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The Writing Life Reimagined: Dickinson College Brings Alumni Writers Together Online

Zoom screenshot of alumni creative writing workshop

College's first alumni-only workshop a rousing success

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Writing is a lonely pursuit—so we writers like to lament. But a fall Dickinson workshop disrupts that angsty vibe.

Eight Dickinson writers are finding inspiration and camaraderie this fall through an online workshop led by Susan Perabo, professor of creative writing and writer-in-residence. It is the college’s first alumni-only online workshop—and, based on its popularity, it might not be the last.

“Honestly, I was a bit nervous to register for this workshop because I hadn’t flexed those muscles in a while. But I knew I would regret losing out on this special opportunity,” says Leigh Harlow ’12, a former teacher who earned a creative-writing minor at Dickinson. “How often do we get to take classes with our favorite professors 10 years after college?”

Harlow is one of 47 alumni who entered the lottery for the workshop, and one of the eight lucky few to get in. The workshop is small so all participants are guaranteed a thoughtful peer review of their work and so they can get to know each other.

All have experience writing fiction, and some have been published. A few have connected with fellow Dickinson writers through the college’s thriving creative-writing Facebook group, and a few more took Perabo's fiction class. They represent different class years and approaches. Some write every day—others only occasionally, and still others, like Harlow, are reconnecting to writing for the first time since college.

The workshop is the latest new offering in a growing suite of Dickinson opportunities for alumni to learn, celebrate and network online. Future alumni learning opportunities on writing and other subjects are planned. Dickinsonians are also connecting this fall through Dickinson at Home workshops, webinars and events, and a record number of alumni are auditing classes.

“Clearly, there’s an appetite for this kind of thing right now,” says Perabo. “My hope for this workshop is not just that we have a useful and fun four sessions, but that all of them might find a reader or readers of their work in the class who will stay with them beyond our brief time together.”

That’s bad news for the tradition of writerly solitude and great news for workshop participants like Andrew Bridgeman ’87, a former company president who made the leap to full-time fiction writing last year.

“The longer you write in the dark, the harder it is to feel confidence in the value of the work you are creating,” Bridgeman, a former Dickinson history major, explains. “Allowing smart, passionate storytellers into the world of my novel in progress has been essential to my growth and a gift to my writing. I'm very grateful to Professor Perabo and Dickinson.”

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Published November 3, 2020