Opinion & Editorial

WashU’s Summer Writers Institute Is Back: Introducing Creative Nonfiction Instructor Sylvia Sukop

Every year, St. Louis’ summer seasons brings sunlit patios, neighborhood festivals, outdoor adventures—and Washington University’s Summer Writers Institute (SWI). Taught on nights and weekends through the School of Continuing & Professional Studies (formerly University College), the Institute is the perfect chance for potential students across experience levels to brush up on their writing skills. Within the condensed two-week course period from July 12 to 26, students can try their hand at everything from personal narrative and poetry to essays, fiction and humor writing.

For Sylvia Sukop, this year’s instructor for the SWI’s “Creative Nonfiction: Personal Narrative” course, one of her biggest goals is to create a supportive and encouraging incubator-like space for students to explore and grow together. A graduate of Washington University’s MFA program, Sukop has been awarded a number of grants, residencies and fellowships, including an Emerging Voices Fellowship from PEN Center USA and a Fulbright Fellowship. And with two years of teaching at the undergraduate level under her belt, Sukop is looking forward to the opportunity to deliver a high-energy—but still noncompetitive—curriculum.

“Critical generosity is a value I cultivate in my classroom,” says Sukop.

My goal is to uplift every writer who comes through the classroom, wherever they’re at, and instill confidence.”

It’s also common for the SWI to welcome students across a variety of age groups, including college-aged students picking up extra course work between semesters, mid-career learners interested in a career change or retirees hoping to get back to a personal passion. (And a bonus for public school educators teaching in school districts in St. Louis City, St. Louis County, University City and Clayton: the School of Continuing & Professional Studies classes are half off.)

The SWI is designed to welcome writers of all backgrounds, ensuring classes are as diverse as they are thought-provoking. The potential for cross-generational learning and lively classroom discussions are additional positives for Sukop. “Especially in a summer course like this that might draw a lot of adult learners, the amount of life experience and possibly writing experience that people bring to the classroom is extraordinary,” she says. “It’s an asset and an additional resource in the classroom. I want us all to be engaged and learning from each other.”

Her creative nonfiction course is designed to emphasize personal attention and constructive feedback. The course is capped at 12 students, allowing instructors to provide more one-on-one support throughout the ten-session program. Sukop also plans to use a more organic, peer-driven format to help her students feel more comfortable and encourage them to tackle talking about craft-related topics like voice and pacing as well as bigger ideas like truth and ethical responsibility.

“These big ideas can serve your writing rather than constrain it,” she adds. “I really want students of personal narrative and creative nonfiction to know how much freedom they have in those forms.”

SWI courses are generative, which means students should expect to write quite a bit and read just as much. Sukop plans to bring a rich variety of fresh, contemporary examples of writing in different creative genres to inspire her students and expose them to writing beyond the traditional literary canon. By the end of the course, students will have gained a unique workshop experience in an organic and energizing setting, sure to enrich their own writing for years to come.

About the Summer Writers Institute at WashU

The Washington University Summer Writers Institute is an intensive, two-week program featuring workshops in genres such as fiction, culture essay writing, micro-fiction, modern humor, personal narrative, playwriting, and poetry. Adult writers of all levels of experience work together with published authors and exceptional teachers in a supportive, non-competitive format that allows for personalized attention and constructive feedback.Institutes are held evenings and weekends to accommodate the busy work schedules of participants in the St. Louis area.