Author Dana Johnson visits GC

Reflections from Johnson’s Fiction Workshop Class

By Lavonne Shetler, senior English major

When award-winning author Dana Johnson steps into a room, her joyful personality and practical wisdom fill the space.  Over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, Johnson visited the GC campus. While here, she led a fiction writing workshop for students, gave a fiction reading, and presented in the MLK day convocation.

An intensive weekend-long workshop was one of the highlights of her visit for many English students.  Thirteen English and English Writing majors and minors spent their weekend in Newcomer with Johnson.  Through her guidance, students read a variety of short stories, taking the time to discuss what makes a story work, and what makes a story stay in the reader’s mind.

The writing part of the class was invigorating. Corine Alvarez, a junior who participated in the course, says, “The most memorable part was hearing the pieces others were writing. We would all hear the same prompt and go in completely different directions, which often ended up being entertaining and thought-provoking.”

Mia Engle, a first year student, adds, ” I thought that I would be nervous about sharing my pieces aloud with the class.  But, Dana Johnson never shot down our ideas–in fact, the more out there they were, the more she encouraged us to write about them.”

As an ASL major, Engle was drawn to Johnson’s emphasis on gestures. She says, “I was intrigued by the way Dana Johnson taught us how to use body language and dialogue.  We see and analyse and understand the meaning of body language every day.  How can we tell a complete story without body language?  We can’t.  Our stories will fall flat.”

First-year Christina Hofer feels that Johnson helped calm her inner critic. Hofer says, “Johnson reassured us that there is always something about your own life that is interesting to write about. She said that we should never be afraid to tackle topics that we know nothing about either. It will help us grow as writers and as people.”

Armarlie Grier, a fellow first-year, also appreciated the reminder of the value of our own stories.  During her writing conference at the end of the workshop, Johnson told her, ‘Your story is unique. You have to share. You have to write.’ Grier says, “Now, I know I need to write about my story even though I personally may think it’s not important enough to be told. My story it is unique, it is something to be shared, and maybe someone will enjoy it.”

Although the workshop was a class that students took for credit, the atmosphere was one of community.  Grier says, “It wasn’t an academic setting–we were a community of writers, of readers, of people, of consciousness, and to have this experience was humbling.”

Hofer adds, “It was such an honor to be able to listen and learn from Johnson for a whole weekend.”


Photos by Liz Wiebe, Hannah Grieser, and Emily Trapp.