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why clarion matters

by Eileen Gunn

 
 

07.04.03

Total so far: $3630
Goal: $5000
Donors: 173

thermometer

Clarion Update:
Hundreds of messages have been received by Michigan State University in support of restoring funding to the Clarion Writer's Workshop. So far there has been no response reported from the MSU administration.

If you are interested in encouraging MSU to continue support of Clarion, send an email to MSU's Interim President and Provost, Dr. Lou Anna K. Simon at laksimon@msu.edu, and the Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, Dr. Wendy K. Wilkins at wwilkins@msu.edu. Please copy any messages to clarion@msu.edu.

Here are a few of the letters that have been sent so far, by Carter Scholz, writer, muscician, and polymath; Cory Doctorow, writer and web savant; Mike Ward, Publisher; Jay Lake, writer and editor; and Tom Whitmore, bookstore owner and convention organizer.

If, after reading these letters, you're tempted to write one yourself, please do.

 

From Carter Scholz

Dear Dr Simon:

I am writing after hearing that MSU has decided to stop funding the Clarion Writers' Workshop. Living in California in a time of massive budget deficits, with a teacher for a wife, I appreciate how hard MSU is being squeezed financially. Yet I wonder if you realize just what a resource you have in Clarion.

I attended the Workshop at MSU in 1973. It gave me the confidence to become a writer. I learned practical matters, and a breadth of approach, that I would never have learned in an MFA writing program. I could not have afforded one in any case. Thirty years' worth of Clarion graduates -- including, from my generation alone, Kim Stanley Robinson, Bruce Sterling, and Robert Crais -- have gone from journeymen to working professionals with an astounding success rate, and have produced a staggering diversity of work that should be a source of pride to MSU by its association with the Workshop. Clarion's reach goes beyond science fiction. My own most recent novel, RADIANCE (Picador USA, 2002), is not "science fiction", but the seeds of it were surely sown at Clarion.

Clarion is to a large degree self-supporting; it charges tuition and its instructors work more for love than money. MSU's contribution is important to its stability and tradition, but I have no doubt that Clarion will survive. Its supporters are ingenious and dedicated. Its companion workshop Clarion West is already independent of any institution.

The larger loss, I think, will be to MSU. It seems to me that an important role of public colleges is to provide just this sort of broad access to eclectic, practical, non-degree-based education. I wish that you would revisit your decision, and carefully weigh what you are losing against what appears to me to be a very modest cost.

Sincerely yours,

Carter Scholz
Author of Radiance and other works


From Cory Doctorow

Dear Drs. Simon and Wilkins,

I am writing today to urge you to reconsider your withdrawal of funds from the Clarion Writers' Workshop at MSU. I am a graduate of the workshop, class of 1992, and a successful writer, largely thanks to the tuition I received there.

I began writing and selling stories when I was about 16, but it wasn't until I arrived at Clarion, five years later, that I really understood what it meant to be a writer -- that I really understood that I'd been missing in my work. The lessons there are the ones that I applied in the stories that I wrote that led up to my winning the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer at the 2000 Hugo Awards, that led up to the publication of my wildly successful first novel, "Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom," last January, and to the sale of my next novel (to be published in January 2004) and my short story collection (to be published in September 2003). The lessons from Clarion -- the critical thinking, the rigorous application of prose to problems -- are the ones that have enabled me to write for Wired Magazine, Business 2.0, the Globe and Mail, and the Guardian; to serve as a commentator on NPR, the CBC and the BBC; to participate in regulatory efforts at the FCC and in other venues.

I began writing stories at 16, and I workshopped them at the SEED Alternative School in Toronto, a public secondary school whose writers' workshop was run on principles brought back from Clarion by the legendary editor and writer Judith Merril, who brought these techniques to the Toronto Board of Education through a series of writer-in-residence placements. After graduating, I stayed in high-school for an additional year, just to continue gaining the benefit of the workshop meetings, and then I found myself at the Cecil Street Writers' Workshop, a peer workshop *also* founded by Merril, which includes the likes of Karl Schroeder, author of "Permanence" and "Ventus," and David P. Nickle, winner of the Edgar Award for Best Horror Story. This was one of *three* workshops in Toronto that run, to this day, on principles derived from the Clarion workshop and founded by past Clarion instructors, who vigorously evangelize the Clarion methodology in every city they find themselves in (today, I live in San Francisco, where I attend a peer workshop with Lisa Goldstein, one of the Clarion instructors from my year, along with Clarion grads Martha Soukup, winner of the Nebula Award, and Lori Ann White, winner of the Writers of the Future Grand Prize).

Clarion consistently trains and turns out the sharpest, most talented, most wildly original voices in our field. Where lesser programs exert a normative pressure that forces all the work coming out of them to a kind of even keel of sameness, the Clarion workshop manages the nearly impossible trick of bringing out writers' *individual voices*, turning out vividly dreaming graduates whose work turns the field on its ear every five years or so.

The Clarion program is a sterling example of the kind of program that marries academic and creative excellence, an international calling-card for MSU that bespeaks its visionary commitment to fostering brilliant fledgling writers and giving their talents to the world.

Please, consider the value of continuing to fund Clarion.

Sincerely,

Cory Doctorow
http://boingboing.net/


From Mike Ward

Dear Dr. Simon and Dr. Wilkins:

I am writing you with regard to the recent MSU decision to cease funding the Clarion writers' workshops.

These are highly regarded by writers, editors, and publishers, and your past support of them has greatly influenced the positive reputation of the University in the literary field.

I beg you and the University reconsider the decision to drop the funding. Without training grounds such as these, how will writers hone their skills, and where will we find the new writers for the next generations?

Very truly yours,

Michael Ward
Publisher
Hidden Knowledge


From Jay Lake

Drs. Simon and Wilkins --

My name is Jay Lake. I am a member of SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, as well as co-fiction editor of the critically acclaimed POLYPHONY slipstream anthology series and an award-winning author of short stories.

It is my understanding that funding for the Clarion program has been cut at your university. I am writing to urge you to restore this funding -- the Clarion workshops are a critical anchor to the field of speculative fiction, providing as they do access to high level professional training and advice for beginning writers of promise.

While speculative fiction may not enjoy the same high academic regard as some other forms of publishing, it is a major, culturally significant art form with deep roots in American letters and world literature alike. Works from THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH to Margaret Atwood's latest book ORYX AND CRAKE are firmly anchored in this tradition, and speculative fiction has filled the minds of generations of children and adults with a sense of wonder and the true possibilities of life.

Michigan State University's ongoing support of Clarion has been an integral part of the health of the field. Even in these trying financial times, cutting off this support for such a rare and distinctive form of arts education can only be the falsest of short-term economies. It is my hope, and the hope of hundreds of other professional writers, editors, publishers and critics, that your fine school will reconsider this decision.

Very truly yours,

Jay Lake, SFWA
http://www.jlake.com/


From Tom Whitmore

I've heard that MSU may be unable to continue funding for the Clarion Science Fiction Writers' Workshop. I hope that you will reconsider this.

Science fiction has been the source of many great ideas, and the inspiration for several generations of thinkers and doers. Most of the people in the space program, for example (the engineers, not the astronauts), cut their teeth on Heinlein and Clarke. The combination of good writing and good science that goes into the best science fiction makes livelier minds; and the fact that a lot of kids _read_ science fiction and fantasy means they are reading, and that makes them more likely to be good students by the time they get to the University level.

I've been an owner of a science-fiction bookstore for over 25 years. I was one of the two chairs of the World Science Fiction Convention in 2002, a convention of over 5,000 members with a million dollar budget run entirely by volunteers (including myself). I've been an active fundraiser for Clarion West for several years, and I've done massage on the Clarion West students for the last 5 years as a donation from my massage therapy practice -- my desire to support these workshops is palpable and current. If you can't give Clarion full support, at least give it something and give the organizers some time to begin fundraising on their own -- a workshop of this quality, with this much continuity, deserves respect even in hard times. I don't know exactly what your constraints are; I haven't seen your budget. The times are hard right now, I know. And I think the small amount of money that Clarion represents is an investment in a future that we're all going to have to live in. It's a small investment for something that has returned large benefits in the past; we may never know what the benefits are when we get them. Without support, many writers wither. Without new writers, the genre withers. Without the genre, we lose hope in the future and the sense of what dystopias we need to avoid.

Please continue funding Clarion. It's a source of hope in the world, and we need that now more than ever.

Sincerely,
Tom Whitmore
Partner, Other Change of Hobbit
Co-Chair, ConJosé
Former LOCUS reviewer
(affiliations for your information rather than implying that those organizations support my stand)

 




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Eileen Gunn is the editor and publisher of The Infinite Matrix. She also writes short stories, two of which have been nominated for the Hugo award. Her cryptic and hard-to-navigate personal site, Imaginary Friends, was a Cool Site of the Day way back in 1997.

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