The Commons

MFA Alumni Reunion

Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Bennington Writing Seminars
June 20-23, 2019

BWS logo 25th Anniversary

Celebrate 25 years of our literary legacy

Our alumni network is upwards of 1,500 strong and spread across the globe. We're excited to welcome you back to campus for our 25th Anniversary celebration.

We have a number of activities planned, in addition to our regular programming:

  • End of the World Bonfire (tentative)
  • All-MFA reception, including a 25th Anniversary cake & champagne toast
  • Professional Development Lunchtime Roundtables
  • Tours of the newly renovated Commons
  • Alumni/Grad event at the Robert Frost House, hosted by Mark Wunderlich
  • Nightly Cocktail Hour (cash bar)
  • The Dog House Band
  • Nightly readings by world-class writers
  • Dance Parties
  • Karaoke
  • Alumni Readings
  • Admission to all BWS events

Alumni may attend all lectures, readings and events (be sure to check The Daily every day in the dining hall for a listing.) We ask that if you attend the master classes—held in CAPA—that you please allow our current students priority seating. We try to line chairs against the back wall if the classes get crowded. They are quite popular. Also note there are some that require you read in advance.

* Registration is now closed *

Alumni Reunion Schedule

You will receive the final schedule in your packet when you arrive. Your hosts for the weekend are Suzanne Merritt Shearin (Fiction '14) and Titi Nguyen (Nonfiction '11). You can expect an email from them with further details. 

NOTE: Schedule subject to change, some details included here are from the classes happening before the reunion.

Thursday, June 20


9:00 am-noon | Registration 
Barn 100

After noon, please pick up your packets and room keys at Campus Safety. 

Graduate Lectures

8:20 am | Marie Mockett: “Liberal Bias Against Religion”

Nietzsche said that God is dead. In mid twentieth century literature, God and Christianity had a serious presence: consider the fiction of Graham Greene, William Faulkner, and William Styron. Why is God absent from so much modern writing? Consider, for example, the recent Pulitzer Prize winning book The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead, which re-imagines the secret network of abolitionists—minus the presence of God, who very much motivated real abolitionists. I believe this kind of anesthetized version of history is comfortable to serious readers, because our own institutional bias against religion has sanctioned certain "voices" and "ways" of talking about God. We either want to appease the sure and knowing voice of someone like Richard Dawkins, who calls God a "vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleaners," or we take the passive, almost charming and childlike stance of a writer like Anne Lamott, who writes: "Again and again I tell God I need help, and God says: 'Well isn't that fabulous. I need help too.'" The problem is that these biases cause blindness in us as readers and writers. We are neither able to effectively parry against either the religious illiteracy of the far right, who misuses the Bible, or give voice to and take seriously the lived experience of people for whom religion is deeply embedded in their culture and has paved the way to greater civil liberties.

9:00 am | Unni Nair: “The Life and Letters of R.K. Narayan.” 

9:40 am | Benjamin Nokes: “Dope Style: Thoughts on Heroin Fiction”

Degenerates. Pariahs. Anti-heroes. The Heroin Novel is perhaps the ultimate symptom of industrial excess and debauchery, but the execution of authors–Burroughs, Trocchi, Welsh, and Selby Jr.–is often safe and conventional. We will explore affinities, formulaic elements, and the language of shooting up. 

10:30–noon | Faculty Master Class: Chelsea Hodson: “The Body as a Writing Tool.”

12:00 pm | Lunchtime Professional Development Roundtables:

  • Lena Soman Navani (Fiction '17): So You Want to be a Book Critic.
  • Carmen Giménez Smith and Mark Wunderlich: Publishing Your First Book of Poems.
  • Jessica Silvester (Nonfiction '18/Post MFA '19): Pitching to Major Publications.

1:00-2:30 pm | Visiting Writer Master Class: Phillip Williams: "The Arc Nemesis: Finding and 'Betraying' Poetic Structure."

Graduate Readings

3:00 pm | Russell Green

3:20 pm | Jeffrey Kahn

3:40 pm | Ariana Kelly

4:00 pm | Arnold Kozak

5:00 pm | Cocktail Hour
Student Center DownCaf

5:30 pm | Dinner
Student Center

7:30 pm | Faculty & Guest Readings: Chelsea Hodson and Claire Vaye Watkins

8:30 pm | Screenings of Dietland and Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet

Friday, June 21

Graduate Lectures

8:20 am | Rebecca Rubenstein: “The ‘Reader Accomplice’: Deepening The Writer/Reader Relationship Through Modes of Play in Fiction”

When we invite our readers to become more “active participants” in our work—to become, as the writer Julio Cortázar puts it, “reader accomplices”—we invite them to read deeply and think critically. In this heightened state of engagement, our readers are also asked to consider the process of writing and the craft tools at a writer's disposal, and how these might inform a book or story's broader meaning. With a specific focus on fiction, this lecture will explore the ways a writer might use modes of play and experimentation to provoke and demand the "reader accomplice," and how, in turn, this deeper relationship helps a reader understand a writer's intentionality with their work.

9:00 am | Mark Sarvas: “Making A Scene”

The scene is the foundational unit of drama, consisting of several moving parts. But too many scenes are only about what they appear to be about. In this lecture, we will examine nine layers, and then see them applied through the famous “shirts scene” of The Great Gatsby.

9:40 am | Matthew Sosnow: “Roberto Bolaño’s Nazi Literature in the Americas”

Roberto Bolaño’s Nazi Literature in the Americas: how this book functions as a portal to other books and writers. We’ll also look at some elements of Bolaño's style and consider how we might employ some of his tricks in our own work.

10:30 am-noon | Faculty Master Class: Jennifer Chang: “On Fragments”

12:00 pm | Lunchtime Professional Development Roundtables:

  • Q&A with Literary Journal Editors Liz Witte (The Common), Emily Smith Gilbert (The Southampton Review), Benjamin Anastas (The Bennington Review
  • Q&A with Literary agent Meredith Kaffel Simonof

1:00-3:00 pm | Alumni & Graduate Reception with Mark Wunderlich
The Robert Frost House

3:30-5:00 pm | Book to Screen Panel: Manuel Gonzales, Susan Merrell (Fiction '09), and Joanne Proulx (Fiction '14), moderated by Sarai Walker (Fiction '03)

5:00 pm | Cocktail Hour
Student Center DownCaf

7:00 pm | Faculty and Guest Readings: Sarai Walker and Phillip Williams

8:15 pm | 25th Anniversary All MFA Champagne and Cake Reception
Deane Carriage Barn

9:30 pm | Doghouse Band
Student Center DownCaf

Saturday, June 22

Graduate Lectures

8:20 am | Cristina Spencer: “Beyond Transition: An exploration of craft techniques and innovations trans writers use to revise gender”

Considering the relationship between craft and culture, I will explore how trans writers are re-imagining our collective experience of gender and why I think this genre represents a cutting edge of literary invention.

9:00 am | Kyanna Sutton: “Lifting the Veil: Subjugation, Duality, and Madness In Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye”

A discussion of Toni Morrison’s first novel and W.E.B. Du Bois’s seminal and cross-disciplinary analysis of the black American experience in The Souls of Black Folk. We will look at the authors’ work in tandem to examine the construction of blackness at the nexus of Jim Crow America.

9:40 am | Anamyn Turowski: “How am I ever going to quiet my activist brain? Should I?”

Navigating creativity in the face of catastrophe. Or how I learned to stop worrying and love the impending collapse of our planet.

12:00 pm | Lunchtime Professional Development Roundtables:

  • Q&A with Literary Agent Monika Woods
  • Nonprofit Literary Management with Libby Flores (Fiction '14) and Lisa Cockrel (Nonfiction '19)

10:30 am-12:00 pm | Faculty Lecture: Claire Vaye Watkins: "Revisiting Kate Chopin's The Awakening

1:00-2:30 pm | Faculty Master Class: Stuart Nadler: “Consequence and Complication: Building the Short Story”

3:00-4:30 pm | Faculty Lecture: Craig Morgan Teicher

5:00–6:00 pm | Regular Dinner in Student Center

Graduation Ceremony

7:30 pm | Commencement Ceremony
Usdan Gallery

Commencement Speaker: Sarai Walker

8:30 pm | Commencement Reception

9:30 pm | Graduation Dance

Sunday, June 23

Depart by noon. 

Arrival and Housing 

Plan to arrive on campus before noon on Thursday, June 20 to give yourself enough time to get settled in your dorm room. Check-in, where you will pick up your residency packet and room key, will be in Barn 100 from 9:00 am to noon.

When you arrive on campus you’ll receive a welcome packet that includes the final residency schedule, your room key and an ID card that gives you dorm access and is also your meal card.

If you arrive after noon, please pick up your room key, ID card, and packet at Campus Safety (the small building at the entrance gate.) If there are any issues with accessing your dorm or your room, please contact Campus Safety.

If you haven’t been back to campus in a while, it’s a good idea to check out our MFA Resources page. Here you’ll find all manner of information. We’ll rely on you to get yourselves to campus. We won’t be coordinating shuttles, but you can feel free to coordinate your own rides using any one of the car services listed on the resources pages. Prior to your arrival, take some time to download the campus map, and familiarize yourself with the surrounding Bennington area as there are new restaurants and things to do.


We will be housing all alumni together in one dorm, but cannot take specific requests for rooms. We appreciate your understanding. Things have changed at Bennington regarding dorm access. All dorms have swipe pads that give you card access to your dorm. You’ll still have a key for your room, but you must use your card to gain access to your dorm. If you have any issues with card access, or get locked out, please call Campus Safety. You’ll also use your card for meals, so keep it handy.

Your Alumni ID

It's highly recommended you send a photo in advance so we can provide you with an ID. Everyone will need an ID to enter the houses, for all meals, for checking out books and other materials from the library, and to use at the Meyer Recreation Center. If you wish to have an ID in your registration packet, please send a JPEG headshot of yourself to Dawn Dayton before June 3. She will have one made in advance of your arrival. It will be provided in your registration packet. If you don't send a photo, you'll need to visit the IT department when you get to campus and have your card programmed.

Graduation and Departure

The graduation ceremony will be held Saturday, June 22 at 7:30 pm in Usdan Gallery and we’d love to have you attend the ceremony and the cocktail reception and dance that follows in Greenwall.

You may depart any time before noon on June 23. Please be sure to bring your keys and cards to the MFA Office in Barn 106 before you leave. 

Faculty & Visiting Writers

Douglas Bauer

View his bio.


Master Class: “It’s All Here.” Having recently re-read and taught Eudora Welty’s brilliant short story, “No Place for You, My Love”, it seemed to me, beyond its many other virtues, to be a kind of craft book entire in one story. We will, therefore, engage in a close, close reading of the story, looking at various aspects of craft and art rendered by a master. Narrative distance; tone; pace; architecture; character depiction; exterior landscape as a figurative presentation of theme and symbolism; etcetera: all of it subtly and humorously and ominously conveyed. Ideally, students will have read the story beforehand, but there will be a handout to refer to.

April Bernard

View her bio. 


Will give a reading.

Brian Blanchfield

View his bio.

Visiting Writer.

Two-Part Master Class: To come

Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Lisa Brennan-Jobs’s first book, a memoir called Small Fry, was a New York Times and National Bestseller and was selected as a Top Ten Book of 2018 by The New York Times, The New Yorker, People, and The San Francisco Chronicle. It was also named a Best Book of the Year by the Los Angeles Times, NPR, The Week, GQ, Publishers Weekly and British Vogue. Her articles and essays have appeared in VogueO Magazine, The Southwest ReviewThe Massachusetts ReviewThe Harvard Advocate, and The Los Angeles Times. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.

Will give a reading.

Jennifer Chang


Jennifer Chang is the author of The History of Anonymity and Some Say the Lark, which received the 2018 William Carlos Williams Award. Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, The Nation, The New Republic, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and A Public Space, and her essays have appeared in The Believer, Los Angeles Review of Books, New England Review, New Literary History, and The Volta.  She is an associate professor of English at George Washington University and co-chairs the advisory board of Kundiman. This spring, she was the Visiting Poet at the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program. Faculty.

Master Class: “On Fragments.” What can fragments teach us about poetic making? We will look at translations of Sappho’s fragments from Mary Barnard, Stanley Lombardo, and Anne Carson alongside modern and contemporary texts in which brokenness, irresolution, brevity, and rupture are integral to meaning. Is the fragment a poetic form? What do fragments do and when do writers choose to write in fragment? How do we read fragments? We’ll also consider how the fragment functions within supposedly “whole” poems. The master class will include a brief lecture with abundant examples, discussion, and at least one writing exercise.

Will also give a reading.

Susan Cheever

View her bio. 

Will give a reading.

David Gates

View his bio.

Lecture: “A Boring Big Bang: Mansfield Park's Backstory, or How to Build a Complicated Literary Universe.” Mansfield Park is the darkest, the most solemn, the least spirited, the least fun, of all Jane Austen’s novels, and arguably the best constructed. The apparently uninviting—even boring—backstory with which the book begins, a gossipy account of three sisters and their long-ago marriages, proves essential to understanding everything that comes after; it might be literature’s most leisurely Big Bang. The three women turn out to be members of the supporting cast in the novel proper, but their good and bad luck, their good and bad decisions, their complacencies and their discontents, determine the subsequent lives of the main characters whom we have yet to meet. And this beginning contains the seeds of all the issues that make Mansfield Park so complicated and confounding: the precarious intricacies of social class, women’s difficulties in navigating a patriarchal system, the hidden-in-plain sight topics of slavery and colonialism, the scarcity of love and the prevalence of selfishness, and Austen’s apparent championing of the landed gentry’s conservative values, in reaction against urban modernity. I hope to sow some useful confusion about these issues, but I think Austen has already done that for us—and much more.

Manuel Gonzales

View his bio. 

“Book to Screen Panel” with Susan Merrell and Joanne Proulx, moderated by Sarai Walker.

Genre Seminar: “Dramatic and Narrative Tension.” If there's no tension in your story, then there's really no story. But how do you create and build and sustain tension? In this fiction seminar, we will explore the many different ways to add and build tension in your work. We'll look at various examples of masters in the art of creating tension and I'll offer exercises and editing/revising tips you can take with you to help you explore the different ways you can tighten the screws for your characters and your readers, too.

Will also give a reading.

Chelsea Hodson


Chelsea Hodson is the author of the book of essays Tonight I'm Someone Else. She is a graduate of the MFA program at Bennington College and has been awarded fellowships from MacDowell Colony and PEN Center USA Emerging Voices. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Frieze Magazine, Black Warrior Review, and elsewhere. She co-founded the Mors Tua Vita Mea workshop in Sezze Romano, Italy, and she lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Faculty Master Class: “The Body as a Writing Tool.” So often we begin a piece of writing by sitting at our computers and staring at a blank page, but what would our writing look like if it began somewhere more physical? What if, instead of looking to other books for inspiration, we occasionally looked to dance and performance art for ideas about structure and form? In this master class, we will discuss a few pieces of writing that involve the physicality of the author or their characters in some way, we will watch a few videos of art works that might generate new writing, and we will discuss ways in which we might disrupt our writing routines to inspire unexpected outcomes. 

Will also give a reading.

Dorothea Lasky

Dorothea Lasky is the author of six full-length collections of poetry and prose, most recently Animal, coming out this fall from Wave Books, as well as Milk, Thunderbird, Black Life, and AWE, all also out from Wave Books, and Rome (Liveright/W.W. Norton).  She is also the author of numerous chapbooks, including Snakes (Tungsten Press) and Poetry is Not a Project (Ugly Duckling Presse). She is the co-editor of Open the Door: How to Excite Young People About Poetry (McSweeney's) and was a 2013 Bagley Wright Lecturer on Poetry. Along with the poet Alex Dimitrov, she is the co-creator of @poetastrologers, a popular astrological Twitter account and for which she co-writes two monthly astrological columns for W Magazine and a 21st century astrology primer is due out from Flatiron Books in the fall of 2019.  She holds a doctorate in creativity and education from the University of Pennsylvania, is a graduate of the MFA program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the Arts in Education program at Harvard University, and did her undergraduate studies at Washington University. She has taught poetry at New York University, Wesleyan University, and Bennington College. Currently, she is an Associate Professor of Poetry at Columbia University's School of the Arts, where she directs the Undergraduate Creative Writing Program and organizes the summer writing classes, as well as serves as co-Faculty Advisor for Columbia Artist/Teachers. Visiting Writer.

Will give a reading.

Dinah Lenney

View her bio. 


Genre Seminar: “You, Me, Him, Her, We, They, and Everyone Else.” How does point of view inform memory, imagination, and the blur between? How might the use of first, second, or third person, singular or plural, serve to help us access difficult material, as well as in revision, to deepen the work from one draft to the next? We'll discuss examples from writers who have experimented with various perspectives in long and short forms.

Will also give a reading.

Keith Lesmeister

Alumni Fellow.

Keith Lesmeister is the author of the story collection We Could’ve Been Happy Here (MG Press, 2017). His fiction has appeared in American Short Fiction, Gettysburg Review, New Stories from the Midwest, North American Review, Redivider, Slice Magazine, and many others. His nonfiction has appeared in The Good Men Project, River Teeth, Sycamore Review, Tin House Online, and elsewhere. He teaches at Northeast Iowa Community College.

Alumni Fellow Master Class: “Teaching an Introductory to Creative Writing Class: a crash course for those who plan—or hope at some point—to teach.” In this interactive and generative session we will focus on how to teach creative writing to new students (traditional undergrads or adult learners) who will undoubtedly bring a range of learning styles (visual, auditory, hands-on) to the classroom. Guided by the prose of John Cheever, Megan Mayhew Bergman, and Mary Miller, we will discuss language use, character/conflict, plot, and dialogue, and how students' various learning styles might play a role in how we teach those aspects of craft. 

Will also give a reading.

Alice Mattison

View her bio.

Master Class:To the Lighthouse: Why Don’t We Jump Out of the Boat?” Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse consists almost entirely of an account of what its characters are thinking. Yet we regard it as a great book and remember it for its intense feeling and, in a certain sense, drama. How does Woolf keep readers engaged with so little action? How does this very interior story keep moving forward? Please read To the Lighthouse before the class. It would also be helpful, but it’s not essential, if you read Woolf’s long essay A Room of One’s Own.

Susan Merrell

Visiting Writer.

Susan Scarf Merrell is the author of Shirley: A Novel, A Member of the Family, and The Accidental Bond: How Sibling Connections Influence Adult Relationships. She directs the Southampton Writers Conference, is program director (along with Meg Wolitzer) of the novel-editing program, BookEnds, and teaches in the MFA in Creative Writing & Literature at Stony Brook Southampton. She served as fiction editor of TSR: The Southampton Review. Essays, book reviews and short fiction appear most recently in The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Common Online, The Washington Post, and East Magazine.

“Book to Screen Panel” with Manuel Gonzales and Joanne Proulx, moderated by Sarai Walker.

Stuart Nadler

View his bio. 


Master Class: “Consequence and Complication: Building the Short Story.” Why do certain stories grip us form the start? What is the relationship between a character in a story and the structure that surrounds that character? How do stories gather energy as they move? In this Master Class, we will analyze three stories (TBD) in order to unpack the essential mechanics of the form, and to better understand how we might begin to build our own stories. Students should read these stories ahead of our class and come prepared with observations, ideas, and questions. 

Will also give a reading.

Jamie Quatro

View her bio.

Visiting Writer.

Master Class: “Keep the Car Running: Avoiding the Backstory Dump.” To provide information about a character’s past, writers often rely on the “backstory dump”: scene—white space—backstory—white space—return to scene. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this structure, more difficult—and often more satisfying—is keeping the scene in forward motion while letting backstory emerge through the physical details of the present moment. We’ll examine such scenes in short stories by Mary Robison, Amy Hempel, Grace Paley, David Means, and George Saunders, discussing how each writer keeps the narrative car in drive while still revealing crucial information about the past. Writing exercises will be focused on moving a character forward through time and space while also communicating one crucial bit of past information, without relying on the “backstory dump” or “suddenly, my mind wandered back to when…”

Will also give a reading.

Joanne Proulx

Visiting Writer.

Joanne Proulx’s first novel, Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet won Canada’s Sunburst Award for Fantastic Fiction and was named a best debut by The Globe and Mail and Kirkus Reviews. A feature film adaptation of the novel was released in 2018. Joanne’s second novel We All Love the Beautiful Girls was named one of the best 100 books of 2018 by The Globe and Mail, and has been compared to the work of John Cheever, Rick Moody, and Peter Lynch’s Blue Velvet. A graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars, Joanne lives, writes and teaches in Ottawa, Canada.

“Book to Screen Panel” with Susan Merrell and Manuel Gonzales, moderated by Sarai Walker.

Cassie Pruyn

Alumni Fellow.

Cassie Pruyn is the author of Bayou St. John: A Brief History (The History Press, 2017) and the poetry collection Lena (Texas Tech University Press, 2017), winner of the Walt McDonald First-Book Prize in Poetry and finalist for the Audre Lorde Award. Her poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in Blackbird, AGNI Online, The Los Angeles Review, The Common, Poet Lore and many others. She has lived and taught in New Orleans for the past nine years, and will be moving back to her hometown of Portland, Maine, in August.

Alumni Fellow Master Class: “Revision and Intuition: Finding a Poem’s Center of Gravity.” After that first rush of inspiration, it’s in the act of revising that the poet’s inner critic swoops in to read with fresh eyes, rearranging for clarity, “killing darlings” along the way. The soul spews the first draft, while the intellect hones and remodels what follows. But is there room for intuition—the poet’s as well as that of the poem itself—in the revision process? How can we fine-tune a poem to completion without losing our sense of exploration and play? How can rereading our work become an act of listening—to the language and its inner logic, to what the poem is telling us we had to say all along? This craft session will ask these questions and more, considering takes on revision from poets like Claudia Rankine, C.D. Wright, and Jane Cooper. We will discuss how to locate a poem’s “center of gravity,” its moments of heat and tension, and the line between mystery and confusion. Participants can bring one short poem to revise during the session.

Will also give a reading.

Walter Robinson

Alumni Fellow.

Walter M. Robinson is a writer and physician in Massachusetts. He is a 2014 graduate of the Writing Seminars and a 2015 PEN-New England "New Discovery in Non-Fiction." His recent essays have been published in The Sun, The Literary Review, and Harvard Review; each essay was named as a "Notable Essay" in Best American Essays (2015, 2016, & 2017) He was a fellow at The MacDowell Colony and at Yaddo in 2016. He has just completed a book-length manuscript of essays entitled What Cannot Be Undone. His research has been supported by the National Library of Medicine, the National Institutes of Health, and the Project on Death in America. He was the executive producer for Nancy Andrews’ film The Strange Eyes of Dr. Myes which won the 2017 IFP/Gotham Award for Breakthrough Series. More about his research and writing is available at He runs a retreat for writers and visual artists in southeastern Massachusetts.

Alumni Fellow Master Class: “Writing and Re-Writing: Developing a Practice of Revision.” Getting any words on the page can be hard enough, but our aim is to get the right words on the page. The truth of good writing is that you can’t know if you’ve got your story right—when by getting it right we mean making deliberate and well thought-out choices among all the options—until you understand what the options are. Why did you choose to tell it this way and not that way? It’s easy to get stuck on one way of telling a story. Getting unstuck isn’t that hard, but it takes practice. So that’s what we’re going to do during this session: we are going to re-write paragraphs from successful writers to see how it might have been, and then we are going to re-write our own work in order to find out how things might be if we made different choices. Please bring a sample of your own work—a paragraph, 150 words or so, your work or another writer’s—and be prepared to rewrite it.

Will also give a reading.

Lynne Sharon Schwartz

View her bio.


Calliope Reading Series: “Voices of a Generation.” Here's a great opportunity to hear the voices of James Baldwin, William Styron, John Updike, Philip Roth, and others reading from their work back in 1964, at the start of their careers.  Lynne, her husband Harry, and a friend made these recordings of writers who became the voices of their generation.  They were recently re-released as CDs and downloads, currently available, and were acclaimed by critics. Don't miss this chance to hear the only recordings of these authors reading their own work. 

Craig Morgan Teicher

View his bio. 


Lecture: “Prose That Reverses: On Prose Poetry and Poetic Prose.” My graduate mentor Richard Howard had a wonderful maxim: “Verse reverses, prose proceeds.” This was his way of explaining the difference between the two main materials of literary writing. In this lecture, I’ll use this maxim to think about contemporary literary prose and the current vogue for prose that steals a few of its tricks from poetry.  I’ll discuss the borders between prose poetry and prose, between essay and lyric essay, and how crossing these borders in our writing enables us to use old tools in new ways.

Will also give a reading.

Peter Trachtenberg

View his bio.


Will give a reading.

Sarai Walker

Visiting Writer and Commencement Speaker.

Sarai Walker is the author of the novel Dietland, which was one of Entertainment Weekly’s Top Ten Books of the Year in 2015. Dietland was adapted for television in 2018 by AMC and is now on Hulu in the United States and on Amazon Prime globally. Her essays and articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, the Washington Post, and many national magazines. After receiving her MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars in 2003, Walker earned a PhD in English from the University of London. She has taught writing and literature at several universities and lives in Los Angeles, where she is developing a new TV series, as well as writing her second novel, The Cherry Robbers, which will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2021.

Visiting Writer Master Class: “Using the Autobiographical Voice in Fiction.” In this master class, we’ll examine the autobiographical voice, which uses techniques from autobiographical writing, where the narrator appears to address the reader directly with little authorial interference. Examples include The Color Purple by Alice Walker and Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. We’ll discuss this voice as a technique for writers who wish to root their fiction in personal experience, and as a tool for writers from marginalized communities whose experiences are underrepresented in fiction. We’ll also discuss the autobiographical voice as a technique used in fiction that is not at all autobiographical for the author. This master class will include a short lecture, a group discussion and a writing exercise. Students should read My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout in advance and think about the techniques Strout uses to create immediacy between her main character and readers.

“Book to Screen Panel” with Susan Merrell, Manuel Gonzales and Joanne Proulx

Will also give the commencement address.

Claire Vaye Watkins

View her bio.


Lecture:  "Revisiting Kate Chopin's The Awakening.” This lecture will reconsider Chopin’s classic novella through multiple critical lenses and wonder after the writer’s artistic legacy and her role as a (white) feminist foremother.

Will also give a reading.

Phillip Williams

View his bio.

Visiting Writer.

Master Class: "The Arc Nemesis: Finding and 'Betraying' Poetic Structure." When does a poem's true identity become clear to us? What is the poem beneath the poem? In this workshop we will define and identify the elusive arc of a poem, which is the point in the poem where rests the vein-matter that gives life to the entire poem. We will read and discuss poems by the likes of Yusef Komunyakaa, Carl Phillips, and Sara Eliza Johnson in order to make ourselves comfortable with what an arc is and how it works. We will conclude with a writing exercise to get you into good practice of turning your head away in order to get a better look at and feel for the heart of the poem.

Will also give a reading.

Mark Wunderlich

View his bio

Genre Seminar: “An Introduction to Accentual Syllabic Verse.” In this genre seminar, we will introduce and discuss some of the principles of accentual syllabic verse in English.  We will cover basic scansion, metrical patterns and learn or revisit the vocabulary necessary for discussing and identifying traditional verse patterns and forms.  

Professional Development Lunchtime Roundtables

We’ll have agents, editors, social media experts, book critics, authors, and not-for-profit executives conducting Professional Development Roundtables during lunch. These roundtables are an excellent opportunity to ask questions of these experts in the field. Come prepared with questions that will benefit the entire group. These roundtables do not require a sign-up and will take place in the lower Student Center. Tables will be clearly marked on the day of the event. Frances Greathead (Fiction ’18) will be organizing these during residency if you have questions. 

Lisa Brennan-Jobs (Nonfiction ’09)

Lisa Brennan-Jobs is the author of the memoir Small Fry, which was published by Grove Press in 2016 and was named “Book of the Week” by People and one of the “Best Books to Read in September” by Entertainment Weekly. Brennan-Jobs has an MFA in nonfiction from the Bennington Writing Seminars. Her articles and essays have appeared in Vogue, O Magazine, Southwest Review, Massachusetts Review and the Los Angeles Times.

Jamie Quatro (Fiction ’09)

Jamie Quatro’s debut novel, Fire Sermon, was published by Grove Press in 2018 and named Book of the Year in San Francisco Chronicle, Bloomberg, LitHub and Times Literary Supplement, and was a New York Times Editors’ Choice. Quatro's debut collection, I Want To Show You More, was a New York Times Notable Book, an NPR Best Book of 2013, and was chosen as a favorite book of 2013 by James Wood in The New Yorker. A contributing editor at Oxford American, Quatro’s work has appeared in Tin House, Ploughshares, VQR, Kenyon Review, McSweeney’s, and elsewhere. Her stories are anthologized in the O.Henry Prize Stories 2013, The Story and Its Writer, the Norton Anthology Mix, and the 2018 Pushcart Prize Anthology. Quatro has an MFA in Fiction from the Bennington Writing Seminars. A Visiting Professor in the Sewanee School of Letters MFA program, she lives with her husband and four children in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Jen Mathy (Fiction ’17), Marketing Communications Consultant

Jen Mathy is a marketing communications specialist who has worked for corporations, nonprofit organizations, small businesses, and artists. She was a writer for WGN-TV and the Chicago Tribune. She served as VP of advertising and brand management for Morgan Stanley, brand manager for Discover Card, and public relations associate for Northwestern University, among others. Jen operates an independent consultancy providing social media, public relations, advertising, and strategic brand development. She currently manages social media for Bennington Writing Seminars, and is at work on her first novel.

Lena Soman Navani, National Book Critics Circle, Emerging Critic

Leena Soman Navani has an MFA in fiction from Bennington College and a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University. Her writing has been published online or is forthcoming with Ploughshares, Cleaver Magazine, Harvard Review, and Kenyon Review. She lives in New York and is at work on a story collection.

Mark Wunderlich, Director, Bennington Writing Seminars

Mark Wunderlich is the Poetry Chair of The National Book Awards. He is the author of The Anchorage, which was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 1999, and received the Lambda Literary Award, Voluntary Servitude, published in 2004 by Graywolf Press, and The Earth Avails published by Graywolf in 2014 which was a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Award, and received the 2015 Rilke Prize.  He has received fellowships from the NEA, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the Wallace Stegner Fellowship Program at Stanford, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Amy Lowell Trust and the Civitella Ranieri Foundation. His poems, interviews, reviews and translations have appeared in journals such as Slate, The Paris Review, The New York Times Magazine, Poetry, Yale Review, Fence and Tin House, and his poems are widely anthologized.  Wunderlich has taught at Stanford and Barnard College and in the graduate writing programs at Columbia University, Ohio University, San Francisco State University and Sarah Lawrence.  As an arts administrator, he has worked at the Academy of American Poets, Poetry Society of America, the University of Arizona Poetry Center, Poets & Writers and the Napa Valley Writers Conference. He holds a BA in German Literature and English from the University of Wisconsin, and an MFA from Columbia University School of the Arts. Wunderlich lives in the Hudson River Valley and has taught at Bennington since 2004. He became the director of the Bennington Writing Seminars in August 2017.

Carmen Giménez Smith, Poetry Faculty Member

Carmen Giménez Smith is the recipient of a 2019 Guggenheim. She is the author of a memoir and six poetry collections, including Milk and Filth, a finalist for the 2013 National Book Critics Circle award in poetry. She was awarded an American Book Award for her memoir Bring Down the Little Birds and the Juniper Prize for Poetry for her collection Goodbye, Flicker. She also co-edited Angels of the Americlypse: New Latin@ Writing, an anthology of contemporary Latinx writing (Counterpath Press, 2014). She now serves on the planning committee for CantoMundo and as the publisher of Noemi Press, which has published over 40 full-length collections of poetry and fiction. Giménez Smith's next collection of poems, Cruel Futures, will be a volume in the City Lights Spotlight Series in 2018. Be Recorder will be published by Graywolf Press in 2019. She is Professor of English at Virginia Tech and with Steph Burt, poetry editor of The Nation.

Jessica Silvester (Nonfiction ’18), Senior Editor, New York Magazine

Jessica Silvester (CNF '18) is an editor at New York magazine and a former editor at O, The Oprah Magazine. Her work has appeared in those publications as well as The New York Times. She has appeared on The Today Show, Good Day New York, NY1, and WNBC. She is finishing her memoir doing her Post-MFA at Bennington with Dinah Lenney.

Liz Witte, Associate Editor, The Common

Liz Witte is a writer and editor based in Western Massachusetts. She is Associate Editor of The Common and Director of The Common in the Classroom, the journal’s education program. She is a recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Artist Fellowship in Poetry, and her chapbook, Dry Eye, is available from Dancing Girl Press.

Emily Smith Gilbert, Editor-in-Chief, The Southampton Review

Emily Smith Gilbert is the editor-in-chief of The Southampton Review. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Stony Brook Southampton and a BA in Creative Writing and English from Bard College. She grew up in New Hampshire and currently lives on Long Island.

Benjamin Anastas, Fiction Editor, Bennington Review

Benjamin Anastas is fiction editor at Bennington Review. He is the author of the novels An Underachiever’s Diary (Dial Press) and The Faithful Narrative of a Pastor’s Disappearance (FSG). His memoir Too Good to Be True (Little A) was a national bestseller. His essays, reviews, short fiction, and other work have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Harper's, The New Republic, The Paris Review, The Yale Review, Bookforum, and The Best American Essays anthology. He teaches literature at Bennington College and is on the faculty of the Bennington Writing Seminars.

Meredith Kaffel Simonof, DeFiore & Company

Meredith Kaffel Simonoff, formerly an agent with the Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency, joined DeFiore and Company in early 2012. She represents and is seeking arresting voices across a spectrum of genres, though she is most interested in adult literary and upmarket fiction, literary creative nonfiction, illustrators with distinctive narrative points of view, and literary books for children. She is drawn to writing steeped in ferocity of language, purpose, intellect, and heart. Prior to joining the publishing world, Meredith earned her B.A. in Renaissance Studies at Yale, where she focused primarily on Italian Renaissance art history, architecture and literature. Follow her on Twitter at @mere215. She is a member of the AAR and PEN. She is also the agency’s UK Rights Director.

Monika Woods

Monika Woods is a literary agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd. She is a graduate of the Columbia Publishing Course and has worked at Trident Media Group and InkWell Management, where she worked closely with leading voices in contemporary literature. Her interests include literary and compelling non-fiction in food, popular culture, journalism, science, and current affairs. Monika is particularly excited about plot-driven literary novels, non-fiction that is creatively critical, unique perspectives, a great cookbook, and above all, original prose. To query Monika, please send an email with a description of your project as well as the first ten pages of your manuscript to She reviews all queries sent to her within three to four weeks, and will respond if she’s interested in seeing more.

Libby Flores (Fiction ’14)

Libby Flores is a 2008 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow. Her short fiction has appeared in American Short Fiction, Post Road Magazine, Tin House The Open Bar, The Guardian, The Rattling Wall, Paper Darts, Bridge Eight, FLASH: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. She is the former Director of Literary Programs at PEN Center USA. In 2018 she directed the second annual Believer Festival. She is currently the Director of Audience Engagement and Digital Projects at BOMB magazine and the NYC Director of the Freya Project. Libby holds an MFA in creative writing from Bennington College. She lives in Brooklyn, but will always be a Texan. She is represented by Sarah Bowlin at Aevitas Creative Management.

Lisa Cockrel (Nonfiction ’19)

For the past three years, Cockrel has been the director of the Festival of Faith & Writing at Calvin College, curating and often hosting conversations with authors including Zadie Smith, George Saunders, Robin Coste Lewis, Paul Harding, Edwidge Danticat, Jamie Quatro MFA ’09, Mary Ruefle ’74, M.T. Anderson, Peter Ho Davies, Joy Williams, Kwame Alexander, Kirstin Valdez Quade, and Marie Howe. She also hosted and co-produced season one of Rewrite Radio, a podcast featuring recordings from the festival’s archives. Prior to that, Cockrel spent 15 years as an editor for magazines and then books. She's currently in her final term of graduate work in the Bennington Writing Seminars and is working on a book manuscript about how being fat has shaped her experience of community. Cockrel grew up in small-town Texas and spent ten years in Chicago but comes to Bennington from Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she’s lived for the last decade. She was the 2018 Residential Teaching Fellow here.

Share the Love: Send us your photos

As part of our 25th Anniversary celebration, we want to share photos of you and your friends during your Bennington days. Please upload photos to the album 25 Years of BWS.

Tell us who is in the photo (make sure they like how they look) and write a brief caption about it.