Writing Retreat

Write alongside other writers!

Join us for the fourth annual Writing Retreat at Shake Rag Alley, open to writers of all levels. Enrich your talent and prospects at Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts in this charming art community and old mining town. Choose one of three genres taught by either Patricia Ann McNair (Memoir and Personal Essay; Retreat Artistic Director), Christine Rice (Short Story), or Shawn Shiflett (New Novel Pages) for an in-depth workshop that will challenge you across the three days. These workshop directors are award-winning published authors and active, experienced teachers of writing.

Interwoven around these main workshops will be optional and inspiring creative activities, including talks on Writing About Race with Eric May, and Baldwin in Paris with Philip Hartigan, a panel discussion on Alternatives in Publishing, a Faculty and Local Author Reading, two Participant Open Mics, and a craft talk on narrative distance with Sarah Hammond that will make for a retreat jam-packed with opportunities to learn, share, network, and write. Make new writing friends each day at lunch and enjoy Mineral Point evenings together.

Manuscript consultations are available with instructors on a first sign up, first served basis, at a very affordable price.

We are pleased to work in partnership with Hypertext Magazine & Studio, a social justice writing nonprofit organization. 

Books by Faculty, Panelists & Presenters


now virtual - meeting online!

Mining the Story

September 25 - 27, 2020

Rescheduled from May 29-31

Writing Retreat Details & FAQs


Friday, Sept. 25

10 – 10:30 am: Welcome & Faculty Introductions

10:45 – 11:45: Writers Drawing for Discovery | Philip Hartigan

noon: Lunch Break

1:30 – 4:30 pm: Workshop Groups

4:30 – 6 pm: Meet & Greet

5:30 – 7 pm: Manuscript Consultations [McNair, Rice, Shiflett]

Saturday, Sept. 26

9 am: Manuscript Consultations [McNair, Rice, Shiflett, Hammond, May]

10 am – noon: Workshop Groups

noon – 1 pm: Participant Open Mic

1 – 4 pm: Workshop Groups

4:30 – 5:30 pm: Writing About Race | Eric May

7:30 pm: Faculty and Local Author Reading

Sunday, Sept. 27

9:30 am: Manuscript Consultation [May]

10 – 10:45 am: Your Inner Child, an exercise in narrative distance | Sarah Hammond

11 – 12:15: Alternatives in Publishing | Patricia McNair, Justin O’Brien, Judith Sutcliffe

12:30 – 1:30 pm:  Participant Open Mic

1:45 – 3:45 pm: Workshop Groups conclude

4 – 4:30 pm: Closing Remarks

5:30 pm: James Baldwin in Paris | Philip Hartigan

Friday, Sept. 25 | 10:45-11:45 am

Philip Hartigan will lead a drawing activity to prime the creative pump for an exciting weekend of writing.

Writing Retreat participants may sign up for a 25-minute one-on-one manuscript consultation with any one of these faculty members:

  • Sarah Hammond
  • Eric May
  • Patricia McNair
  • Christine Rice
  • Shawn Shiflett

Fifteen manuscript consultation appointments are available. You may submit one piece no longer than 12 pages. Cost is $40 (see below).

Call the Shake Rag Alley office at 608-987-3292 to schedule after purchase.

Saturday, Sept. 26 | noon-1 pm

Sunday, Sept. 27 | 12:30-1:30 pm

Registered workshop participants are invited to read from their own work during lunch. Please limit your selections to under 10 minutes. [DETAILS FOR SIGN UP FORTHCOMING]

Saturday, Sept. 26 | 4:30-5:30 pm

Eric May, Chicago Public Library 21st Century Author, whose book Bedrock Faith was named a Notable African-American Title by Publishers Weekly, shortlisted for the 2014 Great Lakes Great Reads Prize and declared a top read by: Roxane Gay; Booklist; O, The Oprah Magazine; Chicago Reader; and Chicago Tribune/Printers Row, will give a talk on writing about race.

Saturday, Sept. 26 | 7:30 pm

Faculty and local authors will read from and discuss their work.

Sunday, Sept. 27 | 10 am

Sarah Hammond is an international author for young people and has published for both teens and younger readers. For almost a decade she worked as a lawyer in London, UK. Her first teen book The Night Sky in my Head was published by OUP and was shortlisted for the Calderdale Children’s Book of the Year Award, the Leeds Book Award (14-16 category), the James Reckitt Hull Children’s Book Award and the Angus Book Award. Her first picture book, Mine!, was published by Parragon. Sarah runs workshops and competitions, mentors students, and presents at conferences and universities.

Author Website

Sunday, Sept. 27 | 11 am

Justin O’Brien is a writer and typographer, retired from advertising and now working on his own projects. His writing has appeared in Living BluesThe Voice of the River Valley, Juke Blues, Sing Out!, Irish Music, Chicago Parent, and Elysian Fields. In 2018 he produced his first book, Chicago Yippie! ’68, on his experiences as a teenaged anti-war protester.

Judith Sutcliffe is a multi-faceted artist who enjoys creating and teaching in a variety of media, including concrete/mosaic art, doll-making, primitive weaving, book arts and printmaking, forged jewelry, tile, woodcarving, nonfiction and poetry. A native of Iowa, Judy spent 17 years as a tile muralist in Santa Barbara, CA, before returning to the Midwest in 1996. Her tile paintings grace many Santa Barbara public buildings and private homes. In addition to tile work, Judy, as The Electric Typographer, has designed over 30 typefaces, including calligraphic and image fonts. Judy is co-owner of the Longbranch Gallery, in Mineral Point. Additionally, Judy has long been active in writing groups in Galena, Illinois and is the author of A Collection of Old Men, Blue Eyed Grass, California Poppy, Wild Rose, The Little Mermaid and the Story of Kimballton in Iowa’s ‘Danishland’ and co-author of An Old House in Galena, with Sandy Scott, as well as Grandma’s Cherry Spoon: a Story of Tuberculosis, with Marjorie McVicker Sutcliffe.

Sunday, Sept. 27 | 5:30 pm

Writing Workshops

select only one as they meet simultaneously

Manuscript Consultations

select only one as opportunities are limited

Optional Workshops

open to all retreat participants at no cost

Writers Drawing for Discovery

Friday, Sept. 25, 2020

Philip Hartigan


Access deeper levels of visualization and sensory recall, in preparation for writing, through simple drawing activities.

Level Beginner and above

Class Size open to all retreat participants

Instructor Philip Hartigan


Writing About Race

Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020

Eric May


In celebration of this year’s NEA Big Read of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, the Writing Retreat is pleased to add this special event:

Eric Charles May, author of Bedrock Faith, will be presenting a craft talk on Writing About Race.. May was named the 21st Century Author for the Chicago Public Library Foundation’s Charles Sandburg Awards in 2015.

Level Beginner and above

Class Size open to all retreat participants

Instructor Eric May


Your Inner Child: An Exercise in Narrative Distance

Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020

Sarah Hammond


What is narrative distance? Often defined as the distance between the narrator of a story and its characters, it establishes the point of view accessed by a reader and structures the authorial voice of every genre. Explore the power of narrative distance and consider how it impacts possibilities and limitations in your writing.

Level Beginner and above

Class Size open to all retreat participants

Instructor Sarah Hammond


Alternatives in Publishing Panel Discussion

Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020

 McNair | O’Brien | Sutcliffe


Accomplished authors offer advice and insight as they discuss their various paths to publication.

Panel Members Patricia McNair, Justin O’Brien, and Judy Sutcliffe

Level Beginner and above

Class Size open to all retreat participants

Instructor Judy Sutcliffe


Special Event

open to the public

Baldwin in Paris

Sunday, September 27

5:30 pm

Shake Rag Alley - Lind Pavilion, 411 Commerce St.

In celebration of this year’s NEA Big Read of Claudia Rankine’s
“Citizen: An American Lyric,”
the Writing Retreat is pleased to add this special event.

Philip Hartigan, Columbia College Chicago adjunct professor for its Creative Writing in Paris course, will give a multi-media talk about James Baldwin in Paris. This event is free and open to the public.

Campus Map: Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts

Coach House
18 Shake Rag Street

1 of 33

Art Café

2 of 33

Ellery House

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Open Air Parking

7 of 33

Lind Pavilion Parking

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Roadside Parking
allowed on Commerce Street

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Smejas’ Studio parking

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Smejas’ Studio
30 Doty Street

11 of 33

Curbside Parking
as indicated

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Accessible Parking
with curb cut

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Accessible Parking
with curb cut

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Alley Stage

15 of 33

Cabinet Shop

16 of 33

French Cabin

17 of 33

1830 Log Cabin

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Potter’s House

19 of 33

Blacksmith Barn

20 of 33

Federal Spring

21 of 33

Monarch Garden

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Lind Pavilion
411 Commerce Street

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two blocks to

High Street & Commerce Street
Restaurants, Shops & Galleries

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To Grocery Store
Point Foods
622 Dodge Street

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Street Parking with Additional Parking behind Smejas’ Studio

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The Green
open air park

27 of 33

Stair Steps
Cabinet Shop & Lind Pavilion

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Stair Steps
to Alley Stage

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Stone Bridge
Federal Spring

30 of 33
The Sardeson
223 Commerce St.
The Sardeson is home to the
Sardeson Pottery Studio,
Roland’s Loft,
and Tuckpoint. 31 of 33

Weaving & Fiber Arts Studio

Cannery Row Arts Incubator
121 Water St.

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ADA accessible buildings: Lind Pavilion, Coach House, Smejas’ Studio