This past summer I managed to stumble into the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, an eight day gathering in a beautiful and quaint Ohio town about an hour east of Columbus. I wished I could have found more information about the experiences of past attendees. So I hope this might be helpful for someone. But let me begin.
If you would like to meet an agent or if you want to pitch your next great American novel, then the Kenyon Review Writers workshop is not for you. However, if you want to be submersed in the craft, attend exhilarating workshops, and sweat from writer’s exhaustion (yes, this is a thing) then Kenyon is your calling.
Every day you attend a workshop with the same workshop leader. You are then given a challenge that you will write that same night and then workshop the following day. Crazy. Forget the privilege of a poem a week or a poem a month because Kenyon is purely about the blood and sweat of writing (and trust me, you will bleed).
The poetry faculty included David Baker, Carl Phillips, Linda Gregerson, and Stanley Plumly. I also heard nothing but wonderful comments regarding the rest of the faculty. There is also guaranteed one-on-one time with your workshop leader in which you can talk about whatever you would like. I recall confessing my fear of marriage and commitments. You can have fun with it.
Every night there would either be faculty readings, fellow readings, and student readings. While some people love reading their own work, I do not entirely enjoy it. However, it is enforced that everyone reads and I didn’t meet anyone that managed to get out of it. Despite my personal feelings, you do read in a room of people that truly support you.
If you are going to suffer over writing, Kenyon is the perfect place to do it. A place reminiscent of Hogwarts, Kenyon will embrace your creative craft. It is also in lovely Gambier, a small town in rural Ohio that really only consists of the college.
In terms of accommodations, I stayed in the Kenyon dorm rooms (some opted and paid extra for apartments). Breakfast and dinner was included in the tuition. Gambier deli sold sandwiches and lunch is usually attended on your own time.
In my past workshops, I often wondered if I had learned something that is applicable to the craft as opposed to just marking up a bunch of poems. At Kenyon I did not feel this way at all.
With this, I am reminded of a moment in The Art of Recklessness, by Dean Young. “It is also worth entertaining the notion that the least important time in any workshop is when your own work is being talked about.”
I loved it. I walked away from Kenyon feeling as though I learned something about the craft that I could actually hold onto and would then carry to my own aesthetic for years to come. With this being said, I highly recommend Kenyon if you consider writing a top priority. Kenyon has an amazing way of embracing you in a setting that is truly only temporary.