Why does the New York Writers Workshop exist?
Our origin story is a complicated tale of resistance and revolt, but it boils down to: writers should be fairly compensated for their work; writers should not facilitate the exploitation of other writers; writers should help writers and those who aspire to write. New York Writers Workshop exists to advance these central tenets.
What are some of the types of classes or events offered by NYWW?
NYWW offers intro-intermediate-advanced classes in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, creative nonfiction, and other more targeted areas, such as speechwriting, or translation. Some of the classes are in person, others online. And we do international work, most recently conferences in Sardinia, Italy (2020), and Athens, Greece (2022). We’re returning to Athens in June 2024, and we’ll be embarking to Kathmandu in June 2025. Conferences include workshops, panel discussions, readings, interaction with local writers, and visits to cultural sites/events.
What trends are you seeing in terms of who is coming to your workshops, what their needs are, and how well they write?
We get the full gamut. The online courses, in particular, are international, with participants zooming in from Australia, Singapore, India, the EU, and all over the US. In our New York-based in-person classes, we get a full representation of NYC demographics in the courses we offer (for free) at New York Public Library. Other class populations depend, to some extent, on location of workshops: on the Lower East Side, we get Lower East Siders, Upper West Side, Upper West Siders, with, of course, a degree of range and variation. We get beginners in some, all the way to well-published writers in others. In all workshops, needs are similar. They include community, audience, feedback, validation, support, guidance in craft, discipline, and deadlines.
How much of writing is a taught skill versus a natural-born ability combined with a lived life?
Talent can’t be taught, but it can be recognized, advanced, cultivated, and validated. That’s where we come in. Craft can be taught, just as it’s taught in dance or music or the visual arts. Process, commitment, determination: these, too, can be taught, or modeled. Without them, talent tends to flounder.
What are some of your success stories?
Aaliyah Bilal, a student of mine at a three-week workshop I offered at the Shanghai Literary Festival, is currently up for a National Book Award for her debut collection of short stories, Temple Folk. E.R. Pulgar, a participant in our NYWW in Athens conference, has just published the chapbook, Sonnets to the Serpent, which originated in the conference workshops. Ruth Danon’s new collection, Turn Up the Heat, features poems that emerged out of the NYWW in Sardinia conference. There are many. Perhaps the most remunerative was Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada, which began in a workshop run by NYWW co-founder Charles Salzberg.
How do you help give writers the confidence and courage they need in order to write, seek to get published, and actively promote?
We do what I describe two responses above: we recognize and cultivate talent. We teach craft-based workshops. I know that “craft-based” has become, and should be, an interrogated term, but I think of it in the same way that, say, music composition might be taught. Here’s how you make a C chord, here’s a D7. Here’s what happens when you put a B-flat after a G-sharp. With respect to writing, that might translate, here are ways to make a scene, here are guidelines for effective dialogue, here’s what might happen if you withhold information, here’s what might happen if you rely heavily on narration—practical considerations, all, and each based on models culled from already published work. If we’re working with intermediate-to-advanced students, we’ll offer guidelines for getting work out in the world, which is a crucial, necessary step for aspiring writers to engage. We promote however we can: by offering writers slots in our reading series, by announcing achievements on our social media platforms and on our website, and, when we can, by helping writers connect with editors and agents.
What did you do prior to becoming the president of NYWW?
For many years, I was an avid player in the fields of the lord. That included extended stints of bumming and slumming in New Orleans and the Bahamas, and trying to stay one step ahead of the local sheriff. Then I started teaching. NYWW grew out of the early years of teaching.
Any advice for struggling writers?
Never give up. Find the people who say yes. Read a lot, write more, and continue to believe.
About Tim Tomlinson: He is the author of the chapbook Yolanda: An Oral History in Verse, the poetry collection, Requiem for the Tree Fort I Set on Fire, and the short story collection, This Is Not Happening to You. Recent work appears in Bangalore Literary Review, Live Encounters, Tin Can Literary Review, and the anthology, Best Asian Short Stories 2023. A new collection, Listening to Fish: meditations from the wet world, will appear on Nirala Publications in early 2024. Tim is the director of New York Writers Workshop, and co-author of its popular text, The Portable MFA in Creative Writing. He teaches writing in NYU’s Global Liberal Studies. Visit Tim at timtomlinson.org
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