A long-standing and beloved tradition, Marin Academy’s LitFest celebrates the oral and written word by hosting writers from all fields.
Guests and MA faculty and staff present interactive workshops, and students are encouraged to share their own work. Each of the workshops highlights literature beyond what is taught in the classroom. From storytelling, to poetry slams, to investigative journalism, the purpose of this festival is not only to provide entertainment but also to celebrate and emphasize the importance of writing beyond what is required in school.
Chris Ballard '91 is the author of four books, a Contributing Writer at Sports Illustrated, and a professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where he teaches courses on narrative reporting and writing. He's written for the New York Times, the New York Times Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and other publications. Seven of his longform stories have been optioned for film, as well as his most recent book, One Shot at Forever, which is currently in development by actor Jon Hamm and Cinetic. He's written and reported narrative podcasts (for Audible), worked on documentary films (headed for Showtime and Netflix), and won various awards.
Stories are the bedrock of our lives. They are how we communicate, learn, and evolve. Our brains are hard-wired to respond to their structure. Hook us in with a great character facing a complication, and we keep reading —or listening, or watching—because as humans we can’t help but want to find out what happens next. As Ira Glass says, “Narrative is a kind of back door into something very deep inside of us.” This workshop is about recognizing and harnessing the power of narrative as a vehicle for addressing an important issue, delivering your journalistic reporting, or just engaging your audience. Stories can act a bit like magic tricks. Tell them well, and you can get a reader to spend 45 minutes learning about even the most arcane subject or policy. Here we'll provide a 10,000 foot view of how you can do that and talk about the power of narrative.
Eugenie Chan is artistic director of Eugenie Chan Theater Projects (ECTP), dedicated to telling the untold stories of Chinese in the American West. Upcoming projects include: Songs about Trains, Radical Evolution, NYC, April 2022; Hidden Mercy, Paul Dresher Ensemble/Shadowlight Theatre, San Francisco, March 2023; The Truer History of the Chan Family, a new vaudeville, ECTP at ArtsEmerson, Boston; Chinese Historical Society, San Francisco; MOCA, NYC, Spring 2024.
Theaters that have produced or developed her plays include the Public, Playwrights Horizons, Houston Grand Opera: HGOco, Cutting Ball, Magic, San Francisco Mime Troupe, Crowded Fire, Northwest Asian American Theatre, Perishable.
Resident, East-West Playwrights Lab. Resident Alumna: Crowded Fire R & D Playwrights Lab, New Dramatists, Playwrights Foundation. Eugenie teaches at San Jose State University, the University of San Francisco, and Marin Academy. www.eugeniechantheater.org
Workshop: The Personal is Political
In this workshop, you’ll watch and explore how the small moments of everyday life can be used to create powerful political theater. No theater or playwriting experience necessary!
Lena Felton '13 is a features editor at The Washington Post focused on gender issues. She has been at The Post since 2018, starting as a multiplatform editor for The Lily, a separate site dedicated to elevating the voices of millennial women. She moved into the role of deputy editor of The Lily in December 2020 and has helped lead the team through the pandemic, racial justice protests, coverage of the presidential election, and more. Now, she’s helming the integration of The Lily into the larger newsroom by overseeing a new Gender and Identity landing page, as well as editing related stories within the features section. She graduated from Harvard in 2017 and from Marin Academy in 2013. Lena lives in D.C. but savors long remote-work trips to Marin.
We all care more about the news when we can see ourselves reflected in it. That’s why newspapers don’t just publish straight news stories—often, first-person essays and opinion pieces accompany whatever it is that’s making headlines. You’ve likely been struck by the poignancy of some of these—pieces that helped give voice or context to what people were feeling after the police murder of George Floyd, or after rioters stormed the Capitol, or after the Atlanta spa shootings. We all gain important perspective when we read someone’s unique take on what’s happening. In this workshop, we’ll read some excellent examples of these types of pieces. Then, you’ll choose a news event from the past year to reflect on and begin writing your own.
Ezra Fox '03 is a writer, podcaster, and bread enthusiast. He earned an MFA in creative writing from San Francisco State, has written and directed national TV commercials, and co-wrote a book about very attractive undead mummies. He has two excellent and ridiculous kids with his high school sweetheart and fellow MA alum, Sarah Jebrock '03.
Workshop: Getting Stuck and Unstuck
The blank page. The looming deadline. The first draft that's been torn to shreds. When your creative work isn't working, it's only natural to panic. This workshop will explore ways around, over, and through the hardest creative challenges. Bring your impossible writing problems and find out what works for you.
Dezi Gallegos '13 is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter, director, and producer from Petaluma, California. His original plays have won “Best New Play” at the Sonoma County Stage One Theater Arts Awards, with Yesterday Again winning “Best Original Script” at the San Francisco Bay Area Theater Critics Circle. Dezi is the inaugural recipient of the SFBATCC Annette Lust Award for “Promising Theatrical Talent” and the writer/director of multiple award-winning short films. Dezi has spoken at TEDx Sonoma County and has been listed twice as one of Sonoma County's 30 inspiring individuals under 30. He studied film and television production at the University of Southern California and currently works as a creative executive at Ryan Coogler's production company Proximity Media (Judas and the Black Messiah, Space Jam: A New Legacy, and Creed III).
What does your character want? Why do they need it? What gets in their way? What do they learn over the course of their journey to get it? How do they change? Why do you want to tell this story? Why are you telling it in this format? In this workshop, we'll discuss some of the basic building blocks of storytelling that apply to both theater and film. We'll talk about structure, character, arcs—and the business of writing. A workshop component will allow students to start developing their own stories.
Thessaly Lerner ‘92 is a writer/producer/director/VO specialist/creator of film/TV/podcast/songs. She is the writer and producer of Dreamworks TV’s animated series, Astrid Strudelman, the Unicorn Whisperer, and the narrative podcast Disorganized Crime: Smuggler’s Daughter, which she’s developing for TV with Village Roadshow Entertainment. She launched Rainbow Valentine Studios in 2021, producing and writing the audio documentary, The Best Day of My Life: Patch Adams’ Journey to the Nobel Peace Prize Nomination and is currently writing and producing American Prankster: Wavy Gravy’s Life Story, a 10 part audio-doc. She’s also writing and producing a musical-story podcast for kids called Tune Tales, a series called Psychedelic Women: Conversations with the Women of the Counter Culture and shopping an animated holiday musical feature she created/wrote with her Emmy-winning animation chum. She currently lives in Atlanta.
Workshop: Your Weirdness is Your Superpower
This workshop focuses on animation & narrative podcast writing with a spotlight on harnessing personal stories and individual weirdness for inspiration and material. The workshop will hone in on what makes a compelling story plus writing tips and tools for VO specific projects like animation, documentary and podcast. Participants will learn to create their own short, narrative podcast and/or animatic (animation production element–like a flipbook) and we’ll discuss writing in the entertainment industry (TV/Film/Pod/Advertising) and the road to selling scripts/projects created from your personal weirdness.
Claire McNear '07 is a staff writer at The Ringer and the author of Answers in the Form of Questions: A Definitive History and Insider's Guide to Jeopardy! She has reported on everything from a Property Brothers cruise, to the Washington Nationals' World Series run, to the magician Derek DelGaudio. Her work has appeared in VICE, Sports Illustrated, Vulture, People, and SB Nation, where she was previously on staff. In 2021, her reporting on newly appointed Jeopardy! host Mike Richards led to his resignation. She is a graduate of the University of Chicago and lives in Washington, DC. She was, tragically, the last Marin Academy yearbook editor to preside over a black-and-white yearbook.
What goes into an article? An idea and some ink—and a whole lot of reporting. In this workshop, we'll discuss one of the most vital elements of a journalist's toolkit: knowing how to dig into a subject to find the necessary facts, history, and voices to tell a story. What's the best way to search newspaper archives? How do you access public and court records? How do you identify potential sources—and, once identified, how do you contact them? Together, we'll look at some Marin Academy history—did you know that MA had its own mime troupe in the 1970s? We’ll think through ways to report on those stories today. (Hint: probably not via the mimes.)
It's been a journey for Chase Tyler Nelson '01. He has traveled in many forms from fields and stages of Marin Academy to studying of Psychology in Connecticut; bartending and teaching English in Italy; designing software in Silicon Valley; raft guiding in Idaho; and, yes, lot's of writing. He enjoys all types of writing as long as it is heartfelt or humorous: poetry, songs, fiction, and non-fiction. He won a Solas Award in their Best Travel Writing competition of 2019 and has been published in the Sun, Hidden Compass, and his local newspaper in McCall, ID. He is currently working on albums of music and spoken word. His intent is to inspire the heart of another human toward reunion with its own authentic voice and true expression by searching honestly for his own.
Workshop: Order & Chaos: Harmony in Life and Writing
A guitarist is limited by the form and function of the guitar itself. The types and tones of sound it can make constrict the player. And yet, it is this very necessary limitation that directs the creative essence from the abyss of possibility and into music that resonates its impact into the world around us. I'd explore this magic with you. How do we use the limitations of order to our advantages? How do we connect to the world of possibility that lives within our personal and collective chaos? Writing is the art of making ideas, feelings, and stories manifest: bringing them from an ethereal form into a material form. We'll need both chaos and order to do so. Join me in playing with the alchemical forces of language to see what we create.
Sky Nelson-Isaacs '92 is a physicist, speaker, musician, and author of two books, Leap to Wholeness: How the World is Programmed to Help Us Grow, Heal, and Adapt, and Living in Flow: The Science of Synchronicity and How Your Choices Shape Your World. He has a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, and teaching credential in physics. Nelson-Isaacs was raised amongst the study and practice of yoga, taught by Sri Swami Satchidananda. Discovering an early fascination with holograms and some of the most fundamental questions in physics, he has sought for over two decades to establish a connection between synchronicity and physics using rigorous research methodology. In 2021 the journal Quantum Reports published Sky’s research generalizing quantum mechanics with a holistic model of space and time. An educator with nine years classroom experience, Nelson-Isaacs is also a multi-instrumentalist and professional performer of award-winning original musical compositions. In 2019 he founded the Synchronicity Institute to do research and provide training on the science of wholeness, synchronicity, and flow. More information can be found at https://synchronicityinstitute.com/. Sky is married to fellow MA alum, Dana Nelson-Isaacs '92, and they have one daughter, Eliana, who is in 7th grade.
Workshop: Is That a Synchronicity?! Writing Because You Have Something to Say
If you are someone who doesn’t necessarily picture yourself as an author, but you know you have something to say, this workshop will give you some of the tools and tricks I’ve learned to help channel the inspiration to write, to know what you have to say, and to say it in a way that connects to the audience. My best writing comes when I am in a place of awe and wonder. When I feel an emotion as I write, I can be confident that the reader will also feel that emotion. (The converse is also true! Hence my challenge as a thinking-type person to learn how to connect with an audience!) We’ll discuss some ways to make space for that “authentic you” to show up in your writing. We’ll talk together about what topics and stories motivate you in your life and how those may translate into a book or piece of writing. You’ll learn about my research into synchronicity (“meaningful coincidences”) and the basic nature of space and time as holistic rather than reducible to parts as most people think. I'll share the story of how my future wife and fellow alum Dana and I met by accident at the Louvre Museum in Paris a few years after graduating from MA. I’ll even share how I used synchronicity—the content of my book—to build a relationship with a publisher who eventually published the book!
Spencer Porter '01 is a writer with a diverse list of credits and interests. Currently, Spencer is a staff writer for a new Nickelodeon animated show set to debut in 2023. Spencer got his start writing for Fox’s Family Guy, where he wrote two episodes of the show and served as a staff writer for two seasons. He then wrote and sold a TV comedy pilot to ABC Family (Big Mouse), based on an original idea about his lovable but difficult Armenian grandmother who doesn’t know that he wrote a pilot about her, so please don’t tell her. He then wrote for a variety of comedies, including FX’s Saint George starring George Lopez, The Academy Awards on ABC, and We are Bears on Cartoon Network, where he served as Head Writer. He has also sold and developed TV comedy pilots at 20th Century Fox, Freeform, YouTube Originals, ABC, and Cartoon Network.
As a screenwriter, he just finished writing a feature film for Gunpowder and Sky, and had an original feature optioned in 2021. Spencer has also participated in round table rewrites for feature films and ghostwritten many speeches for celebrity, corporate, and personal clients, including Seth MacFarlane’s "Class Day" speech at Harvard University. His prose writing has appeared in Salon.com, Stanford Magazine, McSweeney’s, and The Daily Beast, and he has guest lectured writing classes at Loyola Marymount University, UC Irvine, and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. Spencer graduated from Stanford University in 2005 and is very disappointed that he is not a professional soccer player.
Jason Rezaian ’94 is an award-winning journalist who is currently a Global Opinions Columnist for The Washington Post, writing primarily on international affairs, press freedom, and human rights issues. Formerly The Post’s Tehran Bureau Chief, he is the Host of “544 Days,” the Spotify Original podcast series based on his 2019 best-selling memoir Prisoner about his time as a hostage in Iran and the extraordinary efforts it took to free him.
Rezaian is also the Executive Producer of two documentary films: Nasrin about the internationally acclaimed Iranian human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, and Bring Them Home, a Washington Post Opinions film about the real-time efforts of a family working to free yet another American hostage held in Tehran. It will premiere at the 2022 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.
When Gabe Sherman '08 was 12 years old, his dream of becoming a fighter pilot was crushed after being informed he was legally color blind. His life in shambles, Gabe searched for purpose in this wild-and-crazy world. It was only while attending Boston University that he finally discovered his true calling: to pursue a career as a creative in advertising. While he still looks to the sky and wonders what could have been, Gabe has accomplished a lot in his eight-plus years as a writer. He has worked at some of the top agencies in the country, created award-winning national ad campaigns, and developed a really tasty chicken salad recipe. (That’s not really important to his career, he’s just proud of it.)
People hate advertising because a lot of the ads we see are just… well, bad. But in the sea of trash, there is some really smart, creative, and enjoyable work. Let’s watch some good ads, talk about why they work and what we like about them, and then we’ll come up with some of our own ads. Don’t worry if you aren’t much of a writer; this workshop is all about having fun, being creative, and taking a break from your regularly scheduled classes.
Natasha Zouves '08 is a three-time Emmy Award-winning journalist, including the Emmy for newswriting. She was most recently a news anchor and reporter for ABC in San Francisco before being honored as a Knight Fellow at Stanford.
A multi-ethnic storyteller, she is passionate about journalism’s capacity to give a “voice to the voiceless.” While at ABC7 News in the Bay Area, she anchored the flagship two-and-a-half-hour-long morning show. In addition to her role behind the desk, Zouves is a reporter seeking out important human stories, dealing with such issues as the effect of the housing crisis on the ability of domestic violence survivors to leave their abusers. Zouves has become known for stories of human resilience—she brought together two men who jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge and survived. Their message of regret, strength, and hope opened up an important conversation about resources, access, and mental health.
Zouves holds a Master’s degree in Biotechnology Enterprise & Entrepreneurship from Johns Hopkins, in addition to dual journalism and science degrees from USC. When she’s not working, she is a fan of pygmy goats, travel, and double-fried french fries.
Workshop: Telling the Story of You
If you don’t tell your own story—someone else will. In this hands-on workshop, we’ll use traditional memoir-writing techniques and creative exercises to mine our personal histories. We’ll discuss case studies and real-life examples of expert storytellers and narrative-weavers who have made the (at times risky) choice to embrace authentic vulnerability, deriving meaning from the mess of life. You’ll come away energized, uplifted and with a renewed recognition that you are the heroine/hero of your own story.