The Attic Atheneum (Master Writing Program)

Portland's groundbreaking alternative to the MFA.

An annual certificate program, the Attic Atheneum melds independent study under close faculty supervision, student receptions, public readings, and other special Atheneum events created around good food and great conversation, dialogue, and literary community.

Running for just under a year, the Atheneum is designed to advance your writing and seed literary life in the city. Atheneum Fellows form a unique community of literary artists and citizens.

For the next Atheneum year, we're taking applications only in fiction and nonfiction.



Atheneum Faculty for 2021-2022

Lee Montgomery, Whitney Otto, Joanna Rose, Brian Benson.




The Attic Atheneum offers a unique and pragmatic format for an intensive focus on your writing while participating fully in your everyday adult life. The Atheneum provides you with a thriving literary community comprised of 18 members — with no more than 6 students each in fiction and nonfiction, and 4 faculty.

An alternative to traditional and low-residency MFAs, the Atheneum is structured to build on your strengths and encourage you to become an active participant in your literary life.

The program includes independent study under close faculty supervision, receptions, public readings, and discussion, selected readings, and other Atheneum events created around good food and great conversation, dialogue, and community. Plus, an end-of-program urban retreat to focus on your future writing goals.

Historically, an atheneum is a literary or scientific association dedicated to learning. And that's how we envision the Attic Atheneum, too.

The Atheneum aims to foster a strong sense of community among both students and faculty and to make each year's class of students a unique collection of writers and readers.

Our vision is that, in the future, Attic Atheneum alumni will continue to interact with current Atheneum members and help broaden a thriving literary community from year to year.

How does it work? Throughout your Atheneum year as an Atheneum Fellow, meetings and correspondence between you and the faculty mentor occur at regular intervals. Through building community and emphasizing an individualized course of study and engagement with faculty, our goal is not to duplicate the MFA model or to supply academic credentials, but to allow you to immerse yourself in your writing discipline, help you to remain accountable to your aspirations over an extended and reasonable period of time, and to affirm your literary ambition and skills.


“The Atheneum faculty asked the questions that forced me to tell the story of my memoir that needed to be told.  My experiences, my attitude, my thoughts, and my imperfections bubbled up to the surface and found the exact spot in the manuscript that would allow the reader understand and follow my journey to its conclusion.”

~ Brian Biggs, Atheneum Class 2015
"My year of Atheneum study introduced me to a whole new approach to writing. After years of workshopping my pages in a weekly group the Atheneum offered additional opportunities to talk about writing during bimonthly salons at the Crows Nest and public readings. I came away from the Atheneum with a new narrative arc, thanks to Karen Karbo, for a second memoir manuscript, plus a whole new group of writing friends that I'm still in touch with a year after the program ended."


~ Kelly Wallace, Atheneum Class 2014
"The Atheneum was a great way to kick-start my writing.  I got onto a regular writing schedule which I’ve kept going after the program.  The monthly one-on-one facilitation in poetry I received from David Biespiel and Wendy Willis was excellent with feedback to help hone my skills, and bring out my best writing.  They recommended poets that both increased my exposure and still continue to teach me how to write.  Working in small groups with other writers throughout the year, helped facilitate lasting connections to writing.  This is an invaluable year."
~ Greg Berman, Atheneum Class of 2014

"In the past year, I have come to discover writing as an anchor for my evolving private and public lives. This program has helped me embrace the ups and downs, and uncertain refueling points, that are personally integral to sustaining the craft."

~ Shelley Stearns, Atheneum Class 2013


"David Biespiel and Wendy Willis are outstanding poets. But more than that, they are amazing mentors. Insights fall like Portland rain. They met me where my writing was. They identified and led me to capitalize on my strengths. The Atheneum can help you find your own strengths, seize on them, and become the writer you uniquely are. It was a year exceptionally well spent." 

~ David Melville, Atheneum Class 2013


"After taking my first fiction class with Merridawn Duckler last year, I was crushing. Hard. So I applied to the Atheneum just to have an excuse to be around her more. I knew I would thrive under her instruction; with Greg Robillard as the other half of "Team Lies" I knew I was lucky. Besides absorbing as much of their wisdom on craft as I could, my confidence in asking the right questions, finding the heart of the story, and trusting my instincts increased. Of course, they were just two of a group of kick ass writers who were at once inspiring and gracious, encouraging and impressive...not to mention incredibly witty. I now take myself as a fiction writer seriously because of the Atheneum, and my once small crush has become a full-blown love affair with the Portland literary community."

~ Celeste Hamilton, Atheneum Class 2012


"When I applied to the Atheneum, I wanted to work in community with other people devoted to writing, my emphasis on poetry.To breathe poetry. Unvoiced, I wanted to find a route to having a poem published. This was a beginning for me -- and what a birthing it was, from Wendy Willis asking "what poets do you read?" to David Biespiel's steady leadership and mentorship. At the graduation, I said I'm not done here -- and I stayed on for two years in the Poetry Studio with David Biespiel. Yes, a poem was published... I got the courage to submit it from The Atheneum. Then another and another. Then a chapook. I learned the value of studying with a mentor and sought to study with others...and to read and read and read."

~ Tricia Knoll, Atheneum Class 2012


"The Atheneum had a profound impact on my writing. Over the course of the year, I learned so much about craft and my own voice, and I emerged with a real sense of possibility about my ability to become a capital-w Writer. For motivated, dedicated writers, the program offers a great balance of structured activity and time to write. I can't imagine having this level of determination, confidence and curiosity without my experience in the Atheneum."

 ~ Brian Benson, Atheneum class of 2012 


"Having the monthly faculty meetings was a true blessing and prod and inspiration.  I advanced my writing and my project. The guidance I received from Greg Robillard to simplify my story and jettison material, and his enthusiasm for my better writing, was helpful.  Merridawn Duckler's directive to finalize a synopsis was essential and a great learning experience. Her closer editing feedback by reading aloud was helpful as well. Overall, I now have 2/3 of a draft of my novel and a strong plot. I now have a much better grasp of how to structure a novel, the importance of advance plotting, the beauty of simplicity and depth, and essentially how to marry my exceptional right brain (imagination/color/poetry/description/mood) with my limping left brain (plotting, editing, movement, beginnings and endings etc). I felt encouraged, supported by all during the gatherings I attended.

 ~ Cynthia Dettman, Atheneum class of 2012



"The cross-genre Atheneum has given me some sense of what other writers are doing and a clearer sense of what writers in each genre have in common as well as our perceptions of art, our triumphs and frustrations with publishing, and the local literary scene."

~ Jodie Marion, Atheneum class of 2011



"When I started the Atheneum, I had made a commitment to doing whatever I needed to do to pursue my writing dreams. As an emerging writer, I have often dealt with insecurity about whether I was good enough as a writer and whether or not I could actually make this dream come true given how competitive and daunting the writing/publishing world can be. The Atheneum seemed like the perfect opportunity to take my writing life to another level. I had no idea how perfect it would turn out to be. From the start, the mentors in this program accepted all of us as peers and colleagues more so than students. The feedback and counsel I got from my individual meetings with my two mentors in the fiction group was very helpful and encouraging. Also, our group sessions and informal discussions provided opportunities for learning and sharing on a level much different than the typical classroom context. After nearly a year in the program, I feel like I've been accepted into a community of writers and have forged connections that will continue long after my time in the program is over. And best of all, I think now I can make this writing life happen for me. I'm grateful to the Atheneum program for helping me get here."  

~ Wayne Gregory, Atheneum class of 2011



Applications Due: May 16, 2022.



Nomination/Application Form (** Please note: if you are having trouble getting your app to us in time, need support or extra time with your letter of recommendation, please email us. We know this is a difficult time to be applying for something in the fall, and we want to make it work for you.)



Atheneum Fellows Class of 2022

Atheneum Fellows Class of 2021

Atheneum Fellows: Class of 2020

Atheneum Fellows: Class of 2019

Atheneum Fellows: Class of 2018

Atheneum Fellows: Class of 2017

Atheneum Fellows: Class of 2016

Atheneum Fellows: Class of 2015

Atheneum Fellows: Class of 2014

Atheneum Fellows: Class of 2013

Atheneum Fellows: Class of 2012

Atheneum Fellows: Class of 2011


The Atheneum year runs from September - June.

Writers may nominate themselves.

Nomination/Application Form


For more information, contact us directly.