Week One’s writers-in-residence Buntin and Svalina host workshops by exploring the power of the absurd and “knockout” beginnings

A Maya Angelou quote could be the epigraph for Week One of the Writers’ Center programming:


“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”


Mathias Svalina and Julie Buntin kick off the season as the first poet and prose writers-in-residence, respectively, with their workshops this week.

Svalina will teach “Exploring Dream Logic in Our Poetry” and Buntin will teach “Getting Started, Getting Unstuck and Writing Strong Beginnings.”

Both writers will give readings on  Sunday June 24th at 3:30 p.m. in the Hall of Philosophy, a new location this year.

Mathias Svalina

Svalina is the author of poetry collections including The Wine-dark Sea and Wastoid. He is also founding editor of the publishing house, Octopus Books. Currently, he travels through towns on his bicycle as part of his Dream Delivery Service, writing and delivering dreams to subscribers in pearly pink envelopes.

Subscriptions will be for sale during the Brick Walk Book Walk on Sunday June 24th. Svalina said he dreams of delivering pink envelopes to every single person in a small town, and he has that chance on his visit to the grounds.

Svalina’s workshop will be a combination of generative prompts and critiques, and he hopes students will leave with a freeing idea of the limitlessness of dream projects. Students will connect to writing through strangeness and explore the power of the absurd and the surreal as “real-world experiences,” rather than forms of escapism.

Students will achieve this through the lens of poetry, which Svalina said is helpful because of poetry’s ability to“flex”and “jump between images and the elliptical.”

Julie Buntin

Buntin is the director of writing programs at Catapult, an organization dedicated to teaching and supporting upcoming writers and a 2018 Writers’ Festival partner. In 2017, Buntin released her first novel, Marlena, the story of two teenage girls, Cat and Marlena, and their tender, electric friendship. A cocktail of drugs, alcohol and sex ensues, ending with Marlena’s haunting death. Marlena was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Prize and recognized as a best book of the year by the likes of The Washington Post, NPR and Kirkus Reviews.

By reading the “knockout” openings of notable memoirs and novels, Buntin said students will analyze the tricks and tools writers use to craft catchy, provocative and memorable first pages. In a world where 600,000 to 1 million books are published annually, according to Forbes, strong openings are a writer’s persuasive argument for reading. With that in mind, students will workshop their own expositions through generative writing prompts, leaving the class with “subtle roadmaps” for future or longer projects.

“It’s my hope that by looking closely at the beginnings of our projects and thinking about what excites us about new work, we can find ways of generating momentum that will lead us all the way through a full draft,” Buntin said. “I hope writers will leave inspired and motivated, with concrete strategies for writing when the going gets tough and some brand new pages.”

Both writers will give Brown Bags this week on the front porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall. Svalina will speak at 12:15 p.m. Tuesday June 26. Buntin will finish Week One: “The Life of the Written Word” with her talk at 12:15 p.m. Friday June 29.

Tags : 2018 Week OneJulie BuntinMathias Svalinawriters-in-residenceWriters’ Center

The author Emma Francois

Emma Francois is the literary arts reporter and a returning Daily staffer. She attends Georgetown University, studying English, art history and studio art. When she isn’t laughing at her own jokes, she is the highest-pitched voice on the fashion and politics podcast, “Stripped.” Ask her about feminism in the Avengers, backyard birding and her love for bike baskets.