Besides being nestled inconspicuously inside the walls of Olds Engineering Hall, “Clarion: The Science Fiction Writer’s Workshop” has nothing to do with scientific precision or, for that matter, any sense of a tangible reality. Instead, the workshop provides a creative opportunity for aspiring science fiction and fantasy writers to improve their talent, hone further skill and learn from the pros. The regimented, albeit creative, spawning of the workshop boasts a global impact that has drawn in hopeful writers from as far as Norway. Clarion’s expansive workshop now meets in three locations worldwide: one in East Lansing known as Clarion East; another in Seattle, Clarion West and the newest location in Australia, Clarion South. The widespread growth of Clarion has grown into a rich, exemplary model of what a creative writing workshop should be.
Robin Scott Wilson founded the workshop in 1968 at Clarion State College in Pennsylvania, now called Clarion University. It moved to MSU in 1972 and still holds a strong reputation among science fiction literary critics and popular magazines.
“We were mentioned in Asimov’s Science Fiction,” said Sarah Gibbons, assistant to director of Clarion East. The renowned science fiction magazine is just one outlet Clarion has received attention from. A plethora of well-respected science fiction and fantasy authors have taught, guided and inspired enthusiastic writers at the six-week workshop each summer. The selective process of choosing qualified and ardent apprentice writers is a task Gibbons, an English graduate student at MSU, and the rest of the Clarion staff put much thought into. The other challenge is finding established, professional writers in the genre. “We look to find professional writers who we have credentials and who we feel will be able to help the apprentice writers,” said Gibbons.
Participants are “selected from applicants who have the potential for highly successful writing careers and who submit writing samples with an application,” according to a recent press release from the Clarion Foundation. And although the selection process is highly competitive, novice writers receive helpful critiques and insight from professional writers in a concentrated and attentive atmosphere.
“The workshop starts at 9 a.m. and is based on the Milford Format of critique,” said Gibbons. “The professional author reads 3-5 stories the night before and then critiques the piece for four hours,” she added. The Milford Format is based on the principle of critiquing a literary piece by going around the circle of participants, adding input, lending advice, declaring opinion and hopefully helping the author of the stories gain his or her own personal insight into their writing. One of the most critical aspects during the workshop is each writer keeps writing. It “really focuses on,” experimentation and development of new thought and idea, said Gibbons.
When the writers aren’t focusing on illusive concepts, they’re being intellectually challenged by the professionals. Mornings are devoted to reading manuscripts and critiquing in a seminar-type setting. Afternoons, evenings and weekends are “committed to individual writing, personal conferences with the writer-in-residence, social activities and completing class assignments,” according to the official Clarion Web site. And interestingly, age is of no concern. Past participants have ranged from teens to professionally published adults, all with one thing in common: the courage to write fiction during their six-week “boot camp”-like training, and the courage to want to write for a living. Whether participants are looking for a means of improving their writing or broadening their capabilities, the workshop is a canvas for an array of fantastical thinkers and technocrats alike. But if ephemera, mystery, abstract theory or history are any of your specializations, the fantasy and science fiction genre won’t discriminate. According to Gibbons, science fiction and fantasy writing “deal with everything that could possibly be,” which makes the genre open to interpretation, welcoming and free from isolation.
Science fiction and fantasy “doesn’t become dated because it’s part of the imagination,” said Gibbons. And for Clarion, the imagination is a thriving universe of abounding ideas, ready to be released and given wings.
The 2006 Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop will be housed on the MSU campus from June 26 – Aug. 4, 2006. For further details visit the workshop’s official Web site at, www.msu.edu/~clarion.

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