Writing Retreat

Write virtually with other writers!

As we all are limited in our travels by our global health concerns, Shake Rag Alley’s Writing Retreat is going remote! Your workshop facilitators and speakers have been actively engaged with virtual communities for months now, and we are eager to spend time with you in this way during our retreat. You can join our Zoom-based workshops, panels, activities, and readings from the comfort of your own space! This development will keep us all safe, while allowing us to be part of a national literary community and celebration.

Join us for the fourth annual Writing Retreat at Shake Rag Alley, open to writers of all levels. Enrich your talent and prospects in one of three genres:

•  Memoir & Personal Essay with Patricia Ann McNair (Retreat Artistic Director)

•  Short Story with Christine Rice

•  The New Novel with Shawn Shiflett

These in-depth workshops will challenge you across the three days and are led by award-winning published authors and experienced teachers of writing.

Interwoven around these main workshops will be optional and inspiring creative activities, including:

•  Writing About Race with Eric May

•  James Baldwin in Paris with Philip Hartigan

•  A panel discussion on Alternatives in Publishing

•  Faculty and Local Author Reading

•  Two Participant Open Mics

•  Writers Drawing for Discovery with Philip Hartigan

•  and a craft talk on narrative distance with Sarah Hammond

We look forward to welcoming you to a retreat jam-packed with opportunities to learn, share, network, and write.

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


Mining the Story

May 21-23, 2021

Details for 2021 available December 1, 2020

Writing Retreat Details & FAQs

Friday, Sept. 25

10 – 10:30 am: Welcome & Faculty Introductions

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


1:00 – 3:30 pm: Workshop Groups

Writing Time

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

Saturday, Sept. 26

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

10:00 am – 12:00 pm: Workshop Groups

noon – 1 pm: Participant Open Mic

1:15 – 4:15 pm: Workshop Groups

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

6:30 pm: Faculty and Local Author Reading | open to the public

Sunday, Sept. 27

9:30 am: Manuscript Consultation [May]

10 – 11:00 am: Your Inner Child, an exercise in narrative distance | Sarah Hammond

11:15 – 12:15: Alternatives in Publishing Panel Discussion | Patricia McNair, Justin O’Brien, Judith Sutcliffe, Ross K. Tangedal, Christi Craig

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

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

4 – 4:30 pm: Closing Remarks & Toast

5:30 pm: James Baldwin in Paris | Philip Hartigan | open to the public

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).

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. 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 | 6:30 pm

Writing Retreat faculty and local authors will read from and discuss their work. Fiction, nonfiction, and poetry will be presented by published authors and academic staff from Columbia College, Chicago.

Readers Include Patricia Ann McNair, Christine Maul Rice, Shawn Shiflett, Sarah Hammond, Eric Charles May, Justin O’Brien, Judy Sutcliffe, and Jacquelyn Thomas

FREE & Open to the Public

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 | 11:15 am

Patricia McNair Booklist calls Patricia Ann McNair “an irresistible personal essayist of refreshing candor, vibrant openheartedness, rueful humor, and unassuming wisdom.” Author of And These Are the Good Times (essays), and The Temple of Air (stories), McNair received the Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year Award, Southern Illinois University’s Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award, the Society of Midland Authors Finalist Award, and was named a finalist for the Montaigne Medal for most thought-provoking book of 2017. Her work is published in American Fiction: Best Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging Writers, Superstition Review, Prime Number, River Teeth, Fourth Genre, Brevity, Creative Nonfiction, Barrelhouse, and in textbooks
on writing. McNair’s second short story collection, Responsible Adults, is scheduled for release in December 2020. She has received numerous Illinois Arts Council Awards and teaches in the English and Creative Writing Department Graduate and Undergraduate Programs at Columbia College Chicago where she received the Excellence in Teaching Award and was nominated for the Carnegie Foundation’s U.S. Professor of the Year Award. Author Website

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.

Ross K. Tangedal is Assistant Professor of English and Director of the Cornerstone Press at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point. He specializes in American print and publishing culture, textual editing, bibliography, and book history, with emphasis in Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the American Midwest. He has been widely published in a number of journals and edited collections, and his first book, The Preface: American Authorship in the Twentieth Century, will be released in 2021 by Palgrave Macmillan. Since taking over the Cornerstone Press in 2016, Tangedal has transformed the program from a single book/single class model to a year-round publishing operation, with multiple courses and internships available to students across campus. It is the only press of its kind in the state of Wisconsin, and one of only four undergraduate student-staffed presses in the United States. The press publishes four to five titles per year, with series dedicated to short fiction, poetry, regional fiction/nonfiction, and regional history. Author Website

Christi Craig lives in Wisconsin, working as a writer, teacher, and editor. Her own stories and essays have appeared in Hippocampus Magazine, Stonecoast Review, The Drum Literary Magazine, and more. She is also the Publisher at Hidden Timber Books, publishing simple but powerful stories rooted in place that offer social, historical, and cultural context, as well as philosophical insight. Through teaching, publishing, and literary citizenship, she works to build a strong community of writers and a genuine connection with readers. Author Website

Sunday, Sept. 27 | 5:30 pm

In celebration of this year’s NEA Big Read of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, the Writing Retreat is pleased to offer 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 on Sunday evening.

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.

Supplies bring several sheets of paper and your favorite drawing materials to this virtual workshop to participate in guided drawing activities.

Instructor Philip Hartigan



Other interested persons may register using the button below. Please supply an email address at checkout to receive an emailed link to attend.

Cost $25

Writing About Race

Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020

Eric May


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

Eric Charles May, author of Bedrock Faith, will present 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.

Instructor Eric May



Please register for this free event (unless you are a writing workshop student) to recieve an emailed link to attend.

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.

Instructor Sarah Hammond



Other interested persons may register using the button below. Please supply an email address at checkout to receive an emailed link to attend.

Cost $25

Alternatives in Publishing Panel Discussion

Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020

 McNair | O’Brien | Sutcliffe


Accomplished authors, teachers, book publishers, and magazine editors offer advice and insight as they discuss various paths to publication.

Panel Members

Patricia McNairJustin O’Brien
Judy SutcliffeRoss K. Tangedal
and Christi Craig.



Other interested persons may register using the button below. Please supply an email address at checkout to receive an emailed link to attend.

Cost $25

Special Events

open to the public

Writing Retreat Faculty & Local Author Reading

Saturday, September 26

6:30 pm


Writing Retreat faculty and local authors will read from and discuss their work. Fiction, nonfiction, and poetry will be presented by published authors and academic staff from Columbia College, Chicago.

James Baldwin in Paris

Sunday, September 27

5:30 pm


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 is a faculty member of the Columbia College Chicago Study Abroad program in Paris, where every January he teaches a class called Creative Writing: American Writers in Paris (Hemingway and Baldwin).

African-American writer James Baldwin emigrated to Paris in 1948 and lived there for most of the following ten years. During his time in Paris, he completed two of his greatest works of fiction (Go Tell it On the Mountain and Giovanni’s Room) and published numerous essays describing the experience of being a black American writer in France. This illustrated talk discusses the influence of Paris and its artistic community on James Baldwin, including the ways in which Baldwin’s time in France led him to reconnect with the United States and the growing Civil Rights movement.

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

3 of 33


4 of 33


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Open Air Parking

7 of 33

Lind Pavilion Parking

8 of 33

Roadside Parking
allowed on Commerce Street

9 of 33

Smejas’ Studio parking

10 of 33

Smejas’ Studio
30 Doty Street

11 of 33

Curbside Parking
as indicated

12 of 33

Accessible Parking
with curb cut

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Accessible Parking
with curb cut

14 of 33

Alley Stage

15 of 33

Cabinet Shop

16 of 33

French Cabin

17 of 33

1830 Log Cabin

18 of 33

Potter’s House

19 of 33

Blacksmith Barn

20 of 33

Federal Spring

21 of 33

Monarch Garden

22 of 33

Lind Pavilion
411 Commerce Street

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two blocks to

High Street & Commerce Street
Restaurants, Shops & Galleries

24 of 33

To Grocery Store
Point Foods
622 Dodge Street

25 of 33

Street Parking with Additional Parking behind Smejas’ Studio

26 of 33

The Green
open air park

27 of 33

Stair Steps
Cabinet Shop & Lind Pavilion

28 of 33

Stair Steps
to Alley Stage

29 of 33

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