Basic Info
  • Fiction
  • Nonfiction
  • Essay
  • Memoir
  • Multi-Genre/Genre-Bender

Imagine a story of people with no depth. Or characters without emotion. Imagine scenes with hollow dialogue. Or a setting that doesn’t rise even to blandness. Imagine a story that blatantly disregards the richness our senses deliver. That may happen when we don’t utilize the five basic tools that unleash soul and spirit into our writing. Each component—developing the person, showing the emotion, creating meaningful dialogue, providing a notion of place, and engaging our tactile senses—allows us to dig deeper into the how and why of the words we choose, the order in which the words follow one from another, and the worlds we create with them.

Whether you’re writing fiction, memoir, essays, history, comedy, mystery, inspiration or something else, the basics are practical and consistent. We’ll spend one day on each of these tools, exploring via writing exercises, rich discussion, and in- and out-of-class assignments. Writing you bring from home, as well as the writing we generate in our week, will be workshopped in an environment that moves us forward. The class welcomes writers of every level—from those with “a little experience” to those intent on sharpening existing skills. I ask that you submit between 10-15 pages ahead of time so I can familiarize myself with your style, although that is not a requirement. Come prepared for a rich experience—in the class content and among your fellow writers.

Mary Kay Shanley


Mary Kay Shanley has ten books that cross multiple genres, tapping into her skills as storyteller, essayist, historian and journalist. Her memoir, The Women Who Had Me, will be out sometime. The manuscript originally centered on her adoption, but ultimately came to also include stories from those unmarried women who, in decades past, were coerced into giving up their babies for adoption. An Iowa Author of the Year, she directs writers’ groups, co-sponsors spiritual/reflective writing workshops, is a Humanities Iowa speaker and has taught at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women—a life-changing experience. This is her 18th year teaching with the Festival. She loves being part of the Festival as much as she loves biking and gardening in good weather.