Sign up for the Shanghai Writing Workshop Spring Retreat!

January 27, 2021 Off By ShanghaiWriting

This spring, April 9th-11th, the Shanghai Writing Workshop will be holding its fifth retreat at Oriental Land, located at the end of Line 17. During these uncertain times, we felt that staying inside of Shanghai was important, so we selected a location on the edge of the city in a giant park. Oriental Land  Park is a huge space with a lot of different attractions in it from an aircraft carrier to massive bamboo groves to towering wire sculptures. Here, everyone can find something to stir up a little creativity.

For those of you who have come on previous retreats, this retreat will be different. First, it will be bigger in every way, with a cap of forty people rather than twenty. This change in size will impact other aspects of retreat, but it is a move for the better. Unlike a normal retreat, which would have three to five lectures, this retreat will have seventeen different lectures, workshops, and generative writing exercises. With this many lectures and people, not everyone is expected to join every event like they were in the past, and in being more like a conference, people can attend whatever interests them.

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Other aspects of retreat will also be different. We are renting a villa from Oriental Land Hotel. In doing so, people will no longer have to fight with bunkbeds, crowded rooms, and a line for the bathroom each morning. Each conference participant will share a two-bed, one-bath room. The Japanese villa houses 25 people and priority will be given to lecturers and early sign ups. Participants over this number will be given rooms in the adjacent villas. 

The food will also be different. We used to have a cook come in and cook all our meals, but this retreat will be catered by the hotel. Breakfast will be served buffet style while lunch and dinner will be in private dining rooms and served in the traditional, Chinese family style way.

Our lecturing facilities are also different. We will now be using a conference hall for lectures with AV capabilities.

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Due to Covid concerns, if the situation closer to retreat looks rough, then we will push back the retreat to early May, and I will refund the deposit of anyone who cannot attend the new date.

To join retreat, talk to the Shanghai Writing Workshop director, Ryan Thorpe. The total cost of retreat is 1600 rmb and deposit to reserve a spot is half of the total fee, so 800 rmb. The rest of the fee will be due a week before retreat starts. That cost includes shared accommodation, six meals, park tickets, some alcohol, and the programming costs. The only extra costs to consider are getting there and getting back, which can be done by subway and any additional drinks and snacks you want to bring with you.

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Ry’s WeChat

This is a new experience that that the workshop will be adventuring together. In my six years of running the workshop, though, I have never seen an event as stacked with talent as this one. I hope you decide to join us.

Below is the rough schedule and a list of conference abstracts that will be at retreat. Please read through them. There are some amazing presentations that will be happening. See you there.

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Tentative Schedule

The Shanghai Writing Workshop 2021’s 

Retreat Abstracts in Chronological Order of Presentation


Meditation and Brainstorming

with Jane Wang 

Jane Wang studied consulting in the UK and meditation in India. She owns and writes for Trinergy Yoga Weekly.

One of the biggest misconceptions of meditation is that you’re not supposed to think about anything. Nope! Jane will teach you how to breath, relax, and accept your flowing thoughts without judgement. Bring a pen, paper, and open mind. No meditation experience necessary. We will learn how to prime your brain for creative flows. If you have too much stress or ever had writer’s block, this session is for you. Punctuality is crucial, please be on time to not disrupt others

Writing with a Sense of Place 

with Aiden Heung 

Aiden Heung is the current Poet-in-Residence at Swatch Art Peace Hotel, whose poems are widely published, most recently in The Australian Poetry Journal, The Southern Humanities Review, The Brooklyn Review, and 香港声韵诗刊.

What does a place mean to you? What were some of those characteristics that helped you remember it till now? Looking back, how do you posit yourself differently, emotionally and historically? We’ll embark on a journey at this generative writing session into the beautiful park, resulting in some writings that embody a strong sense of place. In writing a place, we are writing something more than abundant details that place offers, we are writing ourselves. Take your notebook and your unbridled imagination, let’s see the unseen

Workshopping the Workshop Model 

with Ryan Thorpe

Dr. Ryan Thorpe is Director of the Shanghai Writing Workshop, associate teaching professor of writing at the University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and author of Teaching Second Language Creative Writing from Routledge. 

When creative writing teachers talk about the idea of any pedagogy or teaching method behind creative writing, then they are often referencing the idea of the workshop, a collection of people who gather together and talk about your work, pretending that you are not there. This has been the time-honored tradition of creative writing classrooms for a long time, but is this the best that we can do?

While there are definite advantages to the workshop, for this presentation, we will identify some of the problems with the workshop model and try to imagine how these problems could be addressed. From altering the way workshop discusses work to when the workshop addresses work to removing the workshop all together, for one presentation, all the options will be on the table as we imagine how to create a better form of workshop.

How Not to Piss Off an Editor

with Hannah Lund

Hannah Lund is an editor at Sixth Tone who has been on editorial teams for Blizzard, Verizon, Tencent, Huaxia Films, and more. She is co-editor of the Shanghai Writing Workshop’s Outbreak and Recovery anthology.

Ah, editors: You’re annoyed by us; you need us. But how best to work with us? In this talk, Hannah Lund will unpack some of the different roles of editors, offer tips on how to create a professional working dynamic with them, and open the floor for discussion on issues that sometimes arise when writers and editors collide.


Science & Poetry

with Russell Grant and Nana Liu

Russell Grant is the Poetry Workshop director of The Shanghai Writing Workshop. Originally from Durban, South Africa, he writes poetry that explores themes of neurodivergence and personal demons and is particularly interested of poetry that explores the realms of science. 

Nana Liu is a theoretical physicist from Melbourne. She is developing theories for quantum technologies and writes poetry in her spare time. She believes that passion for science and poetry both spring from the same underlying desire to understand and to communicate, and that they can enrich each other.

Czech poet, Miroslav Holub, once said that there is “no deep difference between the scientific mind and the artistic mind”. This fact is made clear when one considers some of humanity’s greatest thinkers through history. Erasmus Darwin, Charles Darwin’s grandfather, formulated his theory of evolution and nature through verse, and many other, much older thinkers, from Democritus to Aristotle, saw no deep divide between the arts and the sciences, like many of us do today

In this talk we would like to restate the case for a deeper union between the spheres of the sciences and the arts, and in particular, poetry, by showing how both creative understanding and theoretical understanding form a part of our general curiosity about the world. The scientific world is full of potential material for poets to use, and we hope that by opening up this repository of metaphors and symbolism to poets, we might inspire some of you to take a closer look at science as a wellspring of poetic inspiration.

Constrained Writing 

with Jonathan Mulcahy

Jonathan Mulcahy is a poet and creative writing instructor. His publications include Euryphion (Swan World, 2017) and Tonopah and Tidewater RR (Simulacrum Press, 2018). He is an active member of Shanghai’s DIY art scene, and is an editor of A Shanghai Poetry Zine.

Writers often challenge themselves by writing within a given form or framework—for some, it’s haiku, for others, it’s a twisting crime fiction. Over the course of the last century, writers have been challenging themselves in weird and wonderful ways, constraining themselves within more abstract and limiting parameters. These new rules, many of which are self-imposed, offer the writer a new challenge and another outlet for creative expression. Some writers choose to restrict their language, or their subject, or to focus obsessively on one variable until writing becomes more like a riddle, a code to break, or a game to master. During our workshop, we will look at different examples of constrained writing from the world of poetry and fiction, and experiment with some constraints of our own. 

Cognitive Poetics: Embodiment and Conceptual Metaphor

with Jill Zheng 

Jill Zheng is translator and contributor at ASPZ poetry zine. She is doing a master’s degree in Literary Linguistics, with a cognitive focus. 

A lion roars, so can a person, a car, even a fire. A poet seizes the connection intuitively and a reader discovers it in context joyfully. The richness of language makes poetry. Yet, how do we unite author, reader and text? Cognitive poetics looks into the embodied minds that produce language which has its roots in our material existence through means of conceptual mapping. We’ll be looking at the notions of ‘embodiment’ and ‘conceptual metaphor’, exploring them through literary reading, and discussing how authors could apply them to better their works.

The Poetry of Sound Rekindled

with Jacob Charles 

Jacob Charles, a former student and lecturer of the Central Conservatory, embraces a modernized pursuit of the Four Arts 琴棋书画 in his own works.

The marriage of music and poetry, a union older than song, forming nuptials in the rhythmic heart of the spoken word. The grit of this immortal bond between lovers has resurfaced in the twentieth century. They are individuals entangled, at times in conflict, navigating abstract swells along with the tangible bits. No longer a courtly romance of chaperoned lyrics and referential love letters, the contemporary composer has a palette loaded with word and sound, and all the shades between.

Write It Baby, One More Time: Generative Writing Workshop

with Patrick Schiefen

Patrick Schiefen is an internationally published writer. He is the former Chief Editor of A Shanghai Poetry Zine and can be seen around Shanghai working with various creative literature groups. He published his first book of poetry, If You Know, You Know, in 2019.

Some writers allot time each day for sitting down and producing an x-amount of words; others wait to catch inspiration’s signal. 

In this workshop, Patrick will lead each writer through a variety of exercises – pulling in pop music, real-life associations, and other literary sources – that will expand your influences and foster inspiration. All writers are welcome, whether you are a poet or a short story writer. You have stories to broadcast, sometimes you just need the time and a little push.

Workshopping Chapter One

with Sara Davis

Sara Davis received her BA and MFA at Columbia University. She’s had internships at the New Yorker and Teen Vogue magazines. She has taught creative writing in New York City and Detroit. Her first novel, The Scapegoat, is forthcoming from Farrar, Straus and Giroux in March 2021. 

The first chapter of a novel has to accomplish many things! It signals to the reader the tone of the world they are about to enter, (hopefully) captures their attention, and sets the engine of the plot in motion. Choosing how much plot to move through and exactly what kind of invitation you extend to the reader can be a delicate task for a writer. In this workshop participants will have the opportunity to submit the first chapter of a novel (deadline: two weeks before retreat) and receive feedback from Sara and other writers. Time permitting, the group will discuss a few chapters as a workshop. If interested, talk to Ry to sign up. Max: 8 people. 

Descriptions Through “Profitable Forgetting”

with Michael Robinson

Michael L. Robinson is the director of the Shanghai Fiction Workshop. His short story, “A Monkey in Chameleon Skin,” was published in Bewildering Stories, and he is contracted to produce a science fiction audio drama for release in Winter 2021. He is owner of a small creative copywriting firm, Robinson Consulting. 

A story flows like a wave, with tense troughs and towering crests waiting to crash down on reader’s heads. Those longer moments use descriptions and details to let readers know which parts of the story are most important—the more detailed the description, the more importance to what is being described. 

In this seminar, we will look at how to apply Charles Baxter’s ‘Profitable Forgetting’ technique as outlined in his work “Burning Down the House”; how to deconstruct an object of importance, break it down to its sensory parts, and write the details that will set readers up for the intense experience that they’ll love to pay for. 

Interactive Storytelling Techniques from Games

with Sam Sanford

Sam Sanford is a playwright and game narrative writer at Yotta Games with a focus on historical realism and empathetic storytelling.

When Roger Ebert famously declared that empathy video games are not yet art, many in the games industry and fandom proudly pointed to the cinematic storytelling in AAA games like The Last of Us or Spec-Ops: The Line. But what about video games’ unique artistry? What about environments, player choice, interactivity? In less than 70 years, interactive fiction and video games have pioneered new storytelling methods, from flavor text and environmental storytelling to the stories your audience create themselves out of pieces you provide. We’ll look at the radical new ways video games and interactive fiction inspire us to approach storytelling, getting an introduction to the mediums followed by a discussion of interactivity and alternative narratives.

In Defense of Form: Knowing Poetic Rules Before You Break Them

with Brady Riddle and Brianna O’Boyce

Brady Riddle is a high school English teacher at Shanghai American School, Pudong Campus, and collaborator with A Shanghai Poetry Zine

Brianna O’Boyle, elementary school English teacher at Shanghai Experimental School International Division, Puxi Campus, and frequent attendee of The Shanghai Poetry Workshop

“I believe that every … poet should read the … classics, master the rules of grammar before he attempts to bend or break them …” —Robert Graves 

Words to live by: learn the rules of poetry before you start breaking them. Many contemporary poets rebuke poetic structure in favor of free verse because it does not have to follow the regimens of form—though there is also the contingent of aspiring poets who strictly adhere to the idea that every poem has to rhyme and follow some sort of prescription, which sometimes results in prescriptive poetry. In this session, we will begin to explore some foundational rules for poetic form (meter, stanza, and, yes, rhyme). As well as take a cursory look at some well-known forms: sonnets, sestinas, and villanelles…oh my! And work to discover ways to make form foundational to bridge into structural experimentation.

Engaging in Nonfiction

with Tamara Kaup

Tamara has worked in public relations, technical writing, business proposal writing and university communications. Now she works at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou in communications, writing about its students, scholars, and local culture as well as writing her own nonfiction.

If you are a fiction lover like me, it may be hard to put down that novel and pick up an autobiography or informational text. But the best non-fiction can be just as engaging as fiction. Together, let’s look at examples and consider what makes it so.

“He Said, She Said” is Dead

with Michael Thies

Michael Thies has been writing since the age of sixteen. He is currently a writing instructor in Suzhou and the author of the adventure fantasy series, Guardian of the Core. He loves talking and figured giving a talk on talking would offer him the best bang for his buck.

We’ve all heard these pieces of advice before: “Avoid adverbs!” or “Show, don’t tell.” Many writers think this only refers to plot and description, but what if I were to tell you, it can also refer to dialogue? After all, why say, “he said, angrily” when we can say, “He shouted”?

Many of us already know this trick.

But, what if I were to tell you, that there was another way. A way to get RID of all the he said, she said drama? In this session, we’ll be taking a look at formatting dialogue, some craft techniques to truly make your dialogue flow, some pointers on what NOT TO DO, and finally a method and formula that can finally put an end to the obsessive use of he said, she said.  


The Shanghai Writing Workshop is a non-profit literary organization dedicated to hosting educational and literary events and developing the talents of writers. 上海写作协会是一家致力于举办教育和文学活动、培养作家人才的非营利性文学组织。