Brendan and I just returned from Portland, OR last night, and we had a fantastic trip. In this post, I'll focus on our Tin House Summer Workshop experiences and hope the information will be of help for anyone considering participating in the future.
Our friend Allie from our MFA program had a great experience at Tin House 2016, and because of her recommendation, we decided to apply. You can read Allie's fiction here.
When we applied, we decided we'd only attend if both of us were accepted. The application is $40 per person. At the conference, we found out that there were 1,300 applications for this year, so the acceptance rate was a little under 17%. We did apply early, as soon as applications opened in January, and we were both able to work with our first choice workshop leader (Aimee Bender for Brendan and Danielle Evans for me) because we were accepted in mid-March.
Preparing for the workshop is intense because your workshop is going to discuss twelve stories in six meetings. This is like fitting 40% of a fifteen week MFA workshop semester into one week. Honestly, I was glad we were not teaching at the same time as preparing. We read every story at least twice before doing a write up. Each story was about 20 pages. I would guesstimate that it took us about twenty four hours of solid prep time to get ready. We took the organizer's advice and came to the workshop with everything (manuscripts and write-ups) printed.
The tuition at Tin House is $1,200. This includes the workshop, the craft lectures, the nightly readings, and the social events. Full disclosure: our institution paid our tuition and some of our accommodations, but we both agree we would have paid for it ourselves if need be because it was just so, so valuable. As summer workshops go, Tin House is the same cost as Sewanee and about half the cost of Bread Loaf. The faculty and guests at Tin House are impressive. I think that is probably the main thing to look at before making a decision. In my opinion, it's valuable to go when you feel you are going to get the most out of it. For me, I would not recommend going during the MFA or directly after. With the MFA a few years in my past, I felt reinvigorated by the workshop experience. For those still in MFA, I would recommend using the summer to work on your thesis, but that said, there were people in my workshop currently in their MFA programs, and they seemed fine.
While Tin House offers room + board for $600 per person, we found an AirBnB a block away for $75 per night, which was more economical for us. We had an option to add $150 each for meals for the week but purchased them a la carte instead (based on a tip from Allie). We spent about $30 a day on meals (so did ultimately save money, though we ate oatmeal in our AirBnB daily rather than a big breakfast on campus, and we had less food at each meal than our friends with the meal card because they had sides included and we only purchased one entree each). Whether your room and board is included or not, the bar is still cash bar each night. We spent about $28 a night at the bar. For one person, a $30 per day food/drink budget is a reasonable expectation).
The experience truly exceeded my expectations. Going in, I knew it was going to be exhausting, and it was (we were typically on campus from 9AM to 11:30PM...one day we were there from 8:45AM to 2AM!) But what I didn't expect was just how much I would gain from the the week. My workshop leader, Danielle Evans, was extremely generous with her feedback and time. She gave so much insight to every single story. I felt that a few of my writing struggles and how to fix them became more apparent to me as her advice started to click. In my workshop, I'd say 75% of us had or were working on MFAs. Everyone had been in some sort of workshop before. The feedback I got from my classmates was really useful, and I hope to stay in touch with them too. The daily craft lectures (usually two or three per day) were really helpful and covered a large variety of topics. The nightly readings in the beautiful Reed amphitheather were a treat, and the social events that followed (Karaoke, Trivia, etc.) gave students access to faculty in a non-academic environment.
The Tin House editors at the workshop were some of the nicest people that you will ever meet. I was intimidated going into my meetings, but they ended up being extremely helpful and not nearly as scary as I thought. Brendan and I both met with agents and got the green light to send work when our projects are complete. You are allowed to bring a query letter (which we didn't do because our projects aren't complete yet), but you are not to bring a manuscript to the meeting. I would not go into this with expectations that you will sign an agent on the spot, but several of my friends with completed novels had agents agree to look at their work and get back to them. I recommend researching to try and figure out who your project would best fit with. No one is required to take any meetings--they are optional.
Another component of the workshop is participant readings, which are also optional. Neither of us signed up (it seems better suited to poetry, since you only have a five minute reading), but it was neat that the faculty made an effort to attend.
We brought home a huge tote bag of signed books and added a lot of contacts to my phone and our Facebook pages. Meeting writers from all over the country was one of the best parts of the week.
If you are thinking of applying and stumble across this post in the future and think of any questions, please email me; I'll be happy to answer.
Another post on our extra days in Portland is forthcoming, but for now, I'm cuddling with my cats (in Austin). Have a great week everyone!