Meet Our Instructors

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

Jennifer Niesslein SQWhen did you first feel like a writer?

Since I learned to write and could string together a narrative. It's always helped me make sense of the world.

What's your philosophy about teaching a writing class?

For most of my career I've been an editor, and my editorial philosophy has always been that the editor and the writer are partners, working together to make the essay the very best it can be. I think we all have different strengths in our writing, and my hope is that the workshop helps everyone in it hone his or her own particular strengths.

Read more: Meet the Instructor: Jennifer Niesslein

Don Fry newWhen did you first feel like a writer?

I became a writer at 8, when my 2nd grade teacher read my first poem to her class.

What's your philosophy about teaching a writing class?

I collect writing techniques from participants, and recycle them for other participants.

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

I would like to talk with perhaps-fictional Caedmon, the first English poet, about inspiration in dreams.

Jay Varner SQ When did you first feel like a writer?

It was the first time I was published.  In college, I had taped all the rejection slips--dozens of them--to the wall by my computer.  And then a letter arrived that said the editors liked my little essay.  I'd always thought of myself as a writer, but this was the first time someone else agreed.

Read more: Meet the Instructor: Jay Varner

Deborah Prum SQWhen 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.  

Read more: Meet the Instructor: Deborah Prum

John Most colorWhen did you first feel like a writer?

When I was a little boy, my mom bought me a journal. That was the first time that I felt like a writer.

What's your philosophy about teaching a writing class?

First, I always adjust the class based upon the students in the class. Second, I always create a relaxed environment. Third, together, we, as poets, try to help each other improve.

Read more: Meet the Instructor: John Most

Erika MeitnerWhen did you first feel like a writer?

Is it wrong to say that I often still feel like an imposter-writer, except for the days when I'm sitting in my car in the Food Lion parking lot and suddenly have the urge to start madly jotting down an idea from two days before that I thought had vanished or an observation about the wind chimes on sale outside the store hanging next to wilted baskets of trailing pansies and the way they sound like ethereal martians or cliché versions of heaven (at the Food Lion!) or something from the radio that seems suddenly critical and un-ignorable so I whip out my very, very small notebook or the back of a receipt and dig around for a nearly dead ballpoint? Which is to say that I first feel like a writer each and every time I actually find myself writing.

Read more: Meet the Instructor: Erika Meitner

david ronka new

When did you first feel like a writer?

I think I first felt (a little) like a writer when I submitted a fictional writing assignment to my college English professor a long, long time ago and he told me I should join the college writing club.

Read more: Meet the Instructor: David Ronka

Joel Jones newWhen did you first feel like a writer?

It was the second short play of mine that was produced. The first time it seemed like luck, but the second time I started to suspect I was on to something. I crouched in the back of the room behind the audience silently mouthing the lines as the actors spoke them, on pins and needles for each audience laugh. Fortunately, they did laugh or I might still be crouched there.

Read more: Meet the Instructor: Joel Jones

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 Wolfe NewWhen 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

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

Christine StoddardWhen did you first feel like a writer?

Writing first thrilled me when my kindergarten teacher asked me to submit a poem to the school literary magazine. It was springtime, so I, needless to say, wrote about spring. I drew a robin tugging a worm out of the ground to accompany the poem. I'm pretty sure two lines ended in "rice" and "nice." In total, the poem was probably six lines long.

I first felt like a "real" writer when, at age sixteen, one of my poems was selected for a national anthology of teen love poems. Edited by Betsy Franco, the book Falling Hard (Candlewick Press) received a positive review from The New York Times. Though I had won contests and been published in journals and magazines before that point, Falling Hard marked my first book credit.

Read more: Meet the Instructor: Christine Stoddard

Jane McGuireWhat was your favorite subject in high school?

To be honest, there wasn't much about high school that I liked, including the classes. I did love to read, but I was perversely resistant to reading required texts. It's ironic that I ended up teaching high school English and French, because I could probably teach a class called Books I Didn't Read in High School. To be fair, however, most adults could probably say the same thing.

Read more: Meet the Instructor: Jane McGuire

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

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