Creative Writing at The New School

Guest post by Robert Polito, Founding Director of The New School Graduate Writing Program, and past President of the Poetry Foundation (2013-2015). List compiled by Justin Sherwood, MFA Creative Writing '12.

On Wednesday, October 2, as part of The New School's Centennial Festival, Roberto Polito and faculty member John Reed will discuss the history of the Creative Writing Program and Reed's new book A Drama in Time. The event is free and open to all. Register now.

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My gratitude to Justin Sherwood — Senior Director, Communications and Strategic Initiatives at The New School and MFA Creative Writing alumnus — for convening this luminous roster of “100 Books by Creative Writing Alumni” for The New School Centennial. All of us in the Creative Writing Program could obsess over our own personal, even idiosyncratic recapitulations of exemplary MFA alumni publications, as Justin’s erudite survey inevitably designates just a scintillating fraction of the noteworthy poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and writing for children and young adults created by our graduates.

Our MFA Creative Writing program dates from the mid-1990s, but The New School has been a vital center for writing and the instruction of writing since 1931, when Gorham Munson, a Manhattan editor and influential partisan of the Alfred Stieglitz circle, introduced his legendary workshop in creative writing. Munson’s was a professional writing program, originating not in an English literature department, but instead out of the magazines, newspapers, and publishing houses of New York City and Greenwich Village. “We can’t claim a first,” Munson recalled. “Credit for the ‘first’ goes to Amherst for inviting Robert Frost to be a poet-in-residence. But when The New School began to offer writing courses, the professional writer was a rare animal on the classroom platform. We led the way in revolutionizing the teaching of writing. For notice that all of us in those years were practicing writers. We washed the typewriter ink off our hands as we started for class.”

From the outset, The New School Writing Program accented the importance of working with influential voices of the day. As a result, the historical faculty reads like a who’s-who of 20th-century literature, with instructors spanning W.H. Auden, Kenneth Koch, Stanley Kunitz, May Sarton, Horace Gregory, Wiliam Goyen, Richard Yates, Alfred Kazin, Carolyn Kizer, Daniel Halpern, Gilbert Sorrentino, and David Markson.

When we designed the MFA Program, one of our aims was to touch base with this intensive professional tradition of writing at The New School, although not in any readymade, nostalgic way, but instead to reimagine that tradition’s turn-of-the-century equivalent. If you studied writing and literature here in the early 1960s, you might have taken classes with Robert Lowell, Marguerite Young, Frank O’Hara, Kay Boyle, and Amiri Baraka. Our intention was to assemble a faculty of established and emerging writers that could persuasively be described as the contemporary analogue of this resplendent legacy. A faculty committed to teaching and students — yet also a faculty accomplishing their own creative work in the world.

Decisive to this vision was the notion of reading as a writer. Such reading from the inside out engages craft, language, form, style, and structure, and what across our reading can be summoned and reinvented for our work. But reading as a writer also opens up into the vastest possible challenges and conundrums of politics, culture, and history. A touchstone text for us was Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark. There Morrison writes:

“But then I stopped reading as a reader and began to read as a writer...I began to see how the literature I revered, the literature I loathed, behaved in its encounter with racial ideology. American literature could not help being shaped by that encounter. Yes, I wanted to identify those moments when American literature was complicit in the fabrication of racism, but equally important, I wanted to see when literature exploded and undermined it. Still, those were minor concerns. Much more important was to contemplate how Africanist personae, narrative, and idiom moved and enriched the text in self-conscious ways, to consider what the engagement meant for the work of the writer’s imagination...As a writer reading I came to realize the obvious: the subject of the dream is the dreamer...In other words, I began to rely on my knowledge of how books get written, how language arrives; my sense of how and why writers abandon or take on certain aspects of their project.”

Our MFA Writing Program proposed to honor The New School founding aspirations of the artist as public intellectual. Alongside the writing workshops and literature seminars, we saw ourselves as a community resource, with an extensive, diverse public reading series, and many creative partnerships — PEN America, Cave Canem, the Poetry Society of America, the Academy of American Poets, and the National Book Foundation.

This is a powerful moment to be a writer, since so much impressive work is now appearing across styles, aesthetics, and genres. As Justin’s “100 Books” list manifests, Creative Writing Program alumni are steadily advancing through our complex, volatile, and exciting new literary world, animating their social media, launching their magazines, reading series, and arts organizations, releasing their music and films, and of course — what else? — publishing their books.

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100 Books by Creative Writing Alumni

Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father by Alysia Abbott (’03), a recipient of the Madame Figaro Prix Heroine and the Stonewall Book Award by the American Library Association 

2Brides 2Be by Laura Leigh Abby (’13), called “the ultimate and thoroughly user friendly 'how to' lesbian wedding guide” by Midwest Book Review 

The Optimistic Decade by Heather Able (’01), hailed as “funny and light even under the weight of its Big Ideas” by New York Times Book Review 

The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard (’05), celebrated as “approachable, intelligent, and highly satisfying historical fiction” in a starred review by Booklist 

Arts and Entertainments by Christopher Beha (’06), called a “tender intellectual memoir” by the New York Times Book Review 

A Box of Longing with Fifty Drawers by Jennifer Benka (’07), noted in Lambda Literary as “fresh and captivating...daring, even, at times, brash” 

Hothouse Flower and the Nine Plants of Desire by Margot Berwin (’05), a “pick of the week” and recipient of a starred review by Publishers Weekly 

They Don’t Kill You Because They’re Hungry, They Kill You Because They’re Full by Mark Bibbins (’98), a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year 

The Dog Fighter by Marc Bojanowski (’03), hailed as “the most exciting debut…by an American writer since Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides” by Geoff Dyer 

Tyrell by Coe Booth (’06), winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Literature 

Solemn by Kalisha Buckhanon (’03), called a “standout novel...anchored by its vulnerable and brave heroine” by Publishers Weekly 

The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd (’06), recipient of a starred review by Booklist

Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender (’14), winner of the Stonewall Book Award from the American Library Association 

Old Silk Road by Brandon Caro (’16), called “an invaluable primary document that illuminates a violent hall of our history in the way that only fiction can” by the Miami Herald

Forever, or a Long, Long Time by Caela Carter (’12), hailed as a “poignant, moving, and riveting” by IndieReader

Melt by Selene Castrovilla (’04), called “A fresh, emotionally complex bildungsroman” by Kirkus Reviews 

Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton (both ’12), called “a page–turner with a heart” by Kirkus Reviews

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton (’12), named to the YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults List and a Booklist Editor’s Choice 

Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close (’06), a national bestseller 

What I Thought I Knew by Alice Eve Cohen (’99), noted as a “darkly hilarious...an unexpected bundle of joy” by O: The Oprah Magazine

I Was Not Born by Julia Cohen (’08), one of Entropy Magazine’s Best Nonfiction Books of the Year

The Ruining by Anna Collomore (’08), hailed as “A compelling psychological thriller” in a starred review by Kirkus Reviews

Brink by Shanna Compton (’02), called “all sorts of breakthrough” by Publishers Weekly 

Outerborrough Blues by Andrew Cotto (’08), hailed as “a novel that reads like Raymond Chandler taking dictation from Walt Whitman” by Publishers Weekly

Having Been An Accomplice by Laura Cronk (’04), winner of the Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize from Persea Books 

The Antiques by Kris D’Agostino (’06), praised in the New York Times: “There’s not a sluggish moment in Kris D’Agostino’s second novel . . . with sharp, funny dialogue that never seems formulaic”

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler (’14), a national bestselling novel called "Brilliantly written” and “Outstanding” by The New York Times Book Review, and adapted into a television series on Starz with Danler serving as Executive Producer 

In This Way I Was Saved by Brian DeLeeuw (’07), called “terrifying and terrifyingly good” by Vanity Fair 

The January Children by Safia Elhillo (’15), winner of the 2016 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets and a 2018 Arab American Book Award

The Jewel by Amy Ewing (’12), a national bestseller and recipient of a starred review in Booklist

Fantasy by Ben Fama (’15), one of Flavorwire’s “50 Best American Poetry Books of the Decade”

Karma Gone Bad by Jenny Feldon, called “heartfelt, frequently very funny and always extremely well written” by Travelati Magazine

You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon (’00), winner of the PEN Center USA Literary Award in Fiction

The Matrimonial Flirtations of Emma Kaulfield by Anne Fishbeyn (’04), called a “compelling new voice" by Kirkus Reviews

Deep: The Story of Skiing and the History of Snow by Porter Fox (’04), hailed as “a powerful call to action for anyone who cares about the future of our planet” by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore 

Check the Rhyme: An Anthology of Female Poets & Emcees by DuEwa Frazier (’11), Nominated for NAACP Image Award in Outstanding Literary Work - Poetry

King of the Worlds by M. Thomas Gammarino (’05), hailed for its “hints of other greats like Kurt Vonnegut and David Foster Wallace...represent some of the funnest aspects of a novel that takes its fun pretty seriously” by Entropy Magazine

Sunshine State by Sarah Gerard (’12), a New York Times Critics’ Best Books of the Year and longlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay

The Mentor by Lee Matthew Goldberg (’06), called “a sharp and bitter satire” by Kirkus Reviews 

The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman (’99), a national bestseller and winner of the Hammett Prize from the International Association of Crime Writers

A Generous Latitude by Lenea Grace (’12), winner of the Walrus Poetry Prize 

A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff (’06), longlisted for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and recipient of a starred review by Kirkus Reviews 

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (’05), a New York Times bestselling novel, adapted into one of Netflix’s “most viewed original films ever” with Han serving as Executive Producer

Watch Us Rise by Ellen Hagan (’03) and Renee Watson (BA Liberal Arts ’09), called “A highly needed work for the #MeToo movement” in a starred review from School Library Journal 

OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu (’12), recipient of a starred review by Publishers Weekly, a Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books Blue Ribbon Selection, and Junior Library Guild Selection 

In Search of the Movement: The Struggle for Civil Rights Then and Now by Benjamin Hedin (’04), called “thoughtful essays on this significant struggle, ongoing and continuous” by Kirkus Reviews 

Charlie, Presumed Dead by Anne Heltzel (’08), called “A compelling read, one that will provoke adventure-lust, a need to experience the strange, the fearful, and the unknown” by the Boston Globe

The Butcher’s Sons by Scott Alexander Hess (’09), one of Kirkus Review’s Best Books of the Year 

A Scarecrow’s Bible by Martin Hyatt (’99), winner of the Edmund White Debut Fiction Award from the Publishing Triangle

The Sleepwalker’s Guide To Dancing by Mira Jacob (’03), named one of the best books of the year by Boston Globe 

The Doctor’s Wife by Luis Jaramillo (’02), winner of the Dzanc Books Short Story Contest  

Instant Classic by erica kaufman (’03), called “beautiful, thoughtful, a music for the eye, heart, soul and mind” by Thurston Moore

Everything You Need To Survive an Apocalypse by Lucas Klauss (’07), one of Children’s Book Council’s Best Children's Books of the Year

Paint My Body Red by Heidi R. Kling (’01), hailed as a “stunning novel” by Novel Novice 

Flying Couch by Amy Kurzweil (’13), a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice

My Dead by Amy Lawless (’07), celebrated in the Literary Review as “poetry that, in speaking to the dead and in speaking about death, urges us to go on living”

Listening for Lucca by Suzanne LeFleur (’08), celebrated as “a heartbreaking and honest look at family trauma that is devastating, humorous, sad, and, most of all, real” in a starred review by Booklist

Tell Me How This Ends Well by David Samuel Levinson (’01), called “a moving account of the rich complexities of maternal love and the bewildering ecstasies of sibling rivalry” by the San Francisco Gate 

Ida, Always by Caron Levis (’08), a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book of the Year 

And Then There Were Crows by Alcy Leyva (’16), hailed as “a high-energy debut” by Publishers Weekly

The Crystal Ribbon by Celeste Lim (‘15), called “....a hopeful coming-of-age story” by Kirkus Reviews

All Back Full by Robert Lopez (’99), called “a remarkable achievement” by Green Mountains Review 

Party Knife by Dan Magers (’05), noted as “funny...logically, in how it organizes its thoughts, surprising the first time and then impressive in a different way the second time” by Vice

Blue Hallelujahs by Cynthia Manick (’07), winner of the Lascaux Prize in Collected Poetry 

The Things That Need Doing by Sean Manning (’03), called “honest and gut-wrenching” by Kirkus Reviews

Pin Action: Small-Time Gangsters, High-Stakes Gambling, and the Teenage Hustler Who Became a Bowling Champion by Gianmarc Manzione (’04), recipient of a starred review in Booklist 

A Million in Prizes by Justin Marks (’04), selected by Carl Phillips for the New Issues Poetry Prize

Outline of My Lover by Douglas Martin (’01), named an International Book of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson (’07), a New York Times bestseller 

Sold by Patricia McCormick (’99), finalist for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature

I Don’t Know Do You by Roberto Montes (’12), one of NPR’s Best Books of the Year and a finalist for the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry from the Publishing Triangle 

North Haven by Sarah Moriarty (’03), hailed as “a magnificent debut” by “a gifted author of singular talent” by Library Journal 

Eulogy by Ken Murray (’09), called a “powerful, poignant debut” by the Globe and Mail

A Model Year by Gina Myers (’05), hailed as “that rare collection of poetry that wholly actualizes for its reader the sensation of getting into an author’s head” by Coldfront Magazine 

The Do-Over by Kathleen Ossip (’98), a New York Times Editor’s Choice 

Natural History Rape Museum by Danielle Pafunda (’02), hailed as “major triumph in feminist poetry” by Pank Magazine 

Between Land and Sea: The Atlantic Coast and the Transformation of New England by Christopher Pastore (’03), called “an exceptional history that weaves broad and compelling theories with impressive, place-specific research” by American Historical Review 

Livability by Jon Raymond (’02), winner of the Oregon Book Award 

Repetition by Rebecca Reilly (’98), recipient of a starred review and selected by Maggie Nelson as a best book of 2015 in Publishers Weekly

The Woolgrower’s Companion by Joy Rhoades (’05), called “A wonderful new voice in literary rural fiction” by Australian Women's Weekly

To Assume A Pleasing Shape by Joseph Salvatore (’98), called “magnetic and propulsive” by Rain Taxi

Rabbit Punch! by Greg Santos (’09), praised by Small Press Book Review for “offer[ing] an admirable finesse to the reader who craves good verse” 

Dear Lucy by Julie Sarkissian (’07), called a “captivating debut” by Publishers Weekly

Drowning Lessons by Peter Selgin (’05), winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Fiction

Problems by Jade Sharma (’12), one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of the Year 

Dirty Secret by Jessie Sholl (’98), called "a compelling and compassionate perspective on an illness suffered by an estimated six million Americans” by Booklist 

Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman (’15), called “a novel that reads like a warm summer afternoon...a charming novel full of diverse characters” by Paste Magazine

Treat Yourself! by Jessica Siskin (’16), featured on the Today Show and The Rachael Ray Show and called “genius” by Refinery29

Getting Lucky by Nicole Steinberg (’06), noted for poems that “question and re-envision traditional standards for beauty and femininity” by Bitch magazine

Refugees by Catherine Stine (’03), called a “powerful” and “accomplished” novel by Booklist

Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner (’07), called a “wonderful and wrenching debut novel” by The New York Times

Flings by Justin Taylor (’07), an Amazon Best Book of the Month\

Amy Chelsea Stacie Dee by Mary G. Thompson (’12), called “an intelligent, tense psychological drama” by Kirkus Reviews 

Dear Almost by Matthew Thorburn (’01), winner of the Lascaux Prize in Collected Poetry 

What You Left Behind by Jessica Verdi (’12), recipient of a starred review by School Library Journal 

The List by Siobhan Vivian (’06), a New York Times bestseller

Of Being Dispersed by Simone White (’06), winner of the 2017 Whiting Award for Poetry 

For Single Mothers Working As Train Conductors by Laura Esther Wolfson (’07), winner of the 2017 Iowa Prize for Literary Nonfiction 

Janey’s Arcadia by Rachel Zolf (’11), nominated for a Lambda Literary Award 

Where I Stay by Andrew Zornoza (’07), called “a marvelous first book” with “style and grace” in a review by elimae

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Founded in Greenwich Village in 1931, Creative Writing at The New School continues to promote, engender, and shape innovative literature.