A Closer Look At Letters

The Letter as a Literary Form w/ Wendy Willis

A note from Wendy:

"Since quarantine began, I have written dozens of letters. I have relished the physicality of whisking paper and ink—via my favorite government agency—from my hands into the hands of friends and family members and colleagues. It has been a source of mammalian solace for sure, but it has also made me attend to letters in a new way. I realize that the “I” recounting the days at her desk is slightly different depending upon the “you” who will collect the letter at the mailbox. The stories are selected just for that particular “you;” the diction is different depending on who—mother? novelist-friend? best pal from high school?—is at the other end; the level of bawdiness is carefully monitored.

Not surprisingly, all this attention to my own letter writing has driven me back into the arms of literary letters—the stunning letters between writers (think: Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell or Anais Nïn and Henry Miller), as well as the incredible examples of epistolary literature like the melancholy letter at the heart of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead or the incisive warning and indictment in the letter which comprised Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahesi Coates (inspired in part by an epistolary essay by James Baldwin). And the hundreds of epistolary poems that span the centuries from Ovid to Langston Hughes to Victoria Chang.

All that is to say that the world is contained in a letter, and—starting February 1st—we are going to explore that world as we dig deep into everything from consciousness to word choice to audience. We will read letters and write them and experiment with what they have to offer us as readers and as writers. So, I hope you’ll join us . . . or just let me know if you need a letter. (All genres and all experience levels are welcome)."

Register for Wendy's workshop here.

Listen to Your Stomach

Last chance to register for this incredible workshop!

Telling Our Stories Through Food w/ Zahir Janmohamed 

"Did you try to bake something ambitious at the start of the pandemic and fail? Great. I did, too. That’s sort of what this class is about: what can our food stories tell us about ourselves? Food is an incredible vehicle to speak about pleasure, pain, history, family, nostalgia, place, race, gender, class, sexuality, colonialism—you name it. In this course, we will read examples of powerful, first person food essays, as well as write our own food stories. Each class will feature a mixture of generative exercises and workshop. We will also hear from a guest speaker about how to write a recipe."

For more information, click here.

$2000 Publication Opportunity for Emerging Essayists

Do you have an essay ready to send off for publication? Do you have three or fewer publications under your writerly belt?

If so, GAY MAG, edited by Roxane Gay, is launching a new publication opportunity for emerging nonfiction writers. Each month, Gay and her editors will publish an essay from emerging writers

twice a month starting January 2021. Each accepted submission will recieve $2,000.

For more information on submission guidelines, and other parameters, click here.

On Being A Lonely Human: Ottessa Moshfegh's Timely New Novel

In the New York Times feature, "Ottessa Moshfegh Is Only Human," Ottessa Moshfegh, author of My Year of Rest and Relaxation, talks about her newest novel, Death in Her Hands, and how it unwittingly became a book that closely reflects our current circumstances: loneliness and isolation.

"As unreliable as Moshfegh’s narrators are, as unstable, insecure and full of hate, they are also hellbent on pulling themselves out of their wretchedness, on saving themselves. What makes Moshfegh’s characters most human is that they don’t give up."

Order Death in Her Hands from Bookshop.org here to support local bookstores.

Start Your New Year With Short Stories

Short Fiction Workshop w/ Thea Chacamaty

"Alice Munro says, "A short story is not like a road...it's more like a house." Do you want to write a short story, but you're not sure where to start? Or how to finish? In this craft-focused course we will write a short story from start to finish by studying the architectures of great short stories by authors like Alice Munro, Edward P. Jones, Frederick Busch, Lesley Arimah, and others. We will read short stories and dissect how they are constructed to determine how writers make their careful choices, and to what effect. Each week, we will focus on specific craft elements centered around form: plot, scene, and story shape. Along the way, targeted writing exercises will aid us in our efforts, as we share and critique one another's writing. By the fifth week, we will have a first draft to critique and revise."

For more information, click here.

Revisit Your Poetry This January

Don't miss your chance to register for these upcoming poetry workshops!

Life of the Poem Workshop w/ Matthew Dickman

"When is a poem truly finished? In this class we are going to decide ahead of time! We will follow the "Life" of a single poem. We will write our first draft on day one and develop, explore, and revise it on subsequent days until the last day when we put our pens down and reveal our final draft."

For more information, click here.



Poetry of the Ecstatic Unknown Workshop w/ Ashley Toliver

"In this class, we’ll approach writing as an emergent process, using Gertrude Stein’s famous line, “And then there is using everything” as our guide and north star. Each session, we’ll work to connect with the inherent and subtle creativity of the body through exercises designed to help us cross the threshold to what is unknown..."

For more information, click here.

Don't Miss These January Workshops

Creating a Writer's Notebook: Artifact and Mulch w/ Wendy Willis

"In this two-day workshop, we will explore the practice of creating and sustaining a writer's notebook. On the first day, we will begin to use a notebook to catch the wisps of our days and uncover the musings of the deep imagination.  Two weeks later, we will come together to discover how the raw material in the notebook can be transformed into finished pieces of writing. This workshop will have frequent breaks to ease the strain of working online for so many hours, as well as timed writings by hand (again, to ease the time on the computer), and breakout sessions to work one-on-one or small groups."

For more information, click here.

Seconds to Centuries: Managing Time in Short Fiction w/ Elinam Agbo

"In Tobias Wolff’s very short “Bullet in the Brain,” a second blooms into years. Generational wounds carry great influence in Lesley Nneka Arimah’s “The Future Looks Good,” and Alice Munro guides us through memory in “The Bear Came Over the Mountain.” How does a single decision echo across lifetimes? How do time and mortality connect strangers? In this workshop, we will expand and dilute moments in our fiction, learning from those who do it best."

For more information, click here.

Attic Feature: Carol Hendrickson

Carol Hendrickson

Meet Carol. She's the Attic's Assistant to the President. She keeps the Attic running from behind the scenes.

Q: How are you?

A: I’m doing well and determined to not let this COVID-19 thing be the end of me.  I’ll be one of the first in line for a vaccine once they are widely available.  I live with my sweet Burmese rescue cat “Elsa” (she has no tail) in a townhouse in the Orenco Station area of Hillsboro, a community with myriad walking trails that I love to utilize.  Everything I need is nearby, but I do miss dining and socializing with friends.  A long-planned Roads Scholar trip to Amsterdam during tulip season was cancelled.  I also miss ballroom dance classes, driving to the Attic on Hawthorne Blvd. twice a week to work with David Biespiel, and occasionally for in-person workshops.  Joining some of the Attic’s online workshops this year has been a wonderful way to keep busy, and as an added bonus, I’ve finally gotten to know some of the many Attic writers whose names I was long familiar with.

Ethically Shop Online for Books

"Bookshop.org is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support local, independent bookstores.

If you want to find a specific local bookstore to support, find them on our map and they’ll receive the full profit off your order. Otherwise, your order will contribute to an earnings pool that will be evenly distributed among independent bookstores (even those that don’t use Bookshop)." 

#BoxedOut: Publishers in the Pandemic Pt. 2

"Notebook: Boxed out (Part Two)" continues Book Post's meditation on the increasingly rocky terrain of book publishing and book selling in the midst of the pandemic.

"Indie bookselling, in short, may not always serve the immediate bottom line as much as a mega-bestseller, but it is vital to the reading ecosystem: not only supporting a range of writers and publishers (and ideas) but selling the books that are cultivating the careers and the readers that publishing will need for the fertile backlists of the future."


#BoxedOut: Independent Bookstores vs. Amazon and the Pandemic Pt. 1


Book Post shared an interesting article about the changing fate of independent bookstores as they reckon not only with Amazon, but with the economic impacts of the pandemic.

In "Notebook: Boxed Out (Part One)," the same advertising team responsible for selling Payless shoes to shoe-influencers for hundreds of dollars, started a new campaign to draw attention to local bookstores during the holiday season.

"The boxes were tagged with lines like 'Our WiFi is free—please don’t use it to make a $1.6 trillion company even richer' and 'Books curated by real people, not a creepy algorithm that wants you to buy deodorant' and mock book covers like To Kill a Locally Owned Bookstore and Little Women Who Own Bookstores And Are Getting Priced Out By Giant Warehouse Retailers."

Fellow Feature: Zahir Janmohamed

Zahir Janmohamed

Last week, Zahir Janmohamed, a previous Attic student and current Attic fellow, answered a few questions about his life as a working writer. As a renowned essayist/playwright/poet/short story writer and more, Zahir imagines genre and the teaching of writing not only as necessary practices but as creative exercises.

This January, he is teaching a workshop called "Telling Our Stories Through Food."

A link to Zahir's full bio can be found here. A link to his website can be found here.

Q: How are you?

A: Ecstatic. I knew I would be relieved to see Trump lose, but I did not think the feeling   would be this good. A friend said it best: we can finally go days, even weeks, without thinking or worrying about what the US president does. Imagine that!


PBF Highlight: Natalie Diaz & Live Wire Radio

Portland Book Festival is in full swing! Here is one event that should be on your radar.

On Friday, November 20th, from 12:00-12:45pm PST, Natalie Diaz will talk about her new poetry collection, Postcolonial Love Poem, with Live Wire Radio. 

"In this new lyrical landscape, the bodies of indigenous, Latinx, black, and brown women are simultaneously the body politic and the body ecstatic. In claiming this autonomy of desire, language is pushed to its dark edges, the astonishing dunefields and forests where pleasure and love are both grief and joy, violence and sensuality." - Graywolf Press

Register for the free live-stream discussion and read more about Postcolonial Love Poem. You can even RSVP for an email reminder to be sent to you on the day of the event.

Even better, Elena Passarello, writer & associate professor at Oregon State University, will be announcing the event for Live Wire Radio!

Special Submission Opportunity for Attic Writers

Hello Attic writers!

Read below for an exciting submission opportunity:

For their sixth issue, Buckman Journal is offering an exclusive open call for submissions for writers affliated with the Attic. The sixth issue is due to be released in June 2021 and they are accepting short fiction, flash fiction, and creative nonfiction.

For more information on the submission process, email jerry@buckmanpublishing.com.

In the meantime, check out Buckman Journal's beautiful website here.

Write Around Portland: Free and Low-Cost Creative Writing Workshops

Writing is often thought of as something done in isolation; we know there is immense power when writing is done in community. Join us for creativity and community-building, with generative writing exercises, sharing and strengths-based feedback. Write Around Portland's workshop model, refined over 22 years, is proven for people of all writing levels: from the budding writer to the published author. 

Bi-Weekly Online Writing Workshop

  • Wednesdays: 4-5:30pm
  • Thursdays: 11 am-12:30 pm
Sliding Scale Fee*: $5-30 per person. ($0 registration also available for past Write Around Portland participants at a social service agency and people experiencing financial hardship due to the coronavirus.)

Workshops are held via Zoom. Weekly registration opens Monday at noon and closes one hour before the workshop. Click here for more workshop details

Portland Book Festival Starts This Week!

It's finally time for the 2020 Portland Book Festival! 

Running from November 5-21, the Portland Book Festival is offering hundreds of free events for you to enjoy. 

Even better, this year's festival is taking place virtually, so you can access all of the craft talks, author Q&A's, and more from the comfort of your own home.

Check out the festival's incredible author line-up and schedule here

Follow this link to register and ensure that you won't miss out on any of these literary events.

Don't Miss Out On A Workshop This Fall

There are still spots available in these incredible workshops this November—don't miss an opportunity to work on your writing before the end of the year.

  • Successful Methods and Habits of Composition with David Biespiel | Nov 1 | 9am-4pm. Learn more here.

  • Story Energy with Joanna Rose | Nov 7 - Dec 5. Learn more here.

  • Art of Personal Essay and Memoir with Lee Montgomery | Nov 7 - Dec 12. Learn more here.

  • Read a Poem, Write a Poem Workshop III with Matthew Dickman | Nov 16. Learn more here.

What to Read Next: Best of the Best (of The Last Decade)

Need a little help deciding what book to read next? 

At the end of 2019, LitHub published mutliple "The Best of the Decade" reading lists that vary from essay collections and memoirs to debut novels and more. Each entry includes the cover of the book and a short blurb that describes its content. While the lists are not exhaustive, they are a great place to start when you can't decide what book to pick up next.

Reclaiming BIPOC Creative Spaces in Portland

Founded by Celeste Noche, Portland in Color is an organizaiton that"envisions a future where [Portland's] Black, Indigenous, and/or people of color creatives are supported beyond visibility" through events, community partnerships, and public directories. 

"Portland in Color disrupts the homogeneity of Portland arts and media landscape by highlighting the voices and experiences of Black, Indigenous, and/or people of color." - Portland of Color 

Click here to check out their featured creatives or email portlandincolor@gmail.com for more information.


Let's Talk Grief, Let's Talk Hope


Accalimed novelist, Jesmyn Ward, has a breathtaking personal essay up on Vanity Fair. 

In "On Witness and Respair: A Personal Tragedy Followed by Pandemic," Ward documents the unspeakable grief of losing her partner during the early stages of the pandemic and the startingly hope of the social justice movements that followed her loss.

If there is one personal essay that you need to read about our current events—this should be it. 

Oregon Writer With Published Work?

The submission deadline for the 2021 Oregon Book Awards is October 23rd, 2020

Alongside recieving financial support, winners and finalists attend the Oregon Book Awards Ceremony and are also invited to travel for the Oregon Book Awards Author Tour.

Follow this link for the entry form and guidelines. 

"Oregon Book Awards program honors the state’s finest accomplishments by Oregon writers who work in genres of poetry, fiction, graphic literature, drama, literary nonfiction, and literature for young readers." -Literary Arts

Virtual Book Tour for David Biespiel's Highly-Anticipated Memoir

Here's a treat. Read a sneak peek of an exclusive excerpt from the opening of Attic Institute founder David Biespiel's new book, A Place of Exodus: Home, Memory, and Texas

Starred Reviews and high praise are coming in for this "poignantly eloquent memoir" from Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and others. Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky calls A Place of Exodus a "surprising, heartbreaking, and inspiring story." 

Order at: BookshopPowellsAnnie Bloom's BooksBroadway BooksAmazon, or wherever you love to buy books from independent booksellers.

New Writing Fellows Join the Attic Institute of Arts and Letters Online Faculty

Beginning in August, writers are now fortunate to take workshops with three inspiring Writing Fellows.

Elinam Agbo was born in Ghana and grew up in Kansas. A graduate of the Clarion Workshop, she holds a BA from the University of Chicago and an MFA from the University of Michigan’s Helen Zell Writers’ Program. She is also a winner of the 2018 PEN/Dau Short Story Prize, a 2019 Aspen Words Fellow, and a recipient of the honorable mention prize for fiction in the 2019 Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers. She lives in Ann Arbor, where she is an Assistant Editor at Michigan Quarterly Review and co-founder of MQR Mixtape. 



Zahir Janmohamed lives in Ann Arbor. He is a Zell Writing Fellow at the University of Michigan, where he completed an MFA in fiction and received awards in fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and playwriting. He is also the co-founder of the James Beard nominated podcast Racist Sandwich. His articles have been published in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Nation, Guernica, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and many other publications. He has received fellowships and scholarships from MacDowell, Bread Loaf, Kundiman, and VONA. Prior to beginning his writing career, he worked in the US Congress and at Amnesty International. 


Thea Chacamaty is a fiction writer living in Portland, Oregon. She received her MFA in prose from the University of Michigan's Helen Zell Writers' Program, where in 2019-2020 she was a postgraduate Zell Fellow. She has been a recipient of the Henfield Prize from the Joseph McCrindle Foundation, a Hopwood Award, the Kasdan Prize, and her writing has appeared in the Missouri Review.











Huge Book Sale: Donations to BLM and others

The weekend of June 12-14 the Attic sold or donated thousands of books to our Attic Institute, Portland, and Oregon communities. Thank you to everyone who bought books in support.

From sales of books, we donated $500 to Don't Shoot Portland, a Portland accountability group formed to scrutinize actions of the Portland Police Bureau.

We donated over 800 books of poetry to the Oregon State Hospital, which provides patient-centered, psychiatric treatment for adults from throughout the state who need hospital-level care.

We donated over 250 books of nonfiction to Street Books, a bicycle-powered mobile library, serving people who live outside in Portland.

How We're Responding In This Time Of Need | A Letter from Founder David Biespiel

June 7 2020

Everyday, for some twenty years now, I've always had a good feeling walking up the narrow stairwell to the Attic Institute's offices and libraries, where our writing workshops take place. It's always exciting to enter this haven for writers, a place of so many literary struggles and triumphs. And, it's always inspiring to be greeted by the special message for writers from Walt Whitman that is stenciled on the wall at the top of the stairs -- 

Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you.  

You must travel it by yourself.  

It is not far. It is within reach.  

Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. 

I'm excited about our upcoming Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 seasons of workshops -- all online, of course. Already the first of dozens of new workshops for the fall are open for registration, as well as summer workshops. Soon, over the next few weeks, we'll be adding new fall workshops from new faculty from around the country -- a first for the Attic. 

Since we migrated all our Portland workshops to Zoom back in March, already over 150 writers, from as far as Alaska to Pennsylvania, have registered and participated.

At the same time, it's with a heavy heart that I am giving you the news today that on July 1, we will be moving out of our location because of the public health crisis. We're going to miss our wonderful, funky, brick building on Hawthorne Boulevard so much, a place we proudly think of as the birthplace of Portland's literary renaissance. 

Sadly, social-distancing and intimate in-person writing workshops don't go together. 

Anguish and Action: A Statement from Attic Institute of Arts and Letters 

In the days since George Floyd's death, it is impossible not to feel grief for his family--and outrage, revulsion, and vexation that his death is the latest in a long line of tragedy and injustice, and an agonizing reminder that a person's race still determines how they will be treated in almost every aspect of American life. 

No one deserves to die the way George Floyd did. Truth is, if you're white in America, the chances are you won't.  

That truth is what underlies the pain and the anger that so many of us--faculty, staff, and students--at the Attic Institute of Arts and Letters are feeling and expressing, that the path of an entire life can be measured and devalued by the color of one's skin. 

Over 1,000 people are killed by police every year in America, and Black people are three times more likely to be killed than White people. 

We, at the Attic Institute, join the call for reforms to combat police violence and systemic racism within law enforcement. 

At the Attic Institute, we believe stories help us make sense of the world. And we believe that we all can and must do more to listen to and amplify the stories of people who have suffered the legacy of racial oppression and violence that has festered throughout the history of the United States.

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From David Biespiel, President of the Attic Institute of Arts and Letters


Letter in 2010 announcing the new Attic Institute

"Eleven years have gone by in a blink. But today begins a new era as we renew our dedication both to the word and to the world."


Interview about the founding of the Attic Institute

"All sorts of excellent pieces of writing get started and finished here. That's what it means to be a literary studio."


Essay in the New York Times on they mysteries of poetry

"Poetry connects us to our past, and poets unmask both private and civic memories, dreams, and urgencies. By harmonizing the body with the mind, serving both young and old, poetry is a guide to deliver us into a fresh engagement with our inner lives and with modernity."


Essay on poets and democracy in Poetry magazine: "This Land Is Our Land"

"America's poets have a minimal presene in American civic discourse and a miniscule public role in the life of American democracy. I find this condition perplexing and troubling -- both for poetry and for democracy."