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Meet Our Instructors

Douglas Nordfors SQWhen did you first feel like a writer?

I'd like to say that it was when I was 5 or 6 years old, and I accompanied my mother, who was a poet, to a radio station in Seattle, where she gave a poetry reading. But I was far too engaged in the fact she was a writer to even begin to think of myself as a future one, though I certainly did feel some sense of mental connection with her even at that young age. I'm pretty sure it was much, much later, when I was a freshman at Columbia University, and I would spend hours deep underground in the stacks of Butler Library reading sample after sample from the big contemporary American poetry section. It was so peaceful down there, and the slim books seemed to be fully lit with significance in the half-dark. I just wanted to try to belong to all that in some small way.

Read more: Meet the Instructor: Douglas Nordfors

Roselyn Elliott SQWhen did you first feel like a writer?

At 12 years of age when I won an essay contest in 7th grade. I might have felt like a writer prior to that, but that is when I knew I was a writer.

What's your philosophy about teaching a writing class?

I believe in meeting the student at the level at which he or she presents and working to assist them forward from there. In a class, members come together all at different levels of skill and understanding. This can be challenging for teachers, but also wonderfully helpful to the writers. And, of course, it helps when the teacher has a passion for the subject and is willing to share it with students.

If you could meet any fictional character, who would it be and why?

Catherine of Wuthering Heights, so I could tell her to grow up and listen to her heart.

Robert Wray SQIs there a particular book or essay (or screenplay) that made you want to write?

Actually, watching The Waltons as a kid inspired me to—albeit vaguely at the time—be a writer as I wanted to be John Boy! Also, reading The Princess Bride at an early age helped, and then Pride and Prejudice and Catcher in the Ryesoon followed. The rest is history.

What's the number one thing that distracts you when you're trying to write?

The phone! And when my coffee machine beeps that it's off. Ugh.

If you could write from any location, where would it be?

Wherever inspiration strikes: A mountainside, my room, a cafe. The main thing is: Someplace quiet.

Jay Kauffmann SQWhen did you first feel like a writer?

I think the first inkling that I might be a writer came in my sophomore year of college. I had just won an award for my poetry chapbook (I wanted to be a poet then) and people started to think and speak of me as a writer. And yet, despite all the positive feedback, I remained unconvinced, because I knew I had no idea what I was doing. Then, after graduate school, when my stuff started appearing in magazines, I thought, Okay, now I’m a writer. But whenever people asked me what I did, I was still reluctant to call myself a writer. It was only after a long stretch on my own, without any support or encouragement, when I was left to the daily practice of facing myself and the page, and feeling drunk with discovery, that I finally began to feel like a writer.

Read more: Meet the Instructor: Jay Kauffmann

Rachel Unkefer SQRachel Unkefer has been using computers since the late 1970s and training others how to use them more effectively since the 1980s. She was one of the founders of Silicon Valley-based Computer Literacy Bookshops, the world's largest specialty technical book chain. She began using Scrivener during NaNoWrimo and has never gone back to Word.

Kathryn Erskine SQIs there a particular book, essay, or poem that made you want to write?

I can't say there was one in particular. I just remember being surrounded by books and always loving them. I'm told I was reading by three and liked reading diaries, especially my older sister's. I grew up on British books mostly, living in South Africa and Scotland when I was young, so titles may be unfamiliar, but they were all tales of adventure with no parents around to ruin the fun. I remember first thinking seriously of publishing a book at 10 or 11 because I thought it would be such a wonderful feeling to dedicate a book to someone — at that time, it would've been my mother or my school's headmistress. They're both still worthy of book tributes.

Read more: Meet the Instructor: Kathryn Erskine

Christa RomanoskyWhen did you first feel like a writer?

I think being a writer is like being an adult: by the time you actually feel like one, you've been one for quite some time. I think I finally understood that I was committing to a career that included writing when I realized I was deliberately not committing to any other career—a passive resistance type of approach to becoming a writer.

Also, the year I wrote "poet" on the occupation line of my 1040EZ tax return form.

Read more: Meet the Instructor: Christa Romanosky

Mary-Sherman Willis2

When did you first feel like a writer?

I write to process the world around me, to understand it and remember. So I've kept a journal since I was 13. But real writing began at 15 in response to the writers I read: to the naughty wordplay of e.e. cummings; to Nabokov's ingenious similes; to John Barth's breath-taking turns of story; to George Orwell's clairvoyance; to Amy Clampitt's sinuous lines. It's become a long conversation. The list is continuous and keeps growing.

Read more: Meet the Instructor: Mary-Sherman Willis

Sharon HarriganWhen did you first feel like a writer?

When I was fourteen I took my first writing class, at the Detroit Institute of Arts. I befriended a seventy-something woman who knew Gertrude Stein in Paris in the twenties, a graduate student who later became an editor at The New Yorker, a carpenter-poet, a nurse-poet, and a smattering of teacher-writers. I'd finally found my tribe.

Read more: Meet the Instructor: Sharon Harrigan

Brendan WolfeWhen did you first feel like a writer?

November 12, 1999, at 4:45 p.m. More or less. I was sprawled out on the couch in my friend-slash-landlord's basement, mowing on Doritos (we said that then) and self-importantly shouting out questions to Jeopardy! answers, when the phone rang. It was the editor Lee Gutkind, and he wanted to accept for publication an essay I had submitted to his magazine at least a year previously and which, in a fit of pique, I had since deleted from my computer. Just a simple click of the mouse: Writing is for losers! He now needed me to send him a digital copy. And the confusion I felt in that moment—panic, self-loathing, pride—I have come to understand is what it means to be a writer.

Read more: Meet the Instructor: Brendan Wolfe

Alison PenningWhen did you first feel like a writer?

When I was in third grade, there was a girl named Whitney in my ballet class. She had blonde hair, a big smile, and great rhythm. Her mom was one of those studio moms—the ones whose kids have perfect makeup and hair on ballet picture day. Probably Whitney was lovely; but for some reason, I hated her. I remember writing a story in which a little blonde girl bikes down a hill, hits a rock, and flies over the handlebars. She knocks out her two front teeth and, even though she puts them in milk, the teeth can't be repaired. The girl's smile is ruined. I called the story "Pitiful Whitney." It was my first taste of writing as power, and writing as catharsis. It's probably not a great idea to write revenge stories; but my jealousy got the pencil in my hand, and I'm grateful for that.

Read more: Meet the Instructor: Alison Penning

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