Meet Our Instructors

K.Smeltzer Profile PicWhen did you first feel like a writer?

I first felt like a writer in second grade (I think it was second), when I forgot I had a book review to do for school until the thing was due the next day. So I made up what a fictional book was about so I could write my review of it. How meta is that? I got an A. While I'm being silly there, it's an example of how I could find my voice in writing sometimes so much easier than in speaking.

What's your philosophy about teaching a writing class?

My teaching philosophy for a writing class is that I want to hear what writers want to say and help them express it well. I feel like my role as a teacher is to be a very active listener, provide constructive feedback that helps writers get closer to their goals, set expectations for the class experience and the writing world beyond, and instruct and/or coach on aspects of writing craft that we all need to work on.

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

This question is so hard to answer, because I would like to meet a ton of literary characters and the person in the top-billed spot on that list varies from day-to-day, mood-to-mood. My answer (today, I guess) would be Celia Bowen from The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. The novel itself is intoxicatingly beautifully written, with complex characters. And I still can't decide if I think it's truly something to be characterized as fantasy or magical realism. Celia Bowen is a young magician. I'd want to meet her to understand how, with an abusive father on many levels and a mother who's killed herself (no spoilers—you get all this within the first few pages of the book) she blossoms into the woman she does. And I'd also like to know how her magic works, as it is alluded to but I would absolutely pepper her with questions.

When did you first feel like a writer?

I used to work as a reporter for a daily newspaper, where the expectation was to file two stories a day. I spent many shifts driving around the county in a panicked search for news, but by five o'clock I had to be back in my cubicle with something to type up. I think I became a writer when I began holding myself to a similar standard at home, with my own writing: panic all you want, but the day doesn't end until you've got something down on the page.

What's your philosophy about teaching a writing class?

Equal parts rigor and optimism.

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

Sister, from Eudora Welty's short story "Why I Live at the P.O.," is marvelously strange. An afternoon with her would probably be unpleasant, but I'd look forward to hearing how she talked about it after the fact.

Sarah KennedyWhen did you first feel like a writer?

I first felt like a writer after I wrote my first poem, as an undergraduate at Butler University. I was a shy, untraditional student, and reading was my refuge! The reading activated my creativity, and, by the time I was a sophomore, the lines began to come. They never stopped, though I'm writing fiction these days rather than poetry. 

What is your philosophy about teaching a writing class?

 My first creative writing class was terrifying for me! My instructor was wonderfully understanding, but she also pushed me to distribute my work and listen to critiques from other students. I soon realized that conversation about writing is productive—and reinforcing! Most writers, I find, feel the same way, and many are rather tentative about showing their drafts to others. Nobody enjoys being criticized. I prefer, as an instructor and a member of a writing group, to look at the big picture first—what the writing is and what its project seems to be—before looking at what might usefully be revised and/or edited. I encourage constructive, compassionate critique over criticism. I think of the writing workshop as a community in which our goal is to help everyone (myself included!) improve, revise, and polish our manuscripts.

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

Gosh, that's a hard question! I would probably choose Hamlet. He's complicated, moody, and completely self-involved, but he's also one of the first truly "modern" characters in literature. He reflects on himself and his actions (endlessly) and tries to understand the world in terms of human behavior and thought. I'm not sure he'd be a very pleasant dinner companion, and I might be tempted to give him a tongue-lashing and tell him to stop ruminating and to quit blaming his mother and his girlfriend for everything! It would certainly be a fascinating conversation, though. 

Sandra BeasleyWhen did you first feel like a writer?

In third grade, I got to work with a legendary teacher in Fairfax County Public Schools, Rose MacMurray. She burst into our small classroom, perfumed and and luminous, and declared "We are here to be POETS!" We wrote verses inspired by postcards of Impressionist paintings; we composed concrete poems in the shapes of zinnias; we read Edgar Allan Poe. My path was set.

What is your philosophy about teaching a writing class?

We cannot fixate on the workshop as a space in which to "fix" individual poems. What I'm interesting in is developing a set of muscles, grounded in close readings and articulations of craft, that will help you revise your work going forward. While we're at it, I'd like to have some fun: laughter, and frank discussions of the challenges of process, are all part of a day's work.

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

I would choose to be "The Last Unicorn" of Peter S. Beagle's 1968 fantasy novel of the same name (or, as known in her human form, Amalthea). I like to gallop. I'm not afraid of dark forests. Poets are attuned to understand the strange loneliness of beauty, and the strange beauty of loneliness. Plus, who wouldn't want to walk a mile or two with Schmendrick the Magician? I have a fondness for card tricks.

Claire MillikinWhen did you first feel like a writer?
I'm not sure that I feel like a writer even now, but I think that a nice moment for me was when one of the presses with whom I now publish called me and said "When we (the editorial board) read your manuscript, everyone said 'don't let that one get away.'" It was a vote of confidence since I'd sent the manuscript in cold through the dreaded slush pile.

What is your philosophy about teaching a writing class?
Do not impose a cookie-cutter approach. Every writer comes from a different place, and that is usually the place of her/his gift.

If you could meet any fictional character, who would it be?
Gandalf Grayhame from the Lord of the Rings

Deborah PrumWhen did you first feel like a writer?

I began my writing career at seven, pecking out stories on my mom's Royal typewriter.  All my plots were the same: Some disaster (plane crash, rampant disease, ravaging insects) took the lives of parents and other authority figures.  Consequently, the kids had to collect wild berries and skin rabbits to make clothing.  Without exception, by the end of each tale, the sturdy little survivors had created a utopia and lived blissfully ever after.  Unfortunately, it never occurred to my parents to call a child therapist.  


What's your philosophy about teaching a writing class?

Regardless the subject matter of any class I teach, my hope is to help you identify your writing goals and help you figure out how to implement them. That process includes learning how to generate, recognize, respect and nurture your ideas, as well as spending the time and effort to hone your craft.


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

Owen Meany.  He is short and blessed with a raspy voice, just like me.

Rafael RichardsonWhen did you first feel like a writer?

1) The idea of "feeling like a writer" is, to me, entirely contingent on having written for a considerable duration of time on any given day. I don't think I could ever imagine it as being the same as holding certificates for scuba diving or flying Cessnas. 

What is your philosophy about teaching a writing class?

2) I hate the knee-jerk "writing can't be taught" adage. It can be learned, so why not taught? I'll concede that no single instructor holds every last necessary lesson for any single student, but if you put yourself in environments where writing is being discussed thoughtfully, you're sure to pick up some useful knowledge from people with experience. I've always thought of my responsibility as being to highlight good habits and point out bad ones.

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

3) There's this character named Bill Houston who is at the center of one of Denis Johnson's novels (Angels) and at the periphery of another (Tree of Smoke). His life is one I couldn't lead, a real shoot-from-the-hip kind of existence. Drugs, alcohol, adventure, war. I'm too neurotic to just act and accept whatever happens next. His way results in a lot more tragedy ultimately, but it makes someone like me question whether I'm living enough.

Jeff KleinmanWhen did you first feel like a writer?


What is your philosophy about teaching a writing class?

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


Jeanne Siler.jpgWhen did you first feel like a writer?

I first felt like a writer when my byline hit the front page of the Richmond Times-Dispatch; I was working as a stringer for the paper while in college in Williamsburg.

What's your philosophy about teaching a writing class?

Teachers of writing can only be guides and cheerleaders—writers teach themselves to write by writing.

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

I would be delighted to meet Pippi Longstocking. Her zest for life, her curiosity and her energy inspired me years ago to become a “thing-finder.”

Amie WhittemoreWhen did you first feel like a writer?

Though I loved books from an early age, it wasn't until high school that my love of reading expanded to writing. Unpoetic but true, I began writing poems as part of a ninth grade English assignment and found I couldn't stop. However, it wasn't until graduate school that I felt like a writer—or a poet, more specifically. Being immersed in MFA culture was the first time that "being a poet" became part of who I was publicly. And, though it felt like a too-large dress the first few times I tried on the phrase, "I'm a poet," the more I did so, the more "being a poet" became my favorite outfit. In fact, I don't think I ever take it off.

Read more: Meet the Instructor: Amie Whittemore

Joan MazzaWhen did you first feel like a writer?

I first felt like a writer as a young person, keeping a journal and writing out my feelings starting when I was twelve. Writing has been a source of self-understanding and exploration my whole life. I really felt like a writer when my first book was published in 1998.

Read more: Meet the Instructor: Joan Mazza

Kyle DarganWhen did you first feel like a writer?

Well, being a writer is more of an approach to living than an identity for me. I actually don't like being introduced as a writer because it is often done in a manner that suggests I am different—significantly different—than other people because I write. Now, when did I first feel like I was beginning to live in the manner of one who writes? High school. That is when I first realized there was—to use a Thundercats reference—"sight beyond sight." Looking out on my environment of Newark, New Jersey, I saw what it expected of kids like me and I found myself contrasting that with how I felt and foresaw we could realize ourselves. Writing, at first, was an attempt to enter and articulate that strange interstitial space between those differing visions. Actually, that is what so much of my writing still obsesses over—the space between the assumed apparent and the relatively absurd, the tragic and the ironic, et cetera.

Read more: Meet the Instructor: Kyle Dargan

doug nordfors newWhen 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

Andrew MartinWhen did you first feel like a writer?

I started writing soon after I learned to read, and starting worrying about what I wrote not long after that. For me, that's what feeling like a writer is about—knowing that the choices you make on the page are going to have consequences for someone reading your work. Once I realized I could make my third grade class laugh, or, more importantly, make my younger sister cry, I felt like a writer.

Read more: Meet the Instructor: Andrew Martin

Anne Marie PaceWhen did you first feel like a writer?

When I was in first grade, I wrote and illustrated a story about a boy on a sled, and I realized how much fun writing could be. That story, extensively revised, is actually coming out as a picture book from Henry Holt in 2016—without my illustrations. I am definitely a writer, NOT an illustrator.

Read more: Meet the Instructor: Anne Marie Pace

Edward MWhen did you first feel like a writer?

Approaching the completion of my first novel. I couldn't bear to wait any longer to see how the book would turn out. I burned a week of (very precious) vacation time from the day job to speed the novel to its end. Every night that week I stayed up—however late it took—to finish a chapter. Every morning that week—often only a few hours after I'd turned in—I woke to the clatter of the dot-matrix printer, as my wife wouldn't wait to read what I'd just finished.

And then there was the day an editor called to make an offer on that book...

Read more: Meet the Instructor: Edward M. Lerner

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