Vanessa Blakeslee’s latest book, Perfect Conditions: stories is the winner of the Foreword Reviews’ 2018 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award for Short Stories (Gold), the 2019 IPPY Silver Medal for Short Story Fiction (Silver), the NIEA (Gold), and was a Chicago Tribune “Summer Reads” Pick, among other accolades. Her debut novel, Juventud (Curbside Splendor, 2015), was hailed by Publishers Weekly as a “tale of self-discovery and intense first love.” The book earned high praise from the Jewish Book Council, the LA Progressive, Bustle, Washington Independent Review of Books, the Rumpus, the SIBA Award/Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize, to name a few. Her story collection, Train Shots (Burrow Press) won the 2014 IPPY Gold Medal in Short Fiction, was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and optioned for a feature film. Her writing has appeared in The Southern Review, The Paris Review Daily, Publishers Weekly, The Globe and Mail, and Kenyon Review Online, among others. She has been awarded grants and residencies from Yaddo, Writers Omi, The Banff Centre, Storyknife, the Individual Artist Fellowship in Literature from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, and many more. She teaches writing at Rollins College and serves on the Board of Directors for the Jack Kerouac Writers-in-Residence Project of Orlando, FL. Follow her online at www.vanessablakeslee.com, Facebook.com/VanessaBlakesleeAuthor, and on Medium.com@vanessablakeslee.
- MFA in Writing, Vermont College of Fine Arts
- MA in English, University of Central Florida
- BA in English, Rollins College
Areas of Expertise
- Creative Writing
- Fiction and Nonfiction
- The Speculative Novel
- Short Stories
- Personal Essays
Writing is my first calling, the teaching of writing a close second—one that has grown from my own practice. As a literary writer in mid-career I consider it a privilege and exciting opportunity to serve the next generation in the same way that my most influential teachers have inspired and guided me.
To write you first must learn how to read like a writer. Many craft textbooks are increasingly prohibitively costly to students. In my creative writing classes, I prioritize anthology readings for discussion and craft analysis (recent Best American anthologies as well as more focused ones, such as Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer, have delighted students). In addition, I typically adopt a reasonably-priced, comprehensive textbook and/or companion craft book such as Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook or Lisa Roney’s Serious Daring for pedagogical reference, supplemental writing exercises, and career guidance (in teaching poetry, a contemporary anthology and The Practice of Poetry edited by Robin Behn are useful pairings). I begin the semester with assigned readings and discussions of what works in great writing, allowing the students to voice what about a story or poem resonates with them, and why. I hand out a step-by-step guideline, “How to Read Like a Writer” for them to keep on hand as they encounter the assigned texts. From there I assign both in-class and take-home writing prompts, with the objective that the student will use the assignments to jump-start larger portfolio assignments. In all classes, we focus on key principles: how desire propels plot, imagery, dialogue techniques, and what great stories are about—love, death, redemption, passion. Occasionally, I share examples of my own published writing where I discuss my process in drafting a story or essay and give students the opportunities to ask questions. When the opportunity arises, I also have found it useful to bring in a guest writer and/or editor who may broaden the discussion of craft and career (ideally both), as the students contemplate professional paths beyond their degrees.
My approach to leading workshops is inspired by my own experiences as a participant and leader over many years. The strengths of a piece are always discussed before the “weaknesses,” for I believe it is impossible, often confusing and potentially harmful, for the writer to hear what needs improvement before the group clearly establishes what those missed opportunities in a piece are working against. Students are given instructional sheets to guide them in how to provide effective peer feedback; I sometimes (though not always) assign students to write a one-page critique of the work seeking feedback. My own method is to mark up manuscripts with a summary of comments at the end, often supplemented with reading recommendations. The goal is always to show the student how he or she might more closely render the imaginative vision of a given piece. I often use a student’s draft to illuminate a craft point or bring up a story or poem of similar subject matter or form that accomplishes what the student is aiming to do. This segue into a tangential lecture remains within the context of the piece under discussion, yet touches on craft aspects that are useful for everyone to master, and is not just specific to the writer of the piece in the spotlight. The workshop model contains inherent pitfalls, so I work to make each meeting as useful as possible for all members, balancing the amount of time students get to practice speaking constructively about each other’s work with pedagogical instruction. Whenever possible, I also write a letter to advanced students about their portfolios, as this one-on-one correspondence proved invaluable to my growth as a graduate writing student.
- Perfect Conditions: stories. Curbside Splendor Publishing, July 2018. Winner, Foreword Reviews’ 2018 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award for Short Stories (Gold). Winner, Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY) Silver Medal in Short Story Fiction, 2019. Winner, the National Indie Excellence Award (NIEA) for Short Story Collections, 2019. Finalist, the Next Generation Indie Book Awards (Short Story), and the Montaigne Medal, Eric Hoffer Award Committee. A Chicago Tribune “Summer Reads” Pick, 2018. Has received praise from the Tampa Bay Times, Grist, and more.
- Juventud, a novel published by Curbside Splendor Publishing, October, 2015. Winner, Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY) Bronze Medal in Literary Fiction, 2015. Has received praise from Publisher’s Weekly, Foreword, the Jewish Book Council, the LA Progressive, Bustle, Washington Independent Review of Books, the Rumpus, and others. Long-listed for the SIBA Award/Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize, Foreword Reviews’ 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award for Literary Fiction, and the Montaigne Medal.
- Train Shots. Short story collection published in March, 2014 by Burrow Press. Winner, Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY) Gold Medal in Short Fiction, 2014. Long-listed for the 2014 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Optioned for feature film by HBK Productions, New York, NY, 2015-2016.