummingbird’s Daughter. A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, Urrea has won the Lannan Literary Award, the Pacific Rim Kiriyama Prize, an American Book Award, the Christopher Award and an Edgar Award, among other honors. His novel Into the Beautiful North is a current selection of the NEA’s Big Read program. His books have been chosen by more than 45 different cities and colleges for community reads programs and he is much in demand as a speaker, lecturer and teacher.  In 2015, he released a book of short stories, The Water Museum and a poetry collection, The Tijuana Book of the Dead. Born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and American mother, Urrea is most recognized as a border writer, though he says, “I am more interested in bridges, not borders.” He lives in Chicago where he is a distinguished professor of creative writing at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Workshop Schedule*


5:00 – 5:15 pm             Welcome & Orientation
5:15 – 6:15 pm             Faculty Reading - Samantha Dunn & Luis Alberto Urrea

6:15 – 7:00 pm             Meet Your Workshop


9:00 – 12:00 pm          Workshops

2:00 – 3:30 pm            Panel Discussion - Form/Structure/Pattern/Flow: How to find the right scaffolding to build your

story/novel/essay/poem upon with Pam Houston, Paul Lisicky & Tommy Orange

5:00 – 6:00 pm            Faculty Readings- Pam Houston & Paul Lisicky (Open to the public)


9:00 – 12:00 pm          Workshops

2:00 – 3:30 pm            Panel Discussion - The Role of the Artist in Times of Upheaval: Tips for writing our way to sanity,

justice, productive rage, groundedness, hope with Kaveh Akbar, Sam Dunn & Luis Alberto Urrea 

5:00 – 6:00 pm            Faculty ReadingsKaveh Akbar & Tommy Orange (Open to the public)


9:00 – 12:00 pm          Workshops

2:00 – 3:30 pm            Fellowship Winners Reading

3:30 – 4:30 pm            Cocktail Mixer

4:30 – 6:00 pm            Open Mic Readings


9:00 – 12:00 pm           Workshops

12:00 – 12:30 pm         Wrap Up



Application Details

Acceptance to the workshop is based upon review of a writing sample (10 pages of fiction or nonfiction/personal essay, or five poems).  Writing samples must be double spaced, using a size 11 or 12 Times New Roman or similar font.

An application fee of $25 is required.  If you are accepted to the workshop, your application fee of $25 will be applied to your tuition.  If you are not accepted to the workshop, we will refund your $25.  Applications are reviewed on a first-come, first-served basis.

Once you apply you will receive an immediate email confirmation of your application. Sometimes these go into your junk or bulk mail folder. If this happens, please add to your safe senders list to make sure you get our acceptance notification! If you are accepted, you will be notified of your workshop placement via email and asked to confirm your intention to attend within one week by enrolling and submitting the full payment of $950. 

Fellowships:  WxW offers a limited number of fellowships for the Tomales Bay workshop. Fellowships are highly competitive.  The WxW Board reviews each fellowship submission and awards are made on the merit of the writing sample alone. Please do not send letters of recommendation. Fellowships cover the cost of tuition, room and board, but do not cover transportation. To apply for a fellowship, please check the “Fellowship Submission” box on the workshop application.  The deadline for fellowship consideration is May 1. We are always seeking funding for additional fellowships.  If you would like to sponsor a fellowship, please contact us at

Cancellation Policy:  If you cancel by August 1, 2020, your tuition will be refunded minus a $150 cancellation fee. Refunds for cancellations made after August 1 are contingent upon filling your place and will be made only if your place is filled. In the unlikely event that we must cancel a workshop and you do not wish to transfer to another workshop, you will receive a full refund.

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