A Mile in These Shoes with Ryka Aoki

To write is to travel. In this four-week workshop, you'll work with award-winning author Ryka Aoki to create settings and develop characters in ways that surprise, confront, and humanize.

Your Instructor: Ryka Aoki, two-time Lambda Award finalist, author of SEASONAL VELOCITIES

Where: Online — Available everywhere!

When: February 6, 2018 - March 6, 2018

Enrollment: 16 students

Price: $350

Class Description

“To travel well is better than to arrive.”—(not) Buddha

The quote might be dubious, but the sentiment is not. If you think about it, to write is to travel. Whether it’s Hemingway in Pamplona or Dante in Hell, travel has helped writers create work to enchant, challenge, and informs generations of readers.

Yet, unlike Chaucer, or even Kerouac, we are now more aware that careless or insensitive narrative can dull the very places and communities that inspired us. Careless writing can reduce one’s surroundings to caricature or mere backdrop. What results is often reductive, derivative, even appropriating.

Is it possible to write compelling travel tales while equitably portraying the communities we describe? Of course! Much of the finest writing tends to be unexpectedly transformative—that one begins travel with one set of ideas or beliefs, and leaves with another. 

In this four-week workshop, you'll work with award-winning author Ryka Aoki to create settings and develop characters in ways that surprise, confront, and humanize. You’ll move past “write what you know” to writing your travels within a nuanced process of discovery, connecting the reader to a more authentic narrative, where one is truly surprised and changed.

All skill levels are welcome. 

What This Class Covers

Week One – Around the World in 80 Milliseconds

Travel writing is life writing. Everything we do is, to an extent, travel. We travel to work, we bridge cultures, we skim through the Internet, we travel in time. This is important to keep in mind, even when on a plane to Bhutan, for it helps you understand that though the destination may be new, you are already a seasoned traveler.

Week Two – Embracing the Unknown

Are you taking your characters on a guided tour and letting them go it on their own? Is your story about traveling to another place, or is going to be a therapy session with palm trees? Are your characters serving you, or freely speaking with each other?

When you let your narrative be uncertain and vulnerable, readers can no longer passively accept that a story will just work itself out. This week we examine how embracing uncertainty allows both characters and readers to become more human.

Week Three – Framing and Control

Why are tortuous home movies (and videos) such a cliché? Recording every detail is not storytelling—it’s hoarding. Good storytelling requires not only editing, but selecting what images and memories you save in the first place. We discuss this week why the best thing you can do as a writer is to stop collecting pamphlets and taking pictures of everything you see.

Week Four – Fair Trade Travel

Travel writing, even when in the present tense, is retrospective. Cutting what is unneeded, adding what is missing, deciding how to write dialect, back story, refining conversations. How we do this can drastically affect how our stories, characters, and settings are perceived. This week, we examine the editorial and ethical questions we encounter whenever we write for publication about someone, someplace, or somewhere else.


Each week, we’ll be writing short form fiction, to be discussed and critiqued by Ryka and your classmates. The goal will be to create short works that can serve as proofs of concept or reminders for you as you develop future work. 

Goals Of This Class

  • Learn to practice travel writing even in your own kitchen.
  • Learn when and why it is best to let yourself say, “I don't know.”
  • Learn what NOT to record on a trip, and why.
  • Learn how to write compelling stories about faraway places without being accused of appropriating them.
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