Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Paris Writers Workshop

Ah, Paris. Not only does it have the romantic notion of being a writer's city, but it also sells notebooks with Writer Abroad's name. If those weren't reasons enough to go, the Paris Writers Workshop (PWW) is coming up from June 27-July 2. In the interest of of great notebooks and great experiences, Writer Abroad has asked former attendee and Paris-based writer and resident Laurel Zuckerman to tell us a little more about the program.

You first attended the PWW 20 years ago. What was the experience like?

At the first PWW I ever went to in 1990—not as a participant, but as a helper—I met Grace Paley and D M Thomas. I was only a reader then, and not yet a writer, but still I struggled against awe. Fortunately the atmosphere was a kind of relaxed intellectual chic I had never encountered that was entirely the creation of PWW founder Carol Allen.

Fifteen years later you once again attended the PWW.

Yes, this time as a determined but as yet unpublished author, I enrolled in the novel workshop with Helen Benedict which I found very helpful. In fact, the text I workshopped eventually became part of Les Rêves Barbares du Professeur Collie, which was published in French last year by Fayard.

Where were the writers from that attended and what did you discuss?

Half the attendees came from abroad. The other half: English-language writers from France. We talked craft, the business, the challenges of writing. We hunted down restaurants together and drank too much wine. It was, for a brief week, a community. I made friends, writer friends (which, as any writer can tell you, are both better and worse than regular friends).

You say that you enjoyed the workshop so much that you attended three more times and also published two books in the process.

Yes, I took short story with Michael C. Curtis (editor at The Atlantic Monthly) and non-fiction with renowned essayists Philippe Lopate and Viviane Gornick. Meanwhile I published a first book, Sorbonne Confidential, and I was honored to be invited to give a talk! (I seem to recall blathering on about the importance of a TV diet—I had recently done my first TV interviews and had been shocked to discover that no one listens to your insights on literature if you have bad hair.)

Do you know other PWW alumni that have also been successful in their writing careers?

Oh yes! Publications by PWW alumni this year include: Janet Skeslien Charles with Moonlight in Odessa, Christopher Vanier with Caribbean Chemistry: Tales from St Kitts, and Anne Korkeakivi with Folding Paper in The Atlantic Monthly. And those are only the writers I know well. A complete list would be fascinating--and, I think, very encouraging reading.

Do you recommend other writers attend the PWW?

Yes! Things have changed since I attended—new offices, new format, new instructors—so the 2010 edition cannot help but be a little different. But Paris is still Paris, and writers are still writers. If the past is anything to go by, it’d be a shame to miss it.

Laurel Zuckerman is a Franco-American writer and teacher. 
A graduate of France's HEC business school, she is best known for Sorbonne Confidential, a humorous exploration of France's unique method for selecting its English teachers. Based on her experiences at the Sorbonne in 2005, Sorbonne Confidential's suggestion that teacher training might impact students' results provoked such emotional debate in France that online discussions frequently spun out of control and had to be shut down. Laurel's second book, Les Rêves Barbares du Professeur Collie, recounts the comic adventures of a professor who loves his work just a little too much. Laurel lives with her family near Paris where she publishes Paris Writers News and works on her new book of Arizona stories. For more on Laurel, visit her website or the Sorbonne Confidential blog.

For more on summer writing programs, check out Switzerland-based writer Emily Lacika's post on the Oxford University Creative Writing Summer School.

If you've participated in the Paris Writers Workshop or another writing program abroad, Writer Abroad would love to hear about it. Please leave a comment or contact Chantal about writing a guest post.


  1. Sounds like a wonderful experience. One of these years I'm going to do it (I'm based in Paris!) I will actually be at another writing residency for my MFA during these dates, though. Summer is a great time for writing (if you can avoid the temptation of wiling away hours on a sunny terrace and actually be productive).

  2. I was lucky enough to win a scholarship to the last conference in 2008. I loved the chance to combine two of my favorite things in the entire world: Paris and writing. Met some wonderful people and got some useful feedback on a piece that is now included in my forthcoming story collection.

  3. Oh man, this would be a great way to spend my "milestone" birthday! I'm checking it out.

  4. Sion, you should definitely go at some point. I'm thinking about going as's so tempting.

    Erika, congrats--how did you apply for a scholarship?

    Lori, yes, I think it would! Maybe I'll see you there?

  5. Oh my god. Are you trying to make me writhe in jealousy? I wanna go!

  6. I live in Paris and it sounds wonderful - but I'm working on non-fiction projections right now. Does you (or anyone) know whether it'd be worth it for me to attend? I am in desperate need of the company of other writers!

  7. Hi Barbara,

    I'm also working on non-fiction, they do seem to have a workshop for that but I'd also be interested in knowing if it's as good. Anyone know? Thanks!

  8. Thanks for responding, Chantal. Good to know that they have a non-fiction workshop. I'd definitely love to hear more about it!(Oh, and of course,I meant "projects" not "projections" in my earlier post!)

  9. I think the non-fiction workshop focuses on memoir, which is what I'm writing.

  10. @Chantal: It was the Patricia Painton scholarship, and there's info about it on the site:

    Also, way back in 2004, I attended a workshop at the Prague Summer Program (had a scholarship there, too). That program's site is .

  11. Thanks, Erika. Good to know. It seems like many of these programs have some kind of scholarship. Congrats on being the recipient of many!



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