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Study Groups

Soapstone offers a program of six study groups each year on women writers. People of all genders and identities are welcome. Scholarships are available.

To register for a study group send an email to soapstonewriting@gmail.com, and once you receive a reply saying there is room in the group, we'll ask for payment through Zelle, or, if you prefer, a check made out to Soapstone, 622 SE 29th Avenue, Portland, OR 97214.


Fall 2023

Reading Louise Erdrich's The Round House
Led by Deborah Miranda
Six Saturdays, from 10 am to 12 pm PST via Zoom
Oct. 21, 28; Nov. 4, 11, 18; Dec. 2
$75, scholarships available
Limited to 16 participants

Louise Erdrich’s novel The Round House fascinates me with its blurred borders and liminalities, as Joe, thirteen-year-old member of a contemporary Ojibwe community, narrates the chaotic emotional and legal aftermath of the brutal sexual assault experienced by his mother.

Centering the voice of an Indigenous boy (accompanied by his posse of friends) to tell an Indian woman’s story is just one of Erdrich’s crazy-smart choices. Through this voice, the historic past dictates the present, adolescence vies with adulthood, sacred places become sites of profanity. The ‘round house’ of the title is a sacred ceremonial structure where this brutal crime takes place; not only is the round house located on Indigenous land within the United States, but the convoluted legal and cultural jurisdictions (state law? federal law? tribal law?) allow readers to feel and think about the effect of historical traumas on the present lives of Indian and settler lives alike.

I am in awe of Erdrich’s ability to write so many layers of human history and relationship into beautiful, engaging fiction and create a world of unique characters like Mooshum, a grandfather whose ribald stories and ancient dreams help Joe understand the spiritual lineage of the round house, and Cappy, the best friend whose loyalty and love lead to an impossible sacrifice. In this study group we’ll look at how Erdrich uses storytelling, humor, and tenderness to draw us into the borderlands we now call Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Amnesty International has called this “The Maze of Injustice” that is our American cultural inheritance. Together we’ll look at the threads Erdrich creates as her characters search for ways through that maze.

Required text: The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Deborah Miranda is an enrolled member of the Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen Nation in California, with Santa Ynez Chumash ancestry. Her hybrid collection Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir, won the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award. In 2022, the 10th anniversary edition of Bad Indians was released, with 50+ additional pages of material. She is also the author of four poetry collections (Indian Cartography, The Zen of La Llorona, Raised by Humans, and Altar for Broken Things) and co-editor of the Lambda finalist Sovereign Erotics: An Anthology of Two-Spirit Literature. Emerita at Washington and Lee University, Deborah continues to guest lecture, teach poetry and memoir workshops, and explore experimental storytelling techniques on the page. She has taught workshops at The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, The Low-Residency MFA in Creative Writing at Oregon State University/Cascades, The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, and private settings. Deborah and wife Margo Solod live in Eugene, Oregon not far from where they met at Flight of the Mind. deborahmiranda.com

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Winter/Spring 2024

Reading Magda Szabó’s The Door (translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix)
Led by Tricia Snell
Six Saturday mornings: 10am – noon (PST)
Jan. 6, 13, 20, 27; Feb. 3, 10, 2024
via Zoom
$75, scholarships available
Limited to 16 participants
Magda Szabó’s novel, The Door, set in the late 1950s in Hungary, explores the balance of love and power between two very different women, one a highly educated writer, Magda (the novel runs, as Szabó herself has said, close to her own personal history), and the other an uneducated but fiercely opinionated and capable servant, Emerance. This exploration is carried out in close quarters, mostly in or near Magda’s apartment, in domestic scenes taut as a psychological thriller’s.
Writer and New York Times reviewer Claire Messud said the novel “altered the way I understand my own life,” and The New Yorker’s Cynthia Zarin called it a “bone-shaking book.” I agree; this book elicits deep reflection on love, power, class, friendship, the slipperiness of history, the aftermath of war and genocide, and what we are capable of as humans.
The door of the title is a real door: Emerance’s, which she opens to no one. And it is a metaphorical blurring technique, obfuscating both Emerance’s mysterious past, Hungary’s dark and complicated history, and the borders between humans who live together. (Also in the mix are a husband who exerts his own dominion as master in the house, and a highly intelligent, extraordinary dog, Viola, who provides both comic and heart-rending notes.)
According to “3%” (a resource for international literature at the University of Rochester), only about 3% of books published in the United States are translations. This one, and the New York Review of Books, together deserve celebration. Szabó (1917-2007) is Hungary’s most translated writer, with books in 42 countries and 30 languages. THE DOOR is her most translated novel and was awarded a prestigious Prix Femina étranger in 2003, France’s annual award for best foreign-language literary work.
In this study group we’ll look at all the ways Szabó has elevated a domestic story into a tense intrigue. We’ll look at the history woven into the book’s events, how she structures it, and her direct, searingly honest language and style. And we’ll see if the book causes us to see our own lives, values, and capacities in a new light.
TextsThe Door, copyright 1987 by Magda Szabó (and translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix), 262 pages, published by the New York Review of Books in 2015 as part of its Classics series, available in bookstores and online. Can be ordered directly from the New York Review of Books and will arrive promptly! Also available in many libraries.
Tricia Snell is a Canadian-American writer and teacher. She most recently published a poetry chapbook, Rooted, 2023 (through The Little Books Collective, Spot of Poetry, Lunenburg, NS) and a short story, "Out to the Horses" (Room Magazine, 2019), a Canadian quarterly literary journal that has been featuring the work of women and genderqueer writers and artists since 1975. “Out to the Horses” also made the longlist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's 2019 Short Story Prize. Tricia is the author of the nonfiction book Artist Communities (Allworth Press, 1996, 2000, 2005), and her writing has appeared in magazines (most recently Everyday Fiction, 2018) and newspapers (notably The Oregonian, 2002-2008) as well as read on the National Public Radio show, The Sound of Writing, a PEN Syndicated Fiction project (1993, 1995). She has also had a long career as executive director of non-profit arts organizations (Artist Communities Alliance; Caldera), plays flute in a trio, holds an MFA in Creative Writing/Fiction (George Mason University), and is currently working on a novel. www.triciasnell.com


Small, Potent Packages, Part 3: Reading Short Stories by Women Writers
led by Anndee Hochman
six sessions, 2 hours each 
Sundays February 18-March 24
11 a.m.-1 p.m. PST/2-4 p.m. EST, on Zoom
$75, scholarships available
Limited to 16 participants
“I want my stories to be something about life that causes people to say, not, oh, isn’t that the truth, but to feel some kind of reward from the writing, and that doesn’t mean that it has to be a happy ending or anything, but just that everything the story tells moves the reader in such a way that you feel you are a different person when you finish.”  ~Alice Munro
In this study group, we’ll explore six different short stories—compact, compressed, oblique, revelatory—by six very different women writers:

  • “Raymond’s Run,” by Toni Cade Bambara (197
    The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” by Ursula K. LeGuin (1973)
    No Name Woman,” by Maxine Hong Kingston (1975)
    “Growing,” by Helena Maria Viramontes (1983)
    “Making Do,” by Linda Hogan (1986)
    “The Not-Dead and the Saved,” by Kate Clanchy (2009)

These stories spring from a range of cultures, perspectives and storytelling styles. We’ll consider and respond to all of that, as well as to each story’s language, rhythm, themes, structure, characters, point of view, references to real events and to other texts. We’ll ask: What is it this writer had to tell us? And how does each story move us, change us?
Participants will receive audio files of each story, read by the instructor; during class, we’ll revisit key portions aloud—tuning our ears to repetition, tone, cadence and silences—as we explore and discuss the texts. In the tradition of Soapstone study groups, our conversations will welcome participants’ questions, speculations, wild ideas, thoughtful challenges and considered dissents as we learn from and with each other. 
The required text will be Braided Lives: An Anthology of Multicultural American Writing (available used at Powell’s and elsewhere), which includes “No Name Woman,” “Growing” and “Making Do.” The other three stories are either available online or will be sent to participants in pdf form, along with supplemental material and links to interview excerpts and articles.  
Anndee Hochman is a journalist, essayist, storyteller and teaching artist who lived in Portland for ten years and is now based in Philadelphia. For more than 20 years, she has facilitated community-based literature discussions through People & Stories/Gente y Cuentos. She also guides writers of all ages and experience levels in crafting poetry, memoir and creative nonfiction. Her books include Everyday Acts & Small Subversions: Women Reinventing Family, Community and Home (The Eighth Mountain Press) and Anatomies: A Novella and Stories (Picador USA). She’s currently at work on a young adult novel titled My Plural Is People.


Reading Diane Seuss’s frank: sonnets
Led by John Morrison
Six Saturday mornings: 10am – noon (PST)
March 30, April 6, 13, 20, 27 and May 4
via Zoom
$75, scholarships available
Limited to 16 participants

I anticipate each new Diane Seuss book like a thriller. Her love and allegiance to poetry is that uncompromising. She’s fearless, raw and disarming, and unafraid to arrest the reader with the dark turn or image. This study group is focused specifically on her Pulitzer Prize winning frank: sonnets. This fulsome sequence of untitled sonnets is a realization of Emily Dickinson’s line “After great pain, a formal feeling comes.” frank promises to reward a devoted, intimate reading and discussion in community.

There’s a seductive paradox central to the beauty of Seuss’ work: for all her recklessness, she is entirely devoted to her poetic predecessors and the poetic tradition. She’s writes like the Romantics she reveres, and pays homage to broad range of influences, which makes for rich study. Like Dickinson, she’d die without poetry, and as American poetry needed, desperately, Emily Dickinson, our contemporary poetry needs Diane Seuss.

Required text: frank: sonnets, by Diane Seuss

John Morrison’s first book, Heaven of the Moment, won the Rhea & Seymour Gorsline poetry competition and was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award in Poetry. His most recent book Monkey Island was published by redbat books. He has received the C. Hamilton Bailey Fellowship from Literary Arts. Numerous journals, including the Beloit Poetry Journal, Cimarron Review, Poetry Northwest, and Rhino, have published his work. He currently teaches at the Attic Institute and is also an associate editor for the fabulist journal of literature, Phantom Drift.


Reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead
Led by Brenda Peterson
Six Saturday mornings: 10am – noon (PST)
May 11, 18, 25, June 1, 8, 15
via Zoom
$75, scholarships available
Limited to 16 participants


Past study groups are listed on the Previous Study Groups page.