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Thoughts on the Clarion Move and Science Fiction/Fantasy Workshops in General

As most people know by now, on Monday an announcement came down the tubular Internet that the Clarion Foundation had decided to move the Clarion workshop from its current home at Michigan State University to the University of California at San Diego. (For more information on the move, see the FAQ about the UCSD Move.) As I'm a graduate of the science fiction and fantasy writing workshop (Class of 1994; the last time Kate Wilhelm & Damon Knight taught) and a member of the Clarion Circle, a few people have asked me privately my opinion on the matter.

The truth is that I don't really have much to say, because after all I did attend Clarion quite a few years ago and I haven't had much connection with the workshop since then. I've never been back to MSU and I've never taught at the workshop, even though I have been a booster for it ever since I attended. But because I haven't been a part of it since 1994, I'm not really qualified to judge the quality of the workshop since then, nor can I speak to what might happen to Clarion once it moves.

What I can say is that I know the people behind the Foundation do care for the financial health of the workshop, and that sometimes people are faced with two decisions that have both good and bad points to them. The most important thing for Clarion to do right now is to make sure that it will continue to exist. Clarion has had to move before (hence the name, since it started at Clarion University in Pennsylvania), and it will probably need to move again, perhaps in the far future, after all of us are gone. In a way, Clarion's moving is a sign of the workshop's strength, and not a weakness.

But like many others, I must admit that I am a little disappointed that the workshop is moving to the west coast. It does seem to make that side of the country "Clarion heavy," since the Clarion West workshop has been going strong in Seattle for quite some years. But my hope is that this move will put the kibosh on the back-formation or retronym "Clarion East." There's never been a workshop called "Clarion East." It's always annoyed me that many writers, who are supposed to be precise with their language, have constantly just tossed off the phrase "Clarion" when they meant "Clarion West," or used the phrase "Clarion East" when they meant "Clarion." If you went to a particular Clarion workshop, state its name correctly and be proud of your affiliation.

But those of us on the east coast don't have to worry too much. If you really don't want to shlep out to California, there are still some excellent workshop programs here. I'm friends with many people who have attended both Viable Paradise (Massachusetts) and Odyssey (New Hampshire), and everything I hear about those two workshops is quite positive. Despite my Clarion loyalties, I've even recommended those workshops in preference to Clarion for certain writers of my acquaintance. And I have reason to believe that this year's Odyssey will be better than ever.

I should also remind people that there are opportunities to learn about writing all over the country. I teach with Grub Street in Boston and am an alumnus of a local non-teaching workshop called Critical Mass. Other cities and towns have similar programs or workshops. Also, for years I've recommended the Critters workshop for people who are looking for an online venue. And there are many others.

As for having a genre workshop in the middle of the country, well, what's that old saying about crisis and opportunity? A lot of us look at these workshops as institutions that have been around forever. But the fact is that someone had to start each and every workshop years ago, and it wasn't until the ball had been rolling for quite a few years that the rest of us saw these workshops as old and established. Perhaps someone in the midwest might take Clarion's move as an opportunity to start a new science fiction and fantasy workshop of their own. In fact, I hope someone does, because another workshop would benefit us all.

Copyright © Michael Burstein

Comments

I don't actually have anything to say about this, except that it's messing with my head.

Because I had an RP character once called Clarion.
I once freaked out a group of Clarion grads by telling them the fact they went to Clarion would make no difference to me in considering them for publication, that all that mattered was the quality of the manuscript. Their faces paled and their jaws dropped. The horror! Poor little things were going to Clarion in the hopes that just the name would open doors for them, I guess, rather than actually, you know, improving their writing. Oi.
The name does actually open a few doors depending on the particular editor. It might get a manuscript bumped up from a slush reader, for example. But from what I've heard, that's only good for within the first year of attending the workshop.

And, of course, it doesn't matter if you went to Clarion if the work you submit simply isn't good enough. The point of going shouldn't be to get a resume cred, but, as you say, to improve your writing.
I'm trying to figure out if you meant San Diego (near La Jolla) or Don Diego from Zorro.
Fixed.
The typo or Zorro the Gay Blade?
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