Birdseed: a writing prompt with Tayyba Kanwal

Tayyba Kanwal

Birdseed is a series of micro interviews that glean writing prompts, insight and advice from the talented writers leading our workshops.

What course did you teach at Grackle?

I had the pleasure of teaching “Finding your Story: A Generative Fiction Workshop.” We workshopped with an eye to identifying the heart and themes of stories we’ve been working on, and how our craft and shaping choices can hone and illuminate them. We also mined work by authors such as Jenny Zhang and Lesley Nneka Arima to discover hidden elements in our own stories and identify narrative techniques to generate lively new work.

What stands out in your memory as a special moment from your workshop?

Our in-class generative exercises, though fiction, often resulted in new story starts that were uniquely in the voice of each of the writers, revealing layers of personal interests and, sometimes, obsessions, so that we developed a multilayered understanding of each other and became delightfully close as a group by the end of the course.

Do you have a favorite writing prompt for your students?

Ghosts, as with living characters, are more successful as true, complex characters; that is, if they have histories and longings and rages, intentions and regrets. Ghosts are both magical and real. For this exercise, let’s first create a ghost, or rather, a character sketch for this ghost. Jot down notes on: Why might this ghost return to life? What unresolved concerns does this ghost have? With this understanding in mind, write a scene in which this ghost appears to some other character, or write a scene from the ghost’s perspective. Consider why the ghost has chosen to appear.

What is one pearl of writing wisdom you like to offer your students?

Don’t be afraid to be playful with your fiction. Your storytelling is a game whose rules you get to make up. Follow your instinct for the language, rhythms, details and narrative patterns you might choose as you gather your readers under a tent in the woods and regale them with a flash-lit tale.

Tayyba Maya Kanwal’s work appears in Juxtaprose, Quarterly West and other journals and has been anthologized by The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, chosen as a finalist in the CRAFT Fiction Contest and longlisted for A Public Space Fellowship. Tayyba is a recipient of the Inprint C. Glenn Cambor Fellowship. She is a Pakistani-American writer pursuing her MFA in Fiction at the University of Houston and is Fiction Editor at Gulf Coast Journal. Visit her at and on twitter @mayakanwal.

Follow by Email
Join our Waitlist Thank you for your interest in this class! We'll alert you right away if a seat opens up. If we run another round of this class, we'll let you know about that, too.