Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing

2019 Stonecoast Summer Writers' Conference

The Stonecoast Writers' Conference is now held concurrently with the Stonecoast MFA, one of the nation's premier low-residency creative writing programs. By coordinating with the MFA program, conference attendees get unfettered access to readings, presentations, and seminar talks delivered by the award-winning writers of the Stonecoast faculty. In the words of Jessica Koch (2017 Stonecoast Writers' Conference), "I felt so welcomed by everyone here. I met so many amazing people and got a taste of a fantastic program." As a conference participant, you'll get to sit in on classes with writers like Rick Bass, Breena Clarke, Cara Hoffman, Elizabeth Hand, Martín Espada, and J.J. Amaworo Wilson. Past guests speakers include John Florio, Richard Hoffman, Benilde Little, and E.R. Frank.

With multiple programming options every day, each participant can tailor a conference experience that matches their interests and helps them to reach their personal writing goals. Our daily programming is designed to expand and challenge your understanding of literature. You'll come away from the conference with a greater understanding of writing craft, a notebook brimming with fresh inspiration, and a deeper connection to the writing life, your writing life. Chances are you'll also make some lasting friends.


The Writing Workshops

Your conference experience centers around your workshop. In these classes, your work (and the work of your peers) will serve as the primary text. To ensure that everyone receives in-depth feedback, these classes are limited to ten students.

We offer two workshops during the summer:

  • ENG 201: The Creative Writing Bootcamp (Instructor TBA)
    Regardless of genre, good writing is precise, honest, and surprising. If you want a supportive environment where you can explore taking risks and push yourself, look no further. While student work will be discussed in workshop, there is also a big emphasis on generating new work. You will leave the class energized and eager to get back to your desk. The Bootcamp is open to writers in all genres and of all experience levels.
  • ENG 302: Fiction Writing with Ron Currie, Jr.
    Writers working in narrative prose should consider the Fiction Writing class. Whether you're committed to short stories, fairy tales, or wrapping up a novel, this workshop will help you to polish your prose and strengthen your craft chops.

In each workshop, regardless of genre, the primary “texts” are the writing samples submitted by you and your peers. Each instructor adapts their classes to suit the students who have enrolled. Most instructors divide class time between craft talk, workshopping student work, and writing exercises. By customizing their classes according to the needs of its members, our instructors ensure that each class is unique. 

Conference Schedule**

  • 8:30 - 9:30      Stonecoast MFA Graduating Student Presentations
  • 9:45 - 12:15    Creative Writing Workshops
  • 12:15 - 1:15    Lunch Break
  • 1:30 - 3:00      Stonecoast MFA Faculty Seminars and Panels
  • 3:25 - 4:15      Stonecoast MFA Graduating Student Readings
  • 4:30 - 6:30      Dinner Break
  • 6:30 - 7:00      Community Gathering
  • 7:00 - 8:00      Faculty & Guest Readings,followed by questions and answers

**Each day, participants choose which events to attend; in this way, each participant tailors their conference experience to reflect their interests.

A Sample of Recent Faculty Seminars:

Art & Activism
Rick Bass and Elizabeth Hand

How to resist, how to insist?  When to show, and when to grab by the collar and tell—whether in a shout or whisper? What are the lines between art and activism, if any?  Don’t come to this expecting any one size fits all answers, but instead, a conversation about what’s been effective, and what’s not, in various environmental justice struggles. 

Going to Extremes: How to Handle Scenes of Sex, Violence, Drugs, Ecstasy, and other Intense Experiences
Aaron Hamburger
In your writing, do you shy away from writing highly charged scenes involving violence, sex, danger, mental illness, intoxication, or a character going through an intense physical or emotional state? In this seminar, we'll confront the challenges of conveying the thrills and fears of the most intense moments of your work in fresh ways that engage your readers' hearts and minds. We'll analyze published work for inspiration, do writing exercises, then share the results to come up with common strategies for tackling this kind of challenge.

The Sentence as a Unit of Thought
T Fleischmann
How does the sentence operate as a core unit of thought in prose writing? Looking at the sentence as a structural unit, a sonic unit, a metrical unit, and beyond, we'll track some philosophies of the sentence while exploring close-reading techniques. As our focus will be on single sentences, students are asked to bring in one sentence from your own writing to share and explore in our discussions. Readings from Biting the Error and example sentences will provide us with some grounding thoughts. This seminar will root itself in traditions of the essay, but include writing from multiple genres.

The End: A Seminar on Endings
Porochista Khakpour
Founded on the idea that endings are intrinsically unnatural to us as living human beings who never truly experience our own “ends” (we experience fabricated endings, such as compartmentalized phases: relationships and break-ups, the deaths of others, etc.), this seminar will explore the difficulties in crafting the “genuine” ending to a story. We will look at the various takes on this, examining the attempts of poets, essayists, short story writers, and novelists. For instance, we’ll examine how, in one sentence, Salinger’s final words in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” overwhelm our entire understanding of the piece and prompt us to reread from that perspective  . . .and how James Wright in a final line utilizes aphorisms or emotive summarizing to capture the essence of his entire poetic journey . . . and how Cheever extracts optimal dramatic tension with his often stultifying plot reversals at the final moments of a piece like “The Hartleys” . . .We may also discuss an entirely non-linear work like Cortazar’s Hopscotch where endings are multitudinous and thus perhaps “false” in nature.

We’ll dive into several “last-line” exercises that may evolve into whole pieces. We will also work on exercises that are simply “last-scene” sketches. Students will also have a chance to rewrite their peers’ endings as a class exercise. 

Forays into Poetic Form
Cate Marvin
This is a seminar for those interested in learning how to identify traditional poetic forms, that which we also refer to as “received forms” because they have been passed to us over time and through translation. What are the exact parameters for specific forms? What opportunities (and headaches) do their many rules and restrictions create for the contemporary poet? What rhetorical functions do these forms serve?  Those made anxious by poetic forms, or simply mystified by how they operate, will leave this seminar able to identify six different types of sonnets with ease.

Special Evening Events for Conference Participants

  • Open Mic Reading—Take the stage and share your work!
  • Stonecoast On the Town—a chance to get to know your writing peers away from the classroom.


The Stonecoast Writers' Conference will be held at the Harraseeket Inn, Freeport, Maine. Located on Casco Bay, approximately 20 minutes north of Portland, Freeport is home of the world famous L.L.Bean Flagship Store and dozens of outlet stores.


Housing is not included in program tuition. Since summer is high season in Maine, you are advised to secure lodging arrangements well in advance of the conference.

There are a wide variety of hotel, motels, bed and breakfasts in the Freeport area. For more information, click HERE.


We will be accepting applications for the 2019 Conference starting in March 2019.


For questions regarding the application process or program content:
Justin Tussing, Director
Stonecoast Writers’ Conference

University of Southern Maine
P.O. Box 9300
Portland, ME 04104-9300
Telephone: 207.228.8393

For questions regarding billing for academic credit:
Student Financial Services 
University of Southern Maine
P.O. Box 9300
Portland, ME 04104-9300
Telephone: 207.780.5250