The Odyssey Writing Workshop, one of the top workshops in the world for writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror, announced today that it would be holding its summer 2021 workshop online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The six-week workshop is normally held in person at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. The director of Odyssey, Jeanne Cavelos, had been keeping both in-person and online options open for the upcoming session, hoping that the COVID situation would improve to the point that an in-person workshop could be held safely. But after extensive review and consultation with the college, the state, and a variety of other sources, she concluded that an in-person Odyssey would not be a safe or practical option.
Cavelos explains, “Odyssey brings together adult students of all ages from across the globe. Many may not have the opportunity to be vaccinated by summer. If one student tests positive, it’s likely that at least a third of the students–and possibly all the students–would need to be put into isolation for ten days. This would be extremely disruptive for the workshop. Each student would have to remain within a separate apartment, with three meals a day left at the door, attending the class online. Imagine if, two weeks later, another student tests positive and more students need to be put into isolation. Odyssey is an intensive, demanding program, and putting that additional stress on students would make it very difficult for them to get the most out of the experience.
“While the current situation at Saint Anselm College is improving, many colleges are fluctuating between Phase Orange and Phase Yellow, switching between offering some in-person classes and moving all classes online to curb outbreaks. I don’t want to put Odyssey students through that. Also, Odyssey students generally range in age from eighteen to seventy and come with a variety of pre-existing health conditions. I don’t want to put anyone’s health at risk, and at this point, traveling and gathering in a tight-knit group carry risks. It’s unclear whether that will change by early June. I would have loved to hold the workshop in person this summer, but the potential dangers and disruptions make that impossible.”
Odyssey also held its 2020 workshop online in response to the pandemic, while many writing workshops canceled their sessions. Cavelos comments, “I didn’t want to cancel Odyssey’s 2020 workshop. Canceling would take the opportunity to improve away from fifteen writers. I wanted to give them that opportunity. I wanted to fulfill Odyssey’s mission of helping writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror improve their work.
“I was afraid at first that students wouldn’t work as hard, since it would be difficult to have the same focus working from home. The success of Odyssey’s students results from a powerful mix of intense work–writing, critiquing, reading, journal exercises–and a positive, supportive atmosphere. Students are encouraged to help each other improve rather than compete with each other.
“But all the students committed to living on ‘Odyssey time’ no matter their time zone, organized a home workspace–marked by Odyssey signs mailed out to them–told their family and friends they would be occupied for the next six weeks, and worked like crazy. Almost every submission was near six thousand words, our maximum length. I think they wrote more words than any other class. Also, because they had to post their nightly journal entries online, I think they did more journal entries than any previous class.
“I was also worried how they would treat each other and whether they’d bond and form friendships. We set up a variety of events, meetings, and activities to help that bonding occur. We held discussion salons and games every Friday like we would normally have after our cookouts, Sunday get-togethers, writing hours, and small group sessions to allow students to interact in a positive way. At one Sunday get-together, one student confided, ‘I’m never gonna pants again,’ which led to another student singing a verse of the George Michael song, ‘I’m Never Gonna Dance Again’ with new lyrics off the top of his head, which led to an energetic debate on whether Arnold Schwarzenegger could dance to such a song, and concluded with a resolution that we should all perform this at an upcoming convention. Students bonded and really supported each other. It was beautiful to see.
“By the end of the workshop, they had all made major breakthroughs in their writing and were excited to continue to share work and socialize online as a group. It turned out to be one of our most successful Odysseys. All twelve of the students who returned evaluations rated the workshop ‘excellent.'”
The 2021 workshop will be held from JUNE 7 to JULY 16. The application deadline is APRIL 1. All applicants receive feedback on their writing sample.
Odyssey is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, funded in part by donations from graduates and supporters, and in part by student tuition. The tuition, $2,450, includes a textbook and several physical mailings of materials to students. There will be no housing charge, since students will be living at home. Six scholarships and a work/study position are available. Students can also receive college credit for the workshop for an additional fee.