Spotlight: Storyteller (Review)

A review of Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 years of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop by Kate Wilhelm


Tell me a story. Tell me a story about telling stories. Tell me about before there was the Internet, and people wrote with heavy machines that went clunk-clunk, and they wrote their dreams on paper, and then the papers got burned up. And then they started again and became famous.

Well, what you want to hear is Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 years of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop by Kate Wilhelm.

Storyteller is a 190-page story about telling stories, not a novel, not a biography, not a tutorial, not a reference. Just a story. It’s part memoir, part instruction guide. Kate Wilhelm tells of her days as instructor of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, from the days when she co-founded it, funding was non-existent, and they couldn’t even find a location that wanted to host the workshop, through thick and thick, reading manuscripts, learning to teach, mediating the frivolity that students found to release the pressure, rejoicing in it, then tearing out the hearts of her students with a red pencil, tutoring names that went on to become successful, well-known writers, editors, and teachers. These students fill out a vast array of personalities, no two alike, and I marvelled at the diverse approaches that worked for different people.

Clarion is an intensive, six-week writing program for beginners, a “boot camp for writers.” And in Kate Wilhelm’s story, the participants groan, complain, and even sometimes rebel. Throughout this engrossing tale, Kate weaves her advice and that of her then-husband, the late Damon Knight. For a beginning writer, it’s as if you’re there with her, learning along with the others. Except that maybe you aren’t in tears. If you’re an experienced writer, more than once you’ll find yourself pausing to laugh, or to exclaim “Yeah!” or to wonder how could anyone do that.

The book is a pleasure to read, less easy to use as a reference. Unlike other works, it’s less nuts-and-bolts and more creative. However, there are two reference chapters, “Notes and Lessons on Writing” and “Writing Exercises,” which sum up the advice portrayed throughout the book. All in all, Storyteller is an invaluable resource for beginning writers, and an entertaining and refreshing read for those with more experience.

Kate Wilhelm was born in 1928 and has authored more than 30 novels and won numerous awards. Her stories have been translated into 20 languages, and in 2003, she was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.

Storyteller: Writing Lessons and More from 27 years of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop
by Kate Wilhelm
Publisher: Small Beer Press
ISBN: 193152016X
paperback, 190 pages



2 responses to “Spotlight: Storyteller (Review)”

  1. Summer Avatar

    We interviewed Kate Wilhelm back last fall when the book came out. I’m not sure if the show’s still available online or not.

  2. J. Timothy King Avatar

    Hi, Summer. Thanks for pointing this out. I’ve heard this interview and recommend it. Sorry to everyone for the oversight in that I forgot to mention it. But if you haven’t heard this interview yet, it is still available—I just checked—and Kate Wilhelm is definitely worth listening to.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.