Sue Ellen Thompson, Vi Khi Nao to lead craft-based poetry, prose workshops

Sue Ellen Thompson’s approach to teaching is based on her own experience as a college student and a poet.

“I had to teach myself so much about the craft of writing,” said Thompson, a poet, educator and the Week Four poet-in-residence at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center. “So my approach to teaching focuses on craft.”

At 3:30 p.m. Sunday, July 17, in the Hall of Philosophy, Thompson, the author of the poetry collections The Golden Hour and Sea Nettles: New & Selected Poems, will give a reading from her new poetry. 

Thompson said her teaching style doesn’t just inspire students to come up with ideas, but that, through her teaching, she can delve into how a poem is made, and how it can be made better.

“The workshop I’m going to be teaching is ‘Poetry as Autobiography,’ which is, of course, a very broad subject,” she said. “So many poets love to write about their lives, and I’m certainly one of them. But they don’t necessarily know how to write a good poem about their lives, a poem that the reader can enter into and feel something upon finishing.”

At the week-long workshop she’ll be teaching, Thompson said she’ll be doing a little background on the confessional poets of the 1950s and ’60s.

“I’m doing this so that students who have been out of college for a number of years, or who never studied literature as a student, will know where the autobiographical impulse came from,” she said.

Thompson will be joined by Vi Khi Nao, a poet, novelist, former Janus Prize judge and the Week Four prose writer-in-residence. Nao will teach the prose workshop titled “The Redux Fairytale.”

“I’m going to help people to use the fairytale structure to generate modern versions,” Nao said. “Because sometimes it can be hard to come up with a plot, we’ll be using fairytales as a pre-existing form, so that the writers can focus on language and aesthetics.”

Nao, the author of six poetry collections and of the short story collection, A Brief Alphabet of Torture, said she puts together her poetry collections similar to how a seamstress works with cloth.

“With (my book) Fish Carcass, the poems folded together more by theme,” she said. “Due to the thematic nature, any poems that fit into that theme were gathered under one blanket. It was pulled from poems I wrote across time.”

One of the poems Nao incorporated into Fish Carcass was an example she wrote for a student.

“To demonstrate how something worked, I would write a poem,” she said. “Some of the poems in the collection were inspired by stuff like this, others I needed to do for a job, for teaching. Other times it just comes in bursts.”


The author Chris Clements

Chris Clements is reporting on literary arts during his third summer with The Chautauquan Daily. He has previously written previews for the Interfaith Lecture Series and Sacred Song Services and covered literary arts digitally in 2020. Chris is a second-year grad student at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he is a Master of Fine Arts candidate in creative writing, specializing in fiction. He’s passionate about all things related to literature, music and film, especially author David Foster Wallace, jazz singer Cecile McLorin Salvant and the films of Paul Thomas Anderson.