Mary Kay Shanley is the author of 11 books that cross multiple genres, tapping into her skills as essayist, historian and journalist. Her journey to now began when her sixth-grade teacher told her she could write.


Such insights can chart a youngster’s future.


She began as a journalist, then wandered into weaving stories, including She Taught Me to Eat Artichokes, a national bestseller about women’s friendship. She has been honored as Iowa Author of the Year for Our State Fair—Iowa’s Blue Ribbon Story, an illustration-rich bookchronicling the first 150 years of people-stories. She has also garnered numerous awards for magazine feature articles and essays.


Mary Kay’s officemat
(and sometimes the boss)

Mary Kay is currently writing a memoir about the complexity of having been adopted in a world very different from today. The book will include her experiences, as well as those of other women — some who were required to give up their newborns to an adoption agency, and others who, like Mary Kay, were those babies given away.


As with other authors, Mary Kay’s career is blessed with serendipity. Early on, a teacher-friend invited Mary Kay to sit down in a little chair and talk with second graders about writing. She’s since expanded on that, as adjunct instructor at two state universities as well as at the University of Iowa’s Summer Writing Festival each year. Also, Mary Kay and Diane Douiyssi, a writer and a mentor to other writers, offer multi-day creative writing and reflective writing workshops throughout the US. But Mary Kay’s most rewarding experience will always be teaching inside prison walls. That’s where, truly, instructor and students learn from and teach one another.


Mary Kay believes there’s always one more story to tell  —
one more book to write —

one more workshop to offer  —
one more speech to give —
one more experience to savor.




Iowa Summer Writing Festival 2018


Ah, a promise of summer — the just-released University of Iowa’s 32nd Summer Writing Festival catalogue. These June/July classes make for good reading now, and, later, a worthy experience that will move you forward.  I’m leading the workshops listed here; there are also 115 others opportunities to consider. For more information: https://iowasummerwritingfestival.org/



The Why and How of Reflective Writing
Weekend Workshop June 16-17


Ideas, stories, characters and scenes emerge from our memory, our imagination, lived experiences, history, family and friends. Normally, we begin a writing journey by sorting through such resources. But we have another resource deep within and often unknown to us — a place where our inner self, our soul, the essence of who we are resides. Possibilities for writing wait here, too, although they’re not always apparent. So we begin by reflecting — quietly, patiently, alone — until words come to us, rather than from us. Then, it’s time to write. Reflection, then writing, in contrast to thinking, then writing. We’ll explore this approach, spend time reflecting, then much time writing and sharing. If you wish, please send me a sample of your work (200 words maximum) before we meet in Iowa City.



People - Emotion - Dialogue - Place - The Senses
Five Basic Tools No Matter the Genre

Weeklong Workshop June 17-22

Imagine a story without people of depth, or characters who lack emotional lives. Imagine hollow dialogue, or a setting so generic it fails to rise even to blandness. Imagine a story that blatantly ignores the richness our senses deliver. Insipid work is what we produce when we don’t utilize the Five Basic Tools. Each of these— developing the person, revealing emotion, using meaningful dialogue, creating an experience of place, engaging our tactile senses — allows us to dig deeper into the how and why of the words we choose, and the order in which those words appear. We’ll spend a day on each one, via writing exercises, discussion, and in- and out-of-class assignments. Writing you bring from home, as well as what we generate in class, will be workshopped in an environment that moves us forward. Writers at all levels are welcome—from those with “a little experience” to more practiced writers wanting to sharpen existing skills. I encourage you to send 5-15 pages ahead of time so I can familiarize myself with your style, but that is not a requirement.