Dimitri Keriotis’s short story collection The Quiet Time is forthcoming this fall from Stephen F. Austin State University Press. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in the Beloit Fiction Journal, Flyway, BorderSenses, Evening Street Review, and other literary journals. He teaches English at Modesto Junior College and co-coordinates the High Sierra Institute. He and his family live in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
Anyone flipping through Poets & Writers Magazine will notice a number of ads for writing workshops, all of which sound tasty for one reason or another. Like probably millions of other writers, I’ve participated in different workshops and have benefited from working with some talented writers who have led enriching workshops. Without question, these gatherings are worth their weight in gold. But what if you can’t afford their often hefty price tags? Writers workshops are not the only place for writers to go when wanting to give their writing a boost, especially if they want to pay close to nothing.
For the past eight summers I’ve been fortunate enough to teach workshops at the High Sierra Institute (HSI). An extension of the Yosemite Community College District, HSI is housed at Baker Station, a former U.S. Forest Service field station in the middle of the Sierra Nevada. HSI’s remote locale enhances the workshop experience; our busy lives, the ones that involve jobs and bills and laundry, become suspended as we enter a weekend of reflecting, writing, and critiquing. This alternative to a writers workshop is far too mellow to call a boot camp (I factor in a siesta into the schedule), but it’s certainly an immersion of sorts. Also, because HSI is far from a city, cell and Internet services do not exist, so our heads are in our stories, our attention on each other instead of on a smartphone or a website. When we’re not in session discussing writing, we’re eating meals together or sitting beneath pines or around a campfire talking—mainly sharing personal stories. The weekend courses I’ve led involve a lot of writing and discussion of participants’ pieces. By the third day the writers are concentrating on the piece that holds the most personal significance and are revising it to present at a final workshop. Writers leave with many pages of new and revised prose and usually a clear understanding of where they want to take their writing.
All of the courses at the High Sierra Institute are offered through the Yosemite Community College District, so college units are attached to them. My point is that the hours of my weekend course, which runs Friday through Sunday, translate to one unit, costing California residents $63, and non Californians $230. Lodging at HSI in the Bunk House, a cabin, or campsite, is free. Participants bring their own food. I’ve seen free online workshops but have yet to find a face-to-face experience that can compete with this price, though I wish there were many more out there.
The price creates eclectic groups. Retirees, college kids, and people mid-career. Liberals and conservatives. People with and without money. Our pursuit of writing our stories brings us together. The dirt-cheap price enables such a coming together that rarely exists at writing workshops, which essentially cater to those with enough money to enjoy the honey. Writers should not have to mortgage their homes or hawk their cars to afford opportunities that work on their craft. It’s nice to be able to give writers this chance.
Photo: Dimitri Keriotis. Credit: Ingrid Keriotis.
Major support for Readings/Workshops in California is provided by The James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.