Friday, March 23, 2018

Syllabus: On Teaching and Being Taught

I have been teaching writing workshops in fiction and creative non-fiction for ten years. I was a business reporter for ten years before that and never anticipated I would become a writing instructor but after getting an MFA in fiction writing, it became obvious that teaching was a great way to fund my own writing and keep myself occupied while my children were in school. My kids are now out of the house, and I'm still teaching. Teaching has become one of the great pleasures of my life. I love my students and I love to teach. I also edit books but teaching is where the real fun is, because it involves actually seeing and talking to other writers.

One of the most pleasant parts of teaching is coming up with a syllabus. I used to comb through memoirs, novels, short story collections and books of essays, put Post-it notes on everything I wanted to teach, and then go to a local copy shop to have copies made. I read, drank coffee and an hour later, the copies were done. At the beginning of every workshop, I gave the writers big packets of reading assignments. It was all very 20th century. Then, the copy shop went out of business. I spent one ten-hour day, making copies, collating them and stapling them on my dining room table and decided that going forward, I would assign readings that were free on line.

Here is a list of what I taught this winter. The spring session starts the second week of April. I teach two-hour writing workshops on Tuesdays, from 12-2 p.m., in New Jersey, and from 9:30-11:30 a.m and 12-2 p.m. on Thursdays in New York City. The New York workshops are closed for the spring but there is still room in the Tuesday, New Jersey workshop. We run eight sessions and begin Tuesday, April 10. If you are interested in taking the workshop, please email me at and plan to send a 3-5 page writing sample. If you'd like to sign up for a workshop in NYC in the fall, please let me know .Thank you.

Writing Our Stories: Winter 2018 Syllabus

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ghosts. Adichie is the Nigerian author of the terrific novel Americanah, a fabulous writer and charismatic person. This is one of her early, autobiographical short stories.

Tessa Hadley,“Experience.” Hadley is a tarter, more sensual and slightly more shocking version of Alice Munro, who she cites as influence and inspiration. Hadley is wonderful at depicting people in crisis, and couples at the ends and beginnings of their relationships.

Tessa Hadley, Dido’s Lament. If you like the story, also check out Hadley's Q&A with Deborah Treisman about the story.

Jhumpa Lahiri, “A Temporary Matter.” One of my favorites. Sad but exquisite. This is from her collection, Interpreter of Maladies.

Yiyun Li, “The Proprietress.” If you like this short story, check out Li's new memoir, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life, about her struggles with her mother, mental illness, writing, growing up in China, and her efforts to write her way out of a depression, which she does beautifully.

Cynthia Ozick, “The Bloodline of the Alkanas.” I first read Ozick's Art & Ardor in college and thought, "This is the kind of writer I want to be." Hopefully, there's still time. This short story has a secret and a  twist buried within it---always fun.

Kristen Roupenian, Cat Person. Provocative, sexually-explicit, short story about texting, bad first dates and what happens next. Roupenian received a 7-figure advance and a two-book deal after publishing this story in The New Yorker.

Curtis Sittenfeld, Gender Studies. I think Sittenfeld's short stories are better than her novels. This story is from her new collection, You Think It, I'll Say It: Stories, which comes out April 24 and is available here. Many of the stories from the collection have been published in The New Yorker and are free on line.

Viet Thanh Nguyen, “Fatherland.” In 2016 Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his novel, The Sympathizer, available here and here. He is an English professor at USC and very funny. Catch him here on Late Night with Seth Meyers.

William Trevor, “The Dressmaker’s Child”. A haunting, sad, beautifully written piece by the late, great William Trevor.

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