Minor update on Clarion:
There is a good bit of behind-the-scenes scurrying going on with respect to continuing Clarion. In addition to pursuing MSU, organizers and various writers affiliated with the workshop are trying to determine whether there could be a place for it at another school, and whether it could be restructured as a volunteer-based organization.
Graduates and instructors with university contacts and special skills have offered help. If you are interested, especially if you have experience in organizing and managing non-profits, in fundraising, in managing volunteers, and in grantwriting, please send an email to Clarion at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also a discussion going on in the Clarion topic on SFF.Net. If you're provost of a college that's been looking to host a prestigious writing workshop, feel free to contact Dr. Matheson directly.
There has been no offical news from either MSU or Clarion itself about the progress of funding Clarion and/or re-organizing it and moving it someplace else. I don't think we can expect anything official at this point.
If you haven't sent a letter or email yet, there is still plenty of time to contact MSU's Interim President and Provost, Dr. Lou Anna K. Simon at email@example.com, and the Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, Dr. Wendy K. Wilkins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please copy any messages to email@example.com.
Keep in mind that MSU is undoubtedly facing a serious financial crisis, and must allocate limited funds.
Here are a few of the letters that have been sent so far to MSU. The newest are from Gardner Dozois, editor of Asimov's; from writer and engineer Laura Mixon (a followup letter to MSU's reply); and from Eileen Gunn, Clarion West board chairman, editor and writer (that's me, finally). On July 11, Maureen McHugh reported on the state of mind at the workshop.
Earlier letters came from
Gordon Van Gelder, editor and publisher of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; Ellen Datlow, editor of SciFiction and numerous anthologies, and co-editor of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror; and Sheila Williams, executive editor of Asimov's and Analog; Karen Joy Fowler, writer and Clarion instructor/organizer; Lisa Tuttle, writer; Alyx Dellamonica, writer and reviewer; Justina Robson, writer; Mary Turzillo, writer; Carter Scholz, writer, musician, 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.
If you missed the first installments of this literary thriller, here they are:
1. Clarion Loses Funding
2. Why Clarion Matters
3. MSU Strikes Back
4. The Eye of Sauron Blinks
Check the Clarion website for recent developments.
From Gardner Dozois
Dear Dr. Simons,
I just wanted to add my voice to the growing chorus of concern over
the proposed cancelation of funding for the Clarion Workshop.
Clarion may be the greatest workshop success story in the history of American letters, with a track record unriveled by any other literary workshop I can think of, even the most famous ones. Generations of writers have passed through the Clarion workshop and emerged from the other end as successful, selling, professional writers, something that's been going on for so long that many of the Clarion graduates are themselves now among the ranks of some of our more prominent book and magazine editors. The list of successful professional writers who have graduated from the Clarion workshop would go on for pages, and includes some of today's best-known fantasy and science fiction writers, such as Lucius Shepard, Octavia Butler, James Patrick Kelly, and dozens of others.
The Clarion workshop has been an invaluable asset to the craft of fiction writing in America, and it would be sad, sadly shortsighted, and a depressing commentary on the state of the importance of the arts in today's society if it were allowed to die for lack of funding. I strongly urge you to do everything in your power to prevent this from happening, as it would be a tragedy for hundreds perhaps thousands or developing young writers in years to come.
editor, Asimov's Science Fiction magazine
editor, The Year's Best Science Fiction annual anthology series
twelve-time winner of the Hugo Award as Year's Best Editor
From Laura Mixon
I appreciate your taking the time to give me a personal response. But I'm
As you are no doubt aware, while the arts are indisputably one of the most
important of human activities -- there is a reason why writers are among the
first jailed in totalitarian regimes -- they are not the most well-funded.
We look to fellow travelers, such as the leadership of MSU, who appreciate
the life of the mind and the importance of creativity -- to help us serve
People like me don't need Clarion anymore. We've already benefited. It's
the talented youth who will lose out. There will always be books published.
But it's a ferociously competitive field, and because writers are often
introverted, many of the most gifted writers will not find their way into
print, without venues like Clarion to steer them.
You suggest that we seek funding elsewhere in the community. But if we
can't count on MSU to continue to support us, whom can we count on? Who
else has such a vested interest in promoting the life of the mind, and all
that is best about the human spirit, if not the university?
Laura J. Mixon
From Eileen Gunn
Dear Doctors Simon and Wilkins,
I'm sure that by now you have heard from many writers, editors, and readers concerning the loss of MSU's funding for the Clarion Writers Workshop. Press of work prevented me from writing earlier, and I would like to add my voice to the many urging you to help the workshop continue.
I am the Chairman of the Board of the Clarion West Writer's Workshop, a Clarion-derived workshop that was spun off of the original Clarion in 1972. I am a 1976 graduate of the Clarion workshop at MSU. My fiction has twice been nominated for the Hugo Award, and I edit and publish the online magazine The Infinite Matrix.
Along with many others who attended Clarion, I can say without reservation that the workshop changed my life. In addition, it gave me a way of looking at fiction and setting tasks for myself that no previous workshop or writing program had even hinted at. The professional writers at Clarion helped me resolve strategic writing questions that had bothered me for years, and the other beginning writers in the workshop gave me the core of a support group that still sustains me.
I am also an advertising writer and strategist, and have worked in management and editorial positions and served as workplace mentor to many younger writers. The training I got at Clarion made is possible for me to mentor others effectively and quickly; the example set me by Kate Wilhelm, Damon Knight, Robin Scott Wilson, and my other Clarion teachers made it clear to me that helping others to be better writers was not a fruitless task, and not a matter of imposing my style on others. Clarion, and the Clarion workshop method, showed me how to help others to be the best writers they could be.
I am so grateful to Clarion, so certain that it provides an essential function in the field of science fiction, that fifteen years ago I joined the Board of Directors of the newly revived Clarion West, to help it continue the Clarion tradition. I am satisfied that we do so, in our fashion. Each year the two workshops bring in, between them, thirty-four nascent writers, and over the course of six weeks those students turn into young professionals. Not all these writers succeed -- not all keep writing, even. But the ones who do are some of the most intellectually exciting writers in the field.
There are excellent writers in both Clarions every year. A significant number of applicants apply to both workshops. However, only a few in any year are chosen by both: the incoming writers, still amateurs, rarely indicate the depth of their talent in their applications. The six Clarion instructors, each of whom typically spends about 25-30 hours every week workshopping and another 40-60 hours a week reading manuscripts, tease the good writers out of the raw material presented. This is guidance that cannot be received anywhere else: with all due respect to academic writers workshops, this level of intensive professional attention is simply not offered outside of Clarion and Clarion West (and the new Clarion South in Australia).
I realize that we are witnessing an unprecedented assault on the funding of education at all levels, and that MSU is having to make many difficult choices. I urge you to see that Clarion is given the assistance it needs, in the form of staffing support for another year, to make the difficult transition from a university-supported program to a organization that uses volunteer administrative staff, that relies on outside donors for financial support, and that has a program in place to generate those donors.
There are presently many people who are willing to step forward and put their knowledge and experience at the service of Clarion. They are not part of the organization yet, and indeed the organization does not yet, to my knowledge, exist.
I hope that, if MSU cannot retain Clarion, and continue to accrue the gratitude (and perhaps the monetary contributions) of knowledgeable professionals in the field of science fiction, that MSU will give Clarion the year or so that it needs to change direction to a volunteer organization.
Chairman, Board of Directors
From Gordon Van Gelder
Dear Ms. Simon and Ms. Wilkins:
I don't know much about running a university. (Most of what I know, in fact, comes from having read a novel by Robin Scott Wilson, former President of a California university and founder of the Clarion workshops.) I don't understand the pressures you face that might lead you to withdraw support of the Clarion workshop.
I do know this: the Clarion workshops are among the most important writing workshops in the United States.
I myself attended the Seattle workshop as a student in 1987. I also attended Princeton University as an undergraduate, where I majored in Creative Writing. The six weeks of education I received over the summer at Clarion were more valuable---far more valuable---than the three years of courses I took at Princeton with such instructors as Joyce Carol Oates, Paul Auster, Stephen Koch, and Mary Morris.
I worked as an editor for St. Martin's Press from 1988 through 2000. During this time I helped reissue Damon Knight's CREATING SHORT FICTION and Robin Wilson's THOSE WHO CAN, as well as commissioning Mr. Wilson's follow-up volume, PARAGONS. I've read a lot of books on the craft and art of writing; I consider none more valuable than THOSE WHO CAN and CREATING SHORT FICTION, both of which grew out of the Clarion workshops.
In 1991, Kate Wilhelm and Damon Knight invited me to serve as an instructor at the Clarion workshop for a weekend. I worked myself to exhaustion and look forward to doing so again. (In fact, I'd been speaking with Lister Matheson about teaching in 2004.) This is not blind allegiance on my part; it's dedication born of my conviction that _there is no better workshop in the US._ The Clarion Workshop approach, using five or six different instructors over six weeks, is not effective for everyone, but it is practical and it is effective. In my talks with M.F.A. students and instructors from Amherst, Iowa, and Columbia, I've been convinced that the Clarion workshop is not just exceptional, it's damn near a miracle. And the miracle continues to work.
I've been editor of one of the field's leading magazines, _The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, since 1997. My work as an editor has brought me in contact with hundreds, probably thousands of writers. None have shown me that they received a better education in the craft of writing than the ones who attended the Clarion workshop. Every year I read submissions from Clarion students eagerly and I hope I will be able to do so for many more years to come. If you can possibly continue to support the program, please do so.
Gordon Van Gelder
Fantasy & Science Fiction
From Ellen Datlow
Dear Dr. Simon:
I understand that the Clarion Writing Workshop is in danger of
losing its funding by Michigan State University.
I have been an editor and anthologist of science fiction and
fantasy for over twenty years: at OMNI Magazine for over seventeen
and at SCIFI.COM for three. I have won a record-tying six World
Fantasy Awards, one Bram Stoker Award, and the Hugo Award for my
editorial work. I have also taught at both Clarion workshops over
Clarion is invaluable as a breeding ground for some of the most
important writers in the field of fantastic literature. The
workshops attract aspiring writers of all ages from all over the
world, and provide inspiration, encouragement, incisive criticism
from top writers and editors, and practical information about
writing and the business of writing. The loss of this institution
of the arts would be literature's loss.
I urge you and your colleagues to prevent this from happening.
From Sheila Williams
Dear Dr. Simon and Dr. Wilkins,
As the executive editor of two of the science fiction field's leading
short-story magazines, I was dismayed and alarmed to hear of Michigan
State University's decision to withdraw funding from the Clarion
Writer's Workshop. Clarion has always been extremely successful at
identifying talented new authors and teaching them how to write better
and professionally. At the magazines, we've been fortunate to have the opportunity to further nurture the careers of writers who were first discovered and who learned much of what they know about writing at Clarion. Those writers include some of the field's most distinguished authors, such as Kim Stanley Robinson, Lucius Shepard, Bruce Sterling, and James Patrick Kelly. They also include some of the field's newest writers: Lena DeTar, Michael Jasper, Cory Doctorow, and many others.
Established science fiction authors often go on to write novels and have less time to write fiction for the magazines. Our pages, however, have been continuously replenished by the works of exciting new writers, many of whom are Clarion alum. The field as a whole and the magazines in particular will certainly be affected the loss of this marvelously successful workshop.
Asimov's / Analog
From Karen Joy Fowler
To Dr. Lou Anna K. Simon and Dr. Wendy K. Wilkins:
I am, of course, distressed to hear of MSU's decision to cancel funding for the Clarion workshop. This partnership has been a wonderful one with a long, successful history. We appreciate all the support we've had from you over the years and wish it were continuing. Please let me know if there is any chance of reversing this decision. MSU has been a wonderful home.
From Lisa Tuttle
Dear Dr Simon,
I'm writing to say how shocked and saddened I was to hear that funding for the Clarion Writers Workshop has been cut.
I was myself a Clarion student -- back in the early 1970s -- and have always felt it to have been one of the most important and helpful influences on my development as a professional writer. Although Syracuse University, where I took my degree, had a creative writing department, I feel I learned more about the art and craft of writing from the professional writers who taught me at Clarion. I sold my first short stories within weeks of leaving Clarion (while still an undergraduate at Syracuse) and I date that as the beginning of my professional career, which now spans almost thirty years and has resulted in five novels, twelve books for children, half a dozen non-fiction books and almost a hundred short stories.
For more of my thoughts about the Clarion experience I'll refer you to my book Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction (A&C Black, 2001).
It's not just me that Clarion has helped, of course. And at a time when writing courses -- even degrees in creative writing -- are more popular and sought-after than ever before, it is especially hard to understand why Clarion, which has produced so many professional writers, and which has been functioning so well for so long, should lose its funding.
I'm writing this in the hope that it is NOT too late, and that this decision could be reconsidered, and Clarion might still have a future.
About Lisa Tuttle
From Alyx Dellamonica
This is a short note written in hopes of encouraging the University to
reconsider its decision to withdraw funding from the Clarion program.
By way of introduction, I am a Canadian science fiction writer and reviewer
living in Vancouver, British Columbia. My reviews appear regularly in LOCUS
Magazine and Science Fiction Weekly; my fiction in a range of venues--most
recently as a selection for the newest Year's Best Science Fiction
I attended Clarion West in 1995, and consider the experience to have been
vital to my learning about the SF field while developing my writing ability.
What's more, almost everyone I know who is currently in the field has been
to one Clarion or the other.
I chose to go to Seattle rather than Michigan for reasons that boiled down
to money and geography: it was less expensive for me to attend the workshop
nearest my hometown. For East Coast SF writers in both the U.S. and Canada,
a cancellation of the Michigan Clarion would represent a significant barrier
to workshop attendance, one that would also put more pressure on Seattle to
educate the up and coming writers in the field. The body of literature
produced by SF writers would, I am certain, be the poorer for it.
If there is any possibility that the funding for this program can be
salvaged, I urge you most strongly to do so.
From Justina Robson
Dear Dr Simon, Dr Wilkins
CLARION EAST FUNDING
I have just heard that the funding for this workshop has been
discontinued and I believe as a result that it is likely the workshop
will have to close.
I am writing to you as an alumnus of Clarion West, its sister program in
Seattle, which I attended in 1996. Although I cannot attribute my
successes entirely to Clarion West it formed a critical landmark in my
progress, giving me a great leap forward in my abilities as a writer, a
critic, an editor and a human being for which I will always be grateful.
Perhaps most importantly the Clarion workshops are an endangered species
of workshop - a situation where the fundamentally important imaginative
arts of Science Fiction and Fantasy are taken seriously and taught and
criticised with the passion they require. Nowhere else is there a
formal setting where students are brought into prolonged and direct
contact with mentors from all over the relevant fields. It provides an
insight gained via experience of what it is like to make a living from
the creative arts.
It was the first SF writers, during the age of the Stuarts in Britain,
who lit the imaginative fuse that gave rise to all the achievements of
contemporary space exploration, microbiological science and medicine.
It was the Fantasy writers of all ages who kept the flame of culture and
civilisation alive during periods of deep depression in human history,
and who inspire multitudes of people today to rise to the challenges of
life, lifted by the power of other people's visions and dreams. I
include, of course, all those writing mainstream and other forms of
There are many great writers and artists who would succeed without
Clarion, and have. But some of us have benefited enormously as
individuals and the arts as a whole have benefited enormously from the
presence of this workshop, whose ripples reach much further than the
story pages of the monthly magazines.
Please encourage those in power to reconsider Clarion East's funding.
From Mary Turzillo
Dear Dr. Lou Anna K. Simon:
I have heard recently that funding for Michigan State's prestigious Clarion Workshop has been cancelled. As a writer and winner of the 1999 Nebula Award, I must write and urge you to attempt to find funding for this program. A list of the graduates will include award-winning screenwriters, novelists, editors, and others in the literary world.
Its cancellation would be an enormous blow to the world of letters in America.
Mary A. Turzillo
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.
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.
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
Very truly yours,
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
Very truly yours,
Jay Lake, SFWA
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
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.
Partner, Other Change of Hobbit
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, and Chairman of the Board of the Clarion West Writer's Workshop. 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.