Announcing the 2019 Fort Lyon Writers-In-Residence

Join us in welcoming Michael Fischer and Sarah Shotland to the Lighthouse and Fort Lyon communities as the 2019 Fort Lyon Writers-In-Residence. Michael will be in residence from June 17 to July 12, and Sarah will be in residence from July 15 to August 9. Get to know them a bit in a brief Q&A below.

What initially drew you to the Fort Lyon Fellowship?

Michael Fischer (MF): I was lucky enough to be one of the inaugural Lit Fest Fellows back in 2017, as a participant in Sarah Manguso’s nonfiction workshop. At some point during Lit Fest I found out about the Fort Lyon Fellowship. I remember thinking, “A year or two from now, when I’m a little deeper into my writing life, I’m applying for that.” And sure enough, here we are! To me, the best thing about the Fellowship is that it’s a chance not only to work with folks who don’t typically have access to creative writing courses but also to be in community with the people at Fort Lyon, day in and day out. I don’t think of writing residencies as a chance to go off somewhere and be isolated from other people. It’s about the community aspect for me, so I’m very drawn to that.

Sarah Shotland (SS): I was struck by the idea of an old prison that had been re-imagined as a new space and environment. A lot of my work is about the process of re-imagining the world as it might be, instead of how it is. It seems like Fort Lyon might be a place where that work has already happened. That was incredibly compelling to me. 

Which aspect of your own background are you excited to bring to Fort Lyon’s teaching environment?

MF: I have a pretty strange background that I’ve lost a lot of time being ashamed of. I’ve spent time locked up, I was expelled from school twice, and I didn’t graduate college until last year, when I was 29. It might sound weird to say that I’m excited to bring these parts of myself to Fort Lyon, but I don’t think a person can talk about vulnerability as strength if they aren’t willing to engage in that themselves. I hope that being honest and open about myself will be an important part of my pedagogy at Fort Lyon.

SS: I'm the program director of the Words Without Walls program, which brings creative writing classes to jails, prisons, and drug treatment centers in Pittsburgh, PA. Doing that work has given me a lot of experience teaching students who learn outside of the traditional school system. I love teaching in classrooms that are created in environments outside of school, which seems applicable to the Fort Lyon writing community. I'm also excited to bring in some fun activities into the classroom that might encourage Fort Lyon writers to imagine what their stories could sound like off the page as well as in print.

Can you share what you’ll be working on during your stay?

MF: I’ll be working on a memoir-in-essays that’s been largely stalled for the last year. School and waiting tables and life has made the writing very slow going, so I’m excited and anxious to immerse myself in the work again.

SS: I'm working on two projects right now. The first is a collection of essays about prison abolition and mass incarceration. The second project is a collection of short stories that re-imagines the lives of obscure Catholic saints as modern-day sinners. I'm probably going to toggle between fiction and nonfiction throughout my stay.

Have you ever spent time in southeastern Colorado? How do you imagine the environment shaping your experience?

MF: I lived in Denver for a couple of years as a teenager, but I’ve never been to the southeastern part of the state. The Fort Lyon campus has lived many lives, including as a military fort and as a prison. I imagine that will be one of the most evocative things about being there. People, no less so than places, reinvent and repurpose themselves in ways that others can’t always see. Knowing where someone is now doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about where that person has been or where they’re going. Fort Lyon embodies that fact, and that’s something I really appreciate.

SS: I haven't! I'm thrilled to be exploring a new landscape and a whole new environment. Place is a big part of my writing, so I'm not sure Southeastern Colorado will shape my work, but I'm certain that it will show up somehow. I'll report back!


Michael Fischer is a Moth Chicago StorySlam winner, a Luminarts Cultural Foundation Fellow, and a mentor for incarcerated authors through the Pen City Writers program. His work appears in Salon, The Sun, Orion, Guernica, The Rumpus, and elsewhere, and his audio essays have been broadcast on CBC Radio’s Love Me and the New York Times's Modern Love: The Podcast. He recently graduated with his MA from the University of Chicago.

Sarah Shotland is the author of the novel Junkette, and a playwright whose work has been produced in theaters nationally and internationally. She was a 2018 Equal Justice Resident Artist at Santa Fe Art Institute, where she was worked on a collection of essays about her work with the Words Without Walls program, which brings creative writing classes to jails, prisons, and drug treatment centers in Pittsburgh. In addition to directing that program, she's also an Assistant Professor of English at Chatham University.