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Meet the Teaching Artist: The Queer Possibility in Writing with Helen Armstrong

by Writing Workshops Staff

A year ago

Meet the Teaching Artist: The Queer Possibility in Writing with Helen Armstrong

by Writing Workshops Staff

A year ago

Meet Helen Armstrong. With an MFA in Literary Arts from Brown University and named a Tin House Scholar (2022), Helen is teaching a new 4-Week Zoom workshop titled The Queer Possibility in Writing.

In this transformative class, Helen encourages participants to delve into the gaps, overlaps, and dissonances that are available to queer writers, thinkers, and creatives. Through close readings of excerpts from texts by queer writers and discussions on queer theory, participants will broaden their creative process while centering their own practices.

Helen's workshop offers a space for intentional engagement with queerness as a practice, lens, subject, and form, ultimately transforming how participants perceive their own work within the ever-expanding queer canon.

Don't miss this opportunity to embark on a unique writing journey under Helen's expert guidance.

Hi, Helen. Please introduce yourself to our audience.

I'm a queer writer living in Colorado with my two cats, Persephone and Calypso, and my wife -- who hates when I list her after the cats. Oops. I have an MFA in Literary Arts from Brown University and I love talking about and teaching writing.

What made you want to teach this specific class? Is it something you are focusing on in your own writing practice? Have you noticed a need to focus on this element of craft?

For the past few years I've been interested in exploring how the lens of queerness can expand possibilities in my writing -- hence the title of the course. Basically, I think there are imaginative and exciting ways to conceptualize the world, thought, and relationship that queerness allows us. When you're living and building community on what society thinks of as the 'margins,' you have to get creative, and this creativity I think allows us for intriguing new modes of thought. What is love, what is purpose, what is family... what is plot, what is character, what is genre?

Give us a breakdown of how the course is going to go. What can the students expect? What is your favorite part about this class you've dreamed up?

The course will be very relational and personalized. I'm not interested in lectures and I love to use questions to help students get deeper into their own work. So we'll open by talking about ourselves and our work, and more specifically our intentions behind our work, and those conversations will be shared with the class. We can all benefit immensely from seeing the wizard behind one another's curtains. For the following sessions, we'll be talking about aesthetics, camp, language, archives, and re-telling. There will also be opportunities to do some writing of our own.

What was your first literary crush?

Every single one of the babysitters from the Babysitters Club.

What are you currently reading?

I'm reading and LOVING Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah's CHAIN-GANG ALL-STARS.

How do you choose what you're working on? When do you know it is the next thing you want to write all the way to THE END?

If it grabs me and won't let go. I'm haunted by ideas and can become quite obsessive. Since I mostly work in long-form fiction, this means that years of my life are going to be devoted to one concept, which is the book I'm working on at that time... so if I'm not obsessed, it's not going to work out.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration in queerness itself, where queerness is an altering, an adjustment, a new mode of life, or just...a vibe.

What is the best piece of writing wisdom you've received that you can pass along to our readers? How did it impact your work? Why has this advice stuck with you?

As a Former Gifted Kid in school, I thought that talent or intelligence was simply inherent, and so for a long time I resisted the shitty first draft because I felt like I should be 'above' that. No shitty anything for me! But once I realized that I am not some writing god who is naturally better than everyone and everything, and that I am in fact a person who has to work at this just like anyone else, it took a lot of pressure off. So it's the idea of the shitty first draft combined with the idea that talent alone gets you nowhere, that perseverance is much more important -- that's what keeps me going now. It also helps that I enjoy putting in the work, doing research, and of course, reading, reading, and more reading.

What is your favorite book to recommend on the craft of writing? Why this book?

I love Jane Alison's Meander, Spiral, Explode, and it's formed the basis of a lot of my thinking around plot over the past few years.

Bonus question: What’s your teaching vibe?

I love that this question involves the word 'vibe' because my most-used word when teaching is for sure 'vibes.' Like I said, I love asking questions, I love helping my students dive into their 'why's -- it's just a great opportunity to connect with other people and to provide directions of thought while also allowing and encouraging their own journeys.

Learn More About Working with Helen:

You can learn more about Helen's upcoming class, The Queer Possibility in Writing, and sign up now!

Instructor Helen Armstrong (she/her) was born and raised in Pennsylvania but now lives and writes at the base of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. She has an MFA in Literary Arts from Brown University. She was a 2022 Tin House Scholar and her work has been published in Black Warrior Review, Jellyfish Review, X-R-A-Y, and others. She lives with her wife, two cats, and several dying houseplants.

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