The Infinite Matrix

Stories Columns Archive FAQ Home

maureen mchugh
reports from the front

by Eileen Gunn



More Clarion News:
Maureen McHugh, who is teaching this week and next at Clarion, along with James Patrick Kelly, sends a report from the fields of play:

Hello from Clarion, where we are mostly in a sort of workshop bubble. Apparently the university was not expecting the amount of outcry that Clarion funding cuts have generated. They appear to be re-considering in light of the response and the Director of Clarion, Dr. Lister Matheson, has asked that anyone who would like to contact the university please do so. Snail mail would be particularly helpful, but email is certainly helping. Thanks to everyone who has contacted the university already.
Maureen McHugh

I encourage the readers of The Infinite Matrix to send an email to MSU's Interim President and Provost, Dr. Lou Anna K. Simon at, and the Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, Dr. Wendy K. Wilkins at Please copy any messages to Please 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. The latest batch is all-star editors: 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.

Earlier letters came from 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 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.

Yours truly,

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 the years.

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.

Thank you.

Ellen Datlow
Fiction Editor


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.

Sincerely yours,
Sheila Williams
Executive Editor
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.

— Karen Fowler


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.

Sincerely yours,
Lisa Tuttle
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 anthology.

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.

best regards,
A.M. Dellamonica
Vancouver, B.C.


From Justina Robson

Dear Dr Simon, Dr Wilkins


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 fiction.

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.

Yours sincerely,
Justina Robson
CW 1996


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
Clarion '


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.


Cory Doctorow

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
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

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.

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)



For a fast, secure way to send a contribution and keep us in business, click on one of these buttons.

Via PayPal:


Via Amazon's Honor System:

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More







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.

home | stories | columns | archive | faq |